Temporary Change in the Blog Weather
The Ugly Excuses for Ageism

Tech Ageism Unchecked

The sixth annual Gnomedex conference took place last week in Seattle. This event would have escaped Crabby Old Lady’s notice but for Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles who emailed regarding Jeremy Zawodny, the leader of a “bitch session” at the conference which was described in part at the noded blog thusly:

“Low point of the day was the discussion led by Jeremy Zawodny which came across as a profiling of ‘older people’ as unable to operate the internet or a computer without massive browser rewrites or something…”
noded, 2 July 2006

Bad enough, especially from the representative of one of the biggest, most important tech companies in the world, but Crabby had not attended so she thought to let it go. Then, she read this comment left by a reader named Joe :

“The reason the internet appears to be younger-person centric is because older members of society haven't felt a need to be hooked up. And when an older person asks me about the internet, I don't have a reason why it's important for them. Useful, sure. But important? I don't think so.”

Crabby doesn’t know who Joe is, but she is flummoxed as to why he would believe the internet is not important to elders. And who says “older members of society haven’t felt a need to be hooked up”? Cite your sources, Joe. Crabby wants to know why you consider her and others of her age to be out of touch with the interests of mainstream America.

Both of these men are exhibiting blatant ageism and Crabby fears neither of them recognizes it in himself which is, of course, what makes age prejudice so insidious – no one thinks it’s as important as sexism or racism.

So let’s give the statements of these two men the standard TGB Bias Test by replacing the word “older” with “black”:

Zawodny via noded: “…profiling of ‘black people’ as unable to operate the internet or a computer without massive browser rewrites or something…”

Joe: “…black members of society haven't felt a need to be hooked up. And when a black person asks me about the internet, I don't have a reason why it's important for them.

Imagine the ruckus if these two rewritten statements had been spoken at the conference or written on the blogs where they actually appeared but with that one-word difference.

Jeremy Zawodny is identified as an employee of Yahoo! and as Yahoo!’s "top blogger" – whatever that means. Crabby Old Lady believes that if Mr. Zawodny had made these same statements about blacks, he would no longer be in the employ of Yahoo!

But he keeps his job because no one at Yahoo! or anywhere else takes bigotry against elders seriously. Mr. Zawodny is, apparently, a big deal in the technology blogosphere and Crabby Old Lady is pained at how telling it is that no A-listers in that community have condemned Mr. Zawodny's bigotry.

Just so no one thinks Crabby Old Lady is entirely humorless on the topic of aging:

Gnomedex, where this latest example of nasty ageism in the tech world was exhibited, is the brainchild of Chris Pirillo (not be tarred with the same brush as Mr. Zawodny). Together with Brad Fitzpatrick, Chris has just launched Blaugh! The Unofficial Comic of the Blogosphere. Today's entry, titled "A New MySpace Generation", gave Crabby Old Lady a much-needed morning laugh, particularly after the above. Congratulations, Chris and Brad. Crabby will be a regular reader.


If you didn't, before, go back to check out the name of the graphic used to illustrate the posting! (Well, OK, I'll save you the trouble. It's: "cartoon of two old people who meet and exchange myspace user ids".) I gotta love such plain speakers.

Thanks for the post and update Crabby Old Lady. I was actually in a pretty good mood this morning until I read this. Now I am one Crabby Old Man. Mr. Zawodny and Mr. Joe Blow expounding their extensive knowledge with regard to the elderly has pretty much just pissed me off.

But then wisdom has taught us elders that we should just smile, have some more prune juice and head out for another colonoscopy or what ever it is old people do. Fifty years from now, however, this will be a mute point because those who weren't raised on a computer will all be in Cemeteryville. And those two idiots will be old folks just like we were and will then possess the wisdom to know what idiots they were in their younger years.

Well...obvioulsy I am not going to be able to offer anything constuctive to this conversation so I will move along now. Perhaps later I will be more in control and can drop by "Noded" and offer some sense of God's plan to those folks.

At any rate, thanks for the information. Unfortunately it goes a long way in confirming what we elders really already know.

Of course, we have the last laugh.....these "bigots" will be elders much sooner than they ever dreamed. Dee

Happy to give you a giggle. :) We need more elder humor!!!

Dear Crabby Old Lady, I think this conversation needs to move to the podcasting realm. Would you be up for an interview on your thoughts and feelings? :) I'd sure love to be a part of your telling the world where to stick it. Oops, I mean how to better serve the "older" community. :)

I have enjoyed your interesting blog and have provided a link to it from my newly-created blog, titled Journey, at http://my1journey.blogspot.com/
Please stop by and say hello!

Well, my "old people" sources (i.e., my parents) are quite hooked up on the internets. They do their own social networking that's usually separate from my circles, but only due to their specifics (e.g., genealogy, photography groups, etc.).

I tried having a conversation with my mom on instant messenger once. It took too long, but only because she insisted on using proper punctuation and capitalization. But that's another matter.

You know what's great about the internet, that this Joe and Mr. Zawodny can appreciate? Nobody knows you're a dog...gone moron until you come out and say something stupid.

The children forget that their elders CREATED their favorite little toys. I've been on the Internet (and before that, the Arpanet) for over 25 years now.


I knew this would spark your plug enough to get a response!

Good stuff, as usual. I especially love the eye-opener when you substitue "black" for "old".

Certainly makes one say "Ahhh!" when the little light bulb goes off.

I fired off a little email to Mr. Zawodny as I figure we have to let him, and any others, of whom we become aware that need "enlightment," know of our concerns.

If they don't know, how can we expect change?

Likewise, will enjoy some humor at "Blaugh..."

Pattie, I send you a big hug for coming up with this one, and Ronni, too, for writing this post in the midst of her "home making."

Since you were not at the event and clearly haven't seen the videos, I'd encourage you to be careful with dragging someone's name through the mud in public.

How nice to see you've returned and with a very informational post.
Loved how you did the switch with a single word and showed the huge impact on the message.
Bravo for you, Ronni.

I wonder at the arrogance of youth sometimes. I was talking to a computer technician about our first home computer which we bought in 1981 and he said that was before he was born.

Who do these young people think developed the computer and the internet. I started working with computers in the early 60's.

There are many users out on the web that are much older than me and many of them were computer professionals. I have also seen men and women in their 80's learn how to use a computer for the first time.
I suppose this forgetting of history is why a young person I was talking to at his parent's 50 Wedding anniversary celebration seemed somewhat surprised when they learned I had a blog.

I see Mr. Zawodny found your post and seems to think his name was dragged through the mud. I would say it was only his colossal ignorance and willful ageism that was exposed.

It seems that arrogance may not be the devine right of just the young. There was an escalating hue and cry that Jeremy was ranting about old people. It was not true. While the subject did come up the format was a discussion not a discourse and Jeremy, to my knowledge, was not the instigator, or the proponent of this ingorance. Yeah there are some that think that way, but there was no chanting of slogans. I was mostly dissapointed that this had been rehashed and debunked so many times. I've posted the same on my blog.

I'm not even all that surprised. In the previous decade, I spent a lot of time on web design forums, where I learned a lot and got quite a bit of help, but the atmosphere was so ageist you couldn't miss it. Until accessibility became the cool thing, there was also total disgregard for typical middle age issues like not being able to read tiny type, too. A lot of the people who were prominent on those forums went on to become the big names you read about these days.

I have found nothing like that in the more general blogging world, or in the netroots political one. It seems to be confined to the cooler than thou boy/girl wonders of tech, many of whom are still legally children.

jr, did Jeremy, you, or anyone else speak up to express enlightened views contradictory to what you say was being said? If not, suggests either all were in agreement, or any not in agreement might have been fearful to express an unwelcome opinion on the subject.

Gosh Ronni, I've been sitting at a computer figuring it out (in the early 80s with plain BASIC interface and DOS), long before some of these critics of elders were even out of diapers. Grrrrr..rrr... Now when I encounter young computer/internet "geeks", they are so stunned (and disbelieving) that I'm PC/Internet/Blog savy and have the nickname "The Digital Diva."

For example, my brother was having trouble with his laptop and copying files to a CD and we were sitting in his living room with the laptop on the coffee table and I was giving him instructions on how to use Windows Explorer to copy/paste or move files. His daughter's 20-something nerdy boyfriend Tony was sitting opposite us and rudely and arrogantly interrupted several times while I was giving my instructions - ...trying to show off that his knowledge of computers was far better than mine or my brother's. Finally, my brother told him sternly, "You don't understand Tony, my sister is an expert at this stuff and we don't need your help." Well, Tony got a little put off, got up, and said "OK, was just trying to help" and left the room.

Anyway, it was just another example of how the younger set think just because you're over 55, you can't possibly understand the complexities of Windows, PC's, or the Internet! It sure makes me CRABBY too.

So good for you Ronni!

I'll grant you that his delivery may have been thoughtless, but there's probably an interesting conversation somewhere in all of this about technological change , future shock, and how age fits into technological literacy.

Also, Jeremy has a point. If you're just working from hearsay, you might want to ratchet down the anger and abuse a little bit. A thoughtful conversation goes a lot further than calling people you've never met bigots.

I work in a telecommunications company that provides technology services to the public, including internet, mobile telephones and pay tv. I work in customer support taking inbound calls for help.

We have a large contingent of customers who could be classified as old, older, and even aged.

I am no longer surprised by the large numbers of this group signing up for internet plans and calling for help to adjust settings in their new fancy mobile phones.

What does interest me though, is that many of these people start the phone conversation by identifying themselves by saying things like: 'Now dear, I am an old person, you'll have to explain everything carefully'; or 'I don't know what I am doing, I am old'; 'You'll have to go really slowly for me - I am an old person'...

Now, I can see these people's birthdates - it is part of our identification/security process - but of course they have no way of knowing who they are talking to, and very often, these 'old' people are far younger than me - I am 61.

Makes for an interesting conversation, and part of why I love my job!

The thing is, though, that the majority of the other people who work with me are much younger - my speciality is internet - so I get to have similarly interesting conversations on our side of the fence.

Great topic Ronni, once again - I am glad you are still with us - can't help yourself eh?

One aspect of computing in the senior population that needs to be addressed is that the standard print in browsers is set rather small.

I particularly like Mozilla Firefox because you can enlarge the text with CTRL and the + key. That way, I don't need to wear bifocals and tilt my head back.

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