March 19, 2008

Real Life Demonstrates and One Hopes The Virtual Might Follow

On Monday I had a sort of intense, momentary experience that happened on a sidewalk in Menlo Park, reminding me of my blog post on Facebook and Slide, and a comment a friend of mine made recently.

That friend said that in my Facebook/Slide post, where I said that "young boys" with little social skills and little mentoring were making social applications that are antisocial at times, was maybe an unfair characterization. When the sidewalk incident happened, I realized I'd witnessed the public demonstration of what I was talking about in the Facebook post, and that I wanted that to happen with the young guys in my prior post that make online products for others.

So what happened on the sidewalk? I was walking toward the door of my friend's office building, and within a couple of feet of the door, a guy, maybe 16, driving his bike kind of recklessly and fast and weaving in and out of people brushed past me. Two guys who were maybe 70, in Bermuda shorts and short sleeve button down shirts and sandals yelled at him, "Hey, you almost hit that lady, you're being an asshole, you can't do that in our town." At which point they grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him off his bike, and then he denied it, and I was at this point, inside the glass doors but could hear everything, but they told him he had to ride in the street and forced him to get off the sidewalk. It was so confrontational, as I was lost in my own thoughts and then jarred out of them, that I felt kind of embarrassed. But as I walked upstairs, and met this same friend mentioned above, I told him about what just happened. And then I said, sort of surprised, that well, this was kind of the in-person demonstration that would be nice to see at any of these companies where your social software behaves antisocially. In other words, older men who understand the value of good behavior can teach that well to younger men.

Well, I also want to explain in response to my friend above, about why I said what I did about "young boys" who need some mentoring from older men. One reason I feel comfortable saying this "group" verses another has a problem, in this case, is that while I know it's possible for "young girls" to make antisocial software, I ask, have you ever heard of that? I never have. There are very few women coders, compared to vast number of men coders, and most of the women coders I know gain the confidence to build their own companies or software systems a little later in life, if they ever do at all. Women are socialized to think they can't or shouldn't create or speak out aggressively or publicly criticize and it takes some living often into their early 30's before they are willing to put themselves out there and take a huge personal risk like building a product or company. I mean, why is it that factories in poor countries (Asia, South America, Eastern Europe are all reported to do this) only hire women under 25? Because they are looking for docile workers and you just don't get that with young guys.

At the point all coders are a little older, they tend to be more socialized, and also, at least in my experience verbally express more desire to build tools that take better care of the user. But it's the young guys I'm worried about coding social software, because they are more likely to have ego and aggression without experience. Which is a scary combination. Like the guy on the bike. I realize it's not politically correct to say so, but I wanted to talk specifically in that post earlier about Facebook and Slide about where I think responsibility lies for the social problems that have come up on Facebook with apps like those made by Slide. And to ask for help from older men, who fund these young guys, to help with the problem.

And that was my point. I hope this clarifies.

Posted by Mary Hodder at March 19, 2008 07:19 AM | TrackBack

I think there's a cultural element to this as well. For example, in countries where boys are not so aggressive or where it's not cool to put people on the spot or make them lose face (e.g. Japan, the Philippines), a boy would probably never create a piece of software that violates those social codes. Not that they wouldn't think about it (boys think about naughty things all the time), but it would not become popular.

You see this even with grown up software services such as Xing (the European Linked In). Xing does not have the odious feature called "endorse me" which is very American.

But I think that boys everywhere, more than girls, push against boundaries and test people. That is perhaps the difference between a boy and a girl -- and it might even be biological.

Posted by: Esme Vos at March 20, 2008 09:51 AM