Women Are Probably the Most Important Demographic for the Tech IndustryS

Though the preponderance of Twitter sexism, wide-eyed girlfriend memes, and the startling dearth of female leadership at the majority of venture capital-backed companies, the tech industry doesn't revolve around men. At least, it shouldn't revolve around men, according to The Atlantic's senior editor Alexis Madrigal, who writes that it's about time for tech companies to realize that 40, 50, and 60-year-old women are driving the wide use some of the most important social networking technologies, and that 18 to 35-year-old men simply aren't as crucial a demographic as they used to be.

Madrigal explains that while there are clear business reasons for tech companies to focus their pitch-efforts on women, there's little evidence to suggest that those companies are heeding the demographic shift. The tech industry is relying on an outmoded narrative that overstates, according to data gathered by Intel researcher Genevieve Bell, men's role in technology adoption. Madrigal quotes a pretty thorough summary of Bell's work, which revises the misconceived narrative of a male-centric tech world:

It turns out women are our new lead adopters. When you look at internet usage, it turns out women in Western countries use the internet 17 percent more every month than their male counterparts. Women are more likely to be using the mobile phones they own, they spend more time talking on them, they spend more time using location-based services. But they also spend more time sending text messages. Women are the fastest growing and largest users on Skype, and that's mostly younger women. Women are the fastest-growing category and biggest users on every social networking site with the exception of LinkedIn. Women are the vast majority of owners of all internet enabled devices—readers, healthcare devices, GPS—that whole bundle of technology is mostly owned by women.

Women are using — or "depending on," if you're one of those people who think the machines are slowly usurping our autonomy — these important social networking technologies more often and with more fluency than men. Madrigal also observes that, because women are still the primary caretakers of children in many places, they are controlling the technological purse strings, deciding which devices their children will be able to use. Women are driving these new technologies, Madrigal explains, in spite of two forces working against them: a still subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) sexist advertising culture in which "booth babes" try to lure tech geeks to different convention tables, and a revisionist history of technology that attributes all major breakthroughs to stoop-shouldered, bespectacled "founding fathers" of tech.

This male-dominated history of the the tech industry most recently dribbled out of David Streitfeld's fingertips when he wrote the now-infamous first line to his New York Times article about the Ellen Pao lawsuit: "Men invented the internet." Though women are still massively underrepresented at venture capital firms and tech startups, — a fact that provides the perfect little breeding grounds for myths about men pioneering every technical innovation ever — the importance of men to the creation of the Internet has been, according to Boing Boing's incisive Xen Jardin, overemphasized.

Tech companies are slowly starting to realize that they should direct their attention to women because, as Madrigal points out, that's where the money is coming from. As long as women continue to out-consume and propagate new technologies faster and wider than men, tech companies are going to shift their focus so that the few remaining dudes wearing a t-shirts tucked into their jeans and nametags littered with JavaScript jokes will have nary a scantily clad woman to leer at come convention time.

Sorry, Young Man, You're Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech [The Atlantic]