Mix Geeks and Seniors – Get Ageism?

Mix Geeks and Seniors - Get Ageism?Does being a geek carry an automatic bias toward ageism? Geeks often possess knowledge unavailable to earlier generations. Unlike tribal times when elders were respected as repositories of culture and knowledge, modern times are characterized by large numbers of young people who know they are hot and anyone older than them is not. Rapid technological and cultural advance promotes this view.

This is not a new phenomenon. It happens whenever technology or culture changes more rapidly than can be accommodated. Technology example: When horses and guns were introduced to the plains people, young men suddenly became more powerful than the elders and the culture was upturned. Cultural example: When I was a boy, we knew instinctively that Glenn Miller music sucked and Elvis was hot. We pitied the old folks who did not get it. Now I am a senior and experience the ageism we practiced back in the day. And I have come to realize that media play a more important role in promoting ageism than I realized.

Count the seniors you see on television and see how many are portrayed favorably.

Some types of deliberate ageism are technically illegal, but that is not much of a deterrent. When a company I worked for was bought, I volunteered for the inevitable reduction in force. As a condition of being laid off, we executives were offered an outplacement service. I went because I wanted to start another company and thought that would be a good place to meet competent executives hungry for another opportunity. We sat in a briefing and were told how to fill out résumés. The instructor was firm, “Say you are experienced. Under no circumstances say you have over 20 years of experience.” Ageism in hiring might be illegal, but if you admit to 20 years of experience, then you will not get hired. It is that simple. As a test, I sent out two sets of résumés; one with and one without my actual age apparent. I never received a single response from an honest form. No rejections, just no response. Maybe they all got lost in the mail.

Other forms of ageism occur daily. A member of the Geek Squad looked at me with total bewilderment when I described how I had recovered data from a client’s failing hard drive by thermally shocking it so that I could copy files before it crashed totally. The idea that a BHOF would actually know something useful to show him was a new concept (by the way, it does not always work — I was lucky). Young geeks simply assume that I can barely use an XP machine for email and surfing. When I point out to them that data from space-borne instruments I designed are still being analyzed, the doubt is obvious in their eyes.

Over the years, I have developed the habit of meeting new geeks (club members, clerks, service people) with a detailed and correctly posed technical question. With some quick back and forth, I can establish the equivalent of geek street creds. Then the conversation can proceed between equals. But at technical conventions, you can watch twenty-somethings enter a booth and automatically be assumed knowledgeable about whatever is being displayed without resorting to artifice. Seniors are treated differently.

Why does ageism persist? As with all stereotypes, there is sufficient correlation between age and technical knowledge to make it a useful energy saving tool. Compare ageism to sexism or racism. If you educate a group, such as young girls, to think they cannot succeed in technical fields and you support this education by not hiring or even promoting them, then surprise: you do not have many female geeks. The stereotype correctly predicts the average behavior of females because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy with no proven rational basis. An HR person tasked with finding a new hotshot engineer might want to save time and energy by filtering from the applications all those who are older than a certain age, or are females, or based on some guesses, belong to a disfavored race or religion. I hope there is a special place in hell for such perverts.

So do me a favor and do not assume that the next senior you meet is technically naïve. That might be the case, but it does not justify a condescending attitude. To me, an honest geek is driven by passion. An honest geek wants to share that passion. And the funny thing is, that the more you share, the more there is of it.

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  • http://www.about.me/tgowland Tara Gowland

    This is good stuff Chris – talent is found at all ages and genders!

    • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

      And races and religions.

  • http://twitter.com/HarryMonmouth Harry Monmouth

    Glenn Miller rocks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

      Yeah, I agree, but that was not obvious when I was 16.

  • Chuck L

    Right on! I started with an OLD 1981 IBM PC with a 386 running at 16MHz and now, my 4th build, run an ASUS Sabertooth 990FX with an AMD Phenom II x4 955BE running at 4.20GHz. I KNOW copiers, printers, laser printers and PC’s but………..my “impressive” resume means very little. IS there such a thing as TOO much experience???Ageism? I wish there was a way to prove I’ve been a victim of discrimination due to my age (59).

    • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

      At 59, you are still so young, I can only say you have a lot of prejudice ahead of you. Smile and try not to let it get you down.

  • mlpdyer

    Yeah, baby! I see it – I’m 58 – and I have knowledge depth that goes back to ASCII images and command line prompts. Still, I am surprised, Chris, that a youngster like you is seeing this ageism already!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

    You might consider bifocals. A seventy-something wrote the piece. If you see ageism now, you have an unpleasant surprise waiting.

  • OldHerbaceous

    At 74 I like to keep uptodate with latest developments having started by dialing up mainframe bureaux to run small programs in the 70s. I am regularly called upon by grandchildren to sort out their PCs.

  • ‘Tis Moi

    First thing Sherm- I am cringing at the people here who are so oblivious to your post as to not see who the author of it is! Good grief… I feel I should apologise for them!

    As someone who, 51, but looks younger- I was fortunate to secure sales positions in two different major electronic/computer shops here in AU. Both positions required an extensive interview & probe of my tech knowledge. While my age was evident on my resume, it didn’t seem to impact my being hired.

    However, I do definitely experience condescension when shopping technology in shops, in general. I assume that the younger staff believe that I (a woman) & older than a teen mustn’t have a clue? So yes, the theory you propose is absolutely true. I always like it when I ask if the computer has two, physical cores? Or if an SSD can be swapped for the HDD & if so, how do I clone the HDD to the SDD…lol…

    • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

      Thanks for the comments. Asking the technical question as a means of establishing creds seems to be a common tactic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

    You got me beat by a year, but I also have to fix grandchildren’s computers, which is contrary to the popular myth of grandchildren teaching the oldsters.

  • http://twitter.com/SpyderBite SpyderBite

    I’ll stop discriminating against your age when you start driving faster than 20mph. ;)

    I’m an “older” person too.. So, I get where you’re coming from. There are only so many times you can explain to a senior that AOL is not the Internet before you start unintentionally dread the blue haired lady approaching you in need of tech support. XD

    • http://www.facebook.com/sherman.deforest Sherman DeForest

      Been there–done that. Since my wife and I do not want speeding tickets, we both have state of the art radar/laser detectors in our cars (legal in California–check your state laws). So i do not think we hold up traffic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnkooz John Kuczmarski

    “So do me a favor and do not assume that the next senior you meet is technically naïve. ”

    Really liked that. Once heard a baby-boomer (50s) say ‘Don’t take anything Jim say seriously; he’s over 80.’ And I thought…well how would you like it when you’re over 80 and people treat you the same way? Strangely, I think strangely old and young people are the most wise.