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November, 2009

Gender Tech

Exploring the possibility of a gender bias in new technology and communication.

I was reminded of this post I wrote a month ago (and never posted) when I read at Overcoming Bias that women being more picky than men at speed dating events was the result of the way the event was set up, not some insight into the difference between genders. Here they quote the original Washington Post article:

In almost all speed-dating events, women sit in stationary positions and men rotate to talk with each of them. When Finkel and Eastwick set up a dating event like that, the standard result bore out -- women were more selective. But when they reversed the roles and had women rotate, that was no longer the case. Suddenly, the men became more selective and the women less so.

Anyway, here's the post I wrote about tech and gender, which I don't think is offensive, and certainly isn't meant to be, but if it is I apologize.

Last month [September] I went to a Yankee game with my buddy Jimmy. We went to high school together and hadn't actually hung out in two years or so. While at the game we remarked, as is common, how amazing it was that we could just hang out after so long apart and just feel like we picked up where we left off. We talked a little about how it was easy to feel connected with things like Facebook and email, allowing us to casually check in on each other without actually being in the same place.

Then, as the conversation progressed, we started to talk a little about how this seemed to be an especially male trait. In my personal experience (and I feel like I might be verging on sexism here, so I am going to continue to be quite clear that this is personal experience), it is more difficult to maintain these types of casual relationships with female friends. There are probably lots of reasons for this, but personally I've found those relationships require far more constant contact (not all of them certainly, but many).

Anyhow, I mention all this because of a paragraph I just read offering an "untested anecdotal theory" roughly about the Dunbar Number:

There's a spectrum of 'stable' relationships. There are stable relationships of daily interaction regarding personal and intimate topics. There are stable relationships of regular interaction, and there are stable relationships of irregular (potentially very irregular) interactions. The more stable the basis of a relationship is with another person, the less regularly you need to 'groom' that relationship. I have friends who I've known for a long time, with whom I speak or interact very irregularly, but when we do talk or interact - whether it's been months, or even years since our last conversation - it's like we've been in touch the whole time. I thnk that new social media helps maintain these less regular, more stable relationships over long periods of time. Basically, if a relationship's base is strong or deep enough, then it degrades slowly enough so that even extremely irregular contact, or maybe even just the knowledge that the contact could be made, is enough to counter the degradation.

Which made me remember the conversation and leads me to where that conversation eventually led: Is the new technology driving the current trends in communication inherently male? (Or female, for that matter?) Are we pushing a mode of communication (many loose connections) that is more suited to one sex over the other? I'm not sure we are, though I suspect based on the founding teams that both Facebook and Twitter are a bit male-biased. However, both services, to my knowledge, have a very healthy gender ratio (I know 54 percent of 18-24 year olds on Facebook are female).

Like I said, I don't know the answer, but I do find it quite interesting to think about the possibility of a gender bias in new technology.

November 10, 2009
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.