— Chris Smith (@startsequence) October 15, 2012
Almost every time I go to a tech- or gaming-related conference, I hear middle-aged white men in suits talk about their wives and children. This would be lovely and rather sweet, were it not for the fact that they all seem to be married to the same woman, and they all seem to be raising the same children.
“The wife”, as she is often called, is frequently described as “not very good with computers” or “not a gamer.” Often, I hear humbling stories about how The Wife provides an amazing insight into the human condition. Or how she teaches The Exec about what it’s like for the ordinary user, who isn’t familiar with the high-end technological wizardly in which he is apparently so accomplished.
“My son”, says the exec, “is already using an iPad, and he’s only a year old.” There are older children in the family too. “My daughter would be so embarrassed to be seen using a Blackberry!” remarks The Exec, concluding “young people are all using iPhones.”
It’s taken me a while to figure out why this bothers me so much. So what if the people running technology companies make public reference to their wealthy, heteronormative lifestyle in an attempt to give examples of use cases from ‘ordinary people’? They’re bound to draw on their own experience in their work. Far be it from me to tell them to leave their personal life out of it.
I’ve realised that it bothers me because they never once talk about focus groups, and only ever reference market research on a macro-level. These two things combined – coarse, macro-level demographic data and constant reference to the upper-middle-class nuclear family, are leading to design and product decisions that are bad for women, bad for the elderly, and not even that good for business.
I don’t care about this guy’s wife. What she spends her time on is her own business. I do care that he gives his technologically inept wife as the key example when talking about the vague demographic of ‘women aged 35-50′. I don’t care how talented his children are. I do care that he calls tablets “a technology that doesn’t require any training – your children will teach you how to use it” – someone actually said that at the Global Mobile Internet Conference this week. What if I don’t have any children? What if my children don’t have their own iPad?
The Exec decides where to allocate the product development budget. He decides what products get made. He decides the direction the tech industry is moving. And the future he sees is one in which women are removed from the means of production, and anyone who cannot afford to buy an iPad for their children is irrelevant. All because he can’t be bothered to carry out a focus group or buy some qualitative survey data.
This narrow-mindedness appears particularly stupid when you consider the millions of elderly people who are completely neglected by the tech industry. Many of them have a sizable disposable income and lots of leisure time on their hands – perfect for selling computer games to, as long as you get the platform and design right. I always wondered why they were being ignored by the market. Could it be because they don’t fit into the image of the nuclear family with which execs feel compelled to ally themselves?