Friday, February 13, 2015

Raging Controversy at Dilbert.Com

(I started to type this into the Link Log, but it really needs a space of its own.)

Scott Adams complained of a drop in page views, earlier this week. Whew. This post seems to have got the page views (and hostility) back up:

http://blog.dilbert.com/post/110816085436/what-is-the-right-percentage-of-women-in-technical

Right...I woke up this morning feeling controversial too. This discussion felt like a rerun to me. From 1983, or maybe even 1973. Can a girl, if she's unfortunately been born with the ability to pass the qualifying test for Mensa (yes, my father gave the test to my brother and me, and both of us passed) and also with even average looks, let her intelligence show and still have friends? Is that why more women aren't launching new businesses in the technological industry, where so much of the money is these days?

Well, (1), just to get this out of the way: at age 13 hardly anybody seems to have a satisfactory social life, whatever they do. After age 18, when people have more freedom to find congenial associates, a girl can be smart, cute, talented, hardworking, ambitious, etc., and if she also shows a reasonable interest in other people's assets she can have hordes of friends, be a campus queen, and have enough of a social network to launch a low-investment business if she likes. I did that...back when odd jobs were still a viable business to launch. (I was not always a poor little widow. For most of twenty years I was a Bright Young Thing.)

(2), as I mentioned in a long-buried comment on Scott Adams' post: I've never met a woman who wanted to invent a new electronic gadget and build a business around it. Women who were part of, sometimes key parts of, technological businesses, yes. (I was a small, come-lately part of a computer system called Autopro that lost out to Windows, but that's nothing...guess who recently took over Yahoo.com?) In theory there may be a female heir to Steve Jobs' or Bill Gates' position in this world, somewhere. But she'd have more than just a Mensa-level I.Q.; she'd also have a very specific, very rare combination of talent, personality, and external assets. I can testify that the problem was not that male programmers of our generation weren't willing to teach me how to program a computer, at home, and take the chance that I'd write programs that outsold theirs. They did that. And what I did with my computer, after getting it to process words, was not to design a better word-processing system, but to use my feeble little system to write poems and stories until I got tired of my system's shortcomings and bought a pre-programmed word processor that worked better. A lot of women with Mensa-level I.Q.s are just more interested in their own, more gender-typical talents than they are in the things they're smart enough to learn but not really self-driven to do.

But also (3), I wonder whether Scott Adams is asking the right question. I don't see room in today's world for anybody to reinvent Apple or Windows or Google or Yahoo or, for that matter, wheels. I see a lot of techno-geeks frantically marketing new "apps" for which people's felt needs are limited. A lot of the innovative computer stuff on the market is, frankly, annoying even to people who use computers and electronic gadgets every day. It occurred to me, after reading Scott Adams' post, that back when I was the typist, editor, and writer for those wonks and geeks, those wonderful synergistic working relationships (oh how I miss them) involved my helping some of them stay grounded in the real world. Y'know, the world where "Look at this flashy new redesigned version of your favorite web site" hits the ground and freezes into "Anything that pops up in between my clicking on a button and getting the screen I expect is a nuisance." And maybe that's what some of the brilliant entrepreneurs Scott Adams describes need, these days.

I'm not saying that the ground-wire role in every tech business is a "more feminine" role; men can play it too, and probably there are women who can play the live-wire role in a technology business; I perceived my husband as the invaluable ground-wire to my live-wire in the odd jobs business. But maybe, and Scott Adams would certainly be better qualified to answer this question than I would, what the electronics industry needs to do is recognize the women in the ground-wire positions as full partners with the men in the live-wire positions. That type of relationship, either between spouses or between "tech staff" and "support staff," seemed to be fairly common for my generation. Maybe the younger set will get around to recognizing and compensating the ground-wire types.