The Brutal Ageism of Silicon Valley
We’re told that our high-tech meritocracy based on productivity is the source of our enlightenment when it comes to our resolute opposition to racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
Certainly the demands of our global competitive marketplace have attuned us more than ever to the productive truth of multicultural diversity. But Noam Scheiber, writing for the New Republic, reminds us that all still is not well. Silicon Valley is in the thrall of an increasingly “brutal ageism.”
Mark Zuckerberg, for one, has an argument for his preferential option against more senior Americans: “Young people are just smarter.” I, for one, have not observed that to be true.
A very old professor told me a couple of years ago: “Every year I know more and more, and the students less and less.” Me too. I don’t quite agree with the guy who claimed that today’s young are “the dumbest generation,” but they sure aren’t as smart as they think they are. (Well, it’s likely I’m not as smart as I think I am either.)
But what Zuckerberg might have meant is that young people typically do better in keeping up with the latest technological developments. Certainly they’re the ones who think they’re so darn important—or transformational or whatever. Maybe the key is that “people over forty-five basically die in terms of new ideas.” That might seem fairly plausible if “new ideas” is limited to technological breakthroughs, but even then it’s not so hard to find middle-aged exceptions who aren’t dead in any way.
The same sort of prejudice is directed against “older entrepreneurs.” The old, it’s thought, are too suspicious of “disruption”; they’ve become “too cynical to believe that real change is possible.” But real change, after all, is not always possible. And not every techno-change is beneficial, and many are only beneficial if deployed with care.
There’s a lot to be said for “marginal improvements” that chasten innovation with prudent attention to both environmental and moral sustainability. There’s a lot to be said against “the Silicon Valley model” of “throwing massive amounts of money at highly speculative investments.” They are, after all, “suspiciously bubble prone.” Having said all that, Schieber reminds us there’s less correlation that you might think between being youthful and entrepreneurial disruption.
It’s certainly true that the young value less than ever the wisdom gained through experience that has been traditionally accorded to the old. That wisdom has something to do with the enduring exercise of personal responsibility, enduring moral virtue, astute judgments, and in some cases the deep learning that has come through decades of reading and thinking. It’s about being a grown-up in full. But in Silicon Valley, being “naive and immature” impresses employers more than being seasoned. Older employees have to knock themselves out to prove they aren’t “schoolmarmish authority figures out to stifle fun and creativity.” Nobody wants to work with parents!
Certainly the techno-sophisticated young, more than ever, don’t reflect on what old people are for. That doesn’t mean they want to die young. They’re particularly attuned to avoiding the risk factors that might extinguish their own being. And they even hope for indefinite longevity and even the Singularity. It’s only an exaggeration to say that our techno-sophisticates want to live for hundreds of years (at least) without ever actually getting old.
That’s why, as Scheiber reports, that Silicon Valley has become America’s main Botox dispensary. The irony, of course, is the Botoxing and similar procedures only help in not looking old; they don’t actually keep your thinking from getting old. The Botox physician’s customers are getting younger and younger, showing that people are ridiculously identifying looking not-all-that-young with being over the hill as a thinker. In that wonderful California climate, rumor has it that our techno-sophisticates are even avoiding with the sun for fear of premature wrinkling.
That kind of obsessive calculation is one piece of evidence among many of how far Silicon Valley has wandered from “the tech industry’s hippie roots.” The hippies, of course, sometimes said don’t trust anyone over thirty, but they never said knock yourself out, including using all techno-means available, not to look thirty.
The attraction of the Singularity, of course, is that your aging body will be replaced by a machine of some kind. That machine will be as disposable or quickly obsolete as any being produced these days. It’ll be regularly replaced and upgraded, even as your consciousness remains eternally the same. So the promise of the Singularity is that we’ll remain “forever young,” or, better, forever not old.
Scheiber is certainly right to observe that “the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now seems way out of proportion to its usefulness.” And those sensitive to the bullying of school kids should be outraged at what’s happening to older guys.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.