“My number one initiative is to go back and look at the feminine dimensions of technology.”
By Amy-Willard Cross (Editor, Vitamin W)
Facebook may have gotten a $67 billion market cap. It may have 900 million users, and even a woman on the board and in the C-suite, but it’s not really built for women according to Heidi Dangelmaier.
A computer scientist who pioneered social media platforms for corporate clients back in the mid-90s when Web 1.0 was still all about broadcast, she’s the owner of GirlApproved. This invention and design company helps create products, services and campaigns for major clients. Dangelmaier has worked with major packaged brands such as Playtex, Unilever, Nokia and Rubbermaid with great success.
And she’s created what she calls a new platform for innovation. She maintains that women and society itself are not even conscious of the feminine needs that are hidden from us - and that men, women, business and tech need to address those needs.
Dangelmaier is an inventor who is in the very small club of women patent holders. At Princeton, she worked on a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science. In the design, video and invention worlds, Danglemaier says she had to create her own place - in female innovation and design.
After Princeton, she launched a digital production house, Hi-D that worked on projects for Samsung, Time-Warner and Capitol Records. At GirlApproved, she works with a multidisciplinary team and has spent years working with girls born post 1988; the first social media generation. There should be no surprise that there’s a gender gap in technology, since it exists in everything.
“My number one initiative is to go back and look at the feminine dimensions of technology.” All of it.
What are feminine dimensions - which are intrinsic to both men and women? Quality (vs. quantity), equality (vs. hierarchy), intuition (vs. analysis), emotion (vs. physiciality), collaboration (vs. competition). This computer scientist says that including the feminine will help integrate the feminine and masculine mind in all of us and help restore balance to everything.
Although Facebook is dominated by women, the network ignores the feminine dimension, like so much else in our culture. “It’s very masculine to have a friend count - it is a tragic concept - versus a qualitative connection with that person.” She goes so far as to call it “fucked-up-ed-ness.” Why are many friends preferable to good friends? Unless they’re not pals so much as your market. Unless you’re doing a barn raising, not a barn party.
A “like” doesn’t say much at all; clicking a thumbs up doesn’t allow for thought but mere consumption.
Commenting is also problematic, as anyone who has met a troll knows. “We are inviting judgment; it’s dangerous, you have to be strong enough because the moment you say what you think, you’re in receiver mode and you have to be open to everyone’s mixed intentions.” Others have authority to judge you and it takes a lot of emotional wherewithal to withstand that. In her view, it’s emotionally negligent and dysfunctional.
Social media sharing can be purely mechanistic and without any clear benefit. Why do people care about your sharing? Is there any benefit to the recipient?
“In this framework,” says Dangelmaier, “what’s the point of broadcasting a Foursquare dinner checkin across all your networks. Could it even be considered disrespectful of people’s time?” Instead, she asks, what if you advanced in social media by how much more you make people believe in themselves - or something else good and useful?
Likewise, gaming can be construed as masculine when it’s competitive and about getting points, or feminine when it’s about experience and fun. Dangelmaier thinks that Farmville’s popularity can be explained by the intangible rewards all people derive from helping, contributing, supporting, enhancing or protecting. “Women by nature are nurturing, constructive, and responsible, but in society, and particular with politics/government it isn't apparent how to bring those qualities into our daily roles.”
Despite tech’s problems, we are all responsible for jumping on board by enumerating friends like the queen in the counting house, venting in comment sections, or spray-bombing meaningless tweets. Dangelmaier says, “We have to be careful what we’re advocating. We have to be willing to examine these technologies from our own life experiences, and the dangers.”
Apparently, women in places of power - in top schools or media companies - don’t see the value in consulting young women. They have also taken on the bias - as many of us have, without realizing it. It’s a problem we all have to try to solve.
In fact, the gender gap in technology could actually be increasing because of changes in the tech world. Rapid prototyping or new models of software development (OSS API models) don’t necessarily create better products, “We are now efficiently able to produce things that few people have any use for.” People are rewarded for building fast. Nerds rule, especially now that tech has infiltrated many aspects of our lives. Dangelmaier adds, “What we end up doing is investing in the ideas of people who are primarily programmers, versus people whose primary purpose is to understand people.”
Consequently, we are inundated with thousands of apps, which are coming out faster and faster with few of them novel. This technology marketplace has a masculine footprint according to Dangelmaier. “What female has time or patience to haul though this hideous jumble pile of applications? Most apps have no interest to me, the descriptions are vague, the shopping experience sucks, and when I do seek use of the app, I often find that the interface of functionality or experience are way too limited.” That’s happening because, instead of thinking what people really want, the tech world is just racing and chasing progress, without minding the gender gap.
We need to explore tech as if it is a new territory, says this computer scientist, and approach it with a sense of what could be?
“That needs to be pioneered - and quickly. Both men and women need to explore the feminine dimension.”
Then let’s see what Foursquare and Facebook could really do for all of us.
This post originally appeared on vitaminw.co Photo credit: GirlApproved. About the guest blogger: Amy-Willard Cross is the editor of Vitamin W, a platform for news, business and philanthropy. A former editor at national magazines, she authored books, written countless articles, features, op-eds and book reviews. Once while working on a documentary, she found an American who had fought with Fidel. She wants her daughter to learn how to code as the pay gap is only 6% for women programmers. Follow her on Twitter at @VitaminWomen.