In an article at the NY Times last week, the writer states that “research shows that among the youngest Internet users, the primary creators of Web content (blogs, graphics, photographs, Web sites) are not misfits resembling the Lone Gunmen of “The X Files.” On the contrary, the cyberpioneers of the moment are digitally effusive teenage girls.”
She goes on to write:
Indeed, a study published in December by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that among Web users ages 12 to 17, significantly more girls than boys blog (35 percent of girls compared with 20 percent of boys) and create or work on their own Web pages (32 percent of girls compared with 22 percent of boys).
Girls also eclipse boys when it comes to building or working on Web sites for other people and creating profiles on social networking sites (70 percent of girls 15 to 17 have one, versus 57 percent of boys 15 to 17). Video posting was the sole area in which boys outdid girls: boys are almost twice as likely as girls to post video files.
Research by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, the result of focus groups and interviews with young people 13 to 22, suggests that girls’ online practices tend to be about their desire to express themselves, particularly their originality.
“With young women it’s much more about expressing yourself to others in the way that wearing certain clothes to school does,” said John Palfrey, the executive director of the Berkman Center. “It ties into identity expression in the real world.”
Designers, developers and entrepreneurs should take note of this and start creating more means of personal expression in online networks and social media to reflect offline identities. While girls are certainly already expressing themselves online, there are so many unexplored opportunities available for services to fill this need, rather than create a one-size-fits-all approach to providing services. It’s also time to stop assuming target audiences are male.
The article also goes on to say that this shift hasn’t taken hold in American high schools, where girls are still less than 15% of students who took the AP computer science exam in 2006, and that there’s been a 70 percent decline in incoming undergraduate women choosing to major in computer science. Personally, I don’t find much correlation between young women’s use of social media and their desire to study computer science. While I took AP computer science when I was in high school and then computer science classes in college, I’ve found little of this knowledge to be applicable to the modern social media environment. Computer science provides you with the logic and knowledge of a particular programming language, not the skills to form relationships, or pursue personal expression online, as many girls are already doing. Rather, my degrees and studies in literature, fine arts, and cultural theory have provided me with the background and the critical thinking skills and creative context to pursue a career in technology at large.
Lastly, this is a personal peeve of mine, but why are stories about girls or women in tech always silo-ed in the “Fashion and Style” section of the NY Times? If we’re going to dispel stereotypes, wouldn’t it be logical to publish these articles in the “Technology” section where they belong?