mfioretti: ageism*

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  1. Welcome to the American working class.”

    It was dark advice. But the times could at last be shifting. As digital journalism finds its place in the new-media landscape, helped by a crop of new web-only publications, younger journalists are beginning to demand the kind of work protections, decent wages and newsroom solidarity that many of their older counterparts once enjoyed. In the past year, workers have voted to unionize at Gawker, Vice, Salon and ThinkProgress, affiliating with the Writers Guild of America East, AFL-CIO. In January, The Huffington Post’s management voluntarily recognized the WGAE to represent 262 employees. The union negotiates “compensation, benefits, and job security” for its members.

    The NewsGuild represents the digital newsrooms of The Guardian US and, until it folded last month, Al Jazeera America. (Since learning of the closing, a group of AJAM reporters have banded together to create a website and help one another find jobs.) People organizing at digital-media outlets are doing so for the same reasons that people did a generation ago, said Gabriel Arana, a former senior media editor at The Huffington Post, who was involved with the union drive. “A lot of these new-media companies feel like tech companies. But at a certain point, having free snacks at work means less than having a retirement account or a decent salary that you can raise a family on. Digital media is maturing. People in it want the stability to be able to make a career out of it.”
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  2. Led by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Apple CEO Tim Cook, Silicon Valley is loudly complaining about homophobic laws passed in Indiana and Arkansas in recent days that allow businesses to refuse service to customers based on religious beliefs.

    A who’s who of leaders from companies such as Yelp, Square, Twitter, Lyft, Airbnb, eBay, PayPal and others signed their names to a petition today urging legislatures to forbid discrimination or denial of services to anyone, saying, “Discrimination is bad for business.” Petition leader Max Levchin, a PayPal co-founder and currently CEO of finance startup Affirm, told Re/code: “I am asking all CEOs to evaluate their relationships and investments in states that do not specifically protect LGBT people from discrimination.”

    That’s great and even admirable, except that here on the home front, Silicon Valley has its own very obvious discrimination problems. Gender is a big one. Race is another. The numbers are so incredibly skewed for the majority — the published diversity numbers in technology are something like 70 percent men, 90 percent white and Asian — that the situation is very often unhealthy for people who don’t or can’t fit in.

    While these are not twin causes, there are obvious parallels, and the inconsistencies between them became all the more evident this week.
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  3. That’s bad for equality, and bad for business. There are plenty of good hires out there that don’t fit the “startup dude” stereotype. Older developers, for example, bring a lot to the table. One study found that developers actually get better with age.

    “I think there’s a lifestyle mismatch between the demands of software companies and the needs of mature developers who have kids or other responsibilities,” says Doug Neumann, the senior director of systems management at the Raleigh, North Carolina-based tech company Bandwidth. “That particular mismatch means that those engineers aren’t making themselves available to certain software companies.”

    In other words, change your culture, and higher some older workers, some women, some minorities and some people who, well, don’t quite fit in. BThat might mean cutting back on the alcohol and violent video games at work, and encouraging people to actually go home in the evenings. But so be it.
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  4. The previous week my father and step-mother wanted to bid on a foreclosed property being auctioned by Citrus County, Fla. The county had automated the auction process, requiring it to be carried out online.

    But not to worry, the county provided a training class in how to do it. Of course, the course was in the form of a webinar! Completely befuddled, they turned to me for assistance.
    Glass half-empty?

    A 2012 report by the Pew Research Internet Project found that, for the first time, more than 50% of Americans 65 and older used the Internet. But that means nearly 50% don't.

    And “using the Internet” can mean different things. It can mean sending an email or checking Facebook for the latest pictures of the grandchildren.

    It doesn't necessarily mean filing a tax return or signing up for Obamacare. Yet the assumption now is that everything can be and should be done online.

    To save money, businesses and government agencies increasingly interact with the public only online. Have a question that isn't listed in the FAQs? Good luck talking to a human being.

    For consumers comfortable with technology, getting things done online is often faster and smoother. But for a rather large segment of the population, the often mandatory requirement that you use the Internet means they can't fully function in today's world.
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  5. Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

    And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’
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