19 February 2008

Tech’s feminine side

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Woman with mobile phone
The Boston Globe ponders what happens now that women are wielding increasing influence in a high-tech world that has been largely built and engineered by men, and how that changes the technology itself.

No one would make the argument that megapixels are masculine or that gigabytes have a gender. But as gadgets and websites become an integral part of everyday life, a high-tech world that has been largely built and engineered by men is getting the feminine touch.

Digital cameras, cellphones, and online social networks appear unisex – but social scientists argue that every product is hardwired in subtle ways that reflect the cultural assumptions of its makers.

In a technology world that has been dominated by men, a growing number of companies are realizing that “feminizing” their products – essentially, by putting style and functionality on an equal footing with power and speed – is good for business.

“Women say, ‘Listen, I always have demands on my time – kids or husbands or in-laws or my parents . . . I don’t want technology that requires me to fiddle around with it,”‘ said Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist at Intel Corp. who has over the past decade helped push the company to consider consumers in its engineering choices. “It makes women really interesting bellwethers or benchmarks for usability.”

The article refers to a Nokia entertainment study, entitled ‘A Glimpse of the Next Episode’ (press release | downloads), but has some interesting insights on future user interfaces as well.

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