Conference: Stereotypical depictions of age in media technology industries

Conference: Stereotypical depictions of age in media technology industries

Last October 21-22, 2019, Andrea Rosales participated in the conference “Infrastructures and inequalities: Media industries, digital cultures and politics” organized by the Digital Culture and Communication (DCC) section of ECREA and hosted by the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Andrea presented along with Jakob Svensson the paper “Stereotypical depictions of age in media technology industries,” which is co-authored with Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol. Below you will find the abstract of this paper.

Abstract: This paper reflects on the personal and professional trajectories of programmers in media technology industries and how those influence the design and development of media technologies. Algorithms respond to corporate interests (Zuboff, 2019) and values (Wachter-Boettcher, 2018). Directly or indirectly, they also reflect personal ideals (Levy, 2010) of those involved in coding. Widely discussed is how tech culture, or the everyday habits and values within tech companies, influence tech products (Wachter-Boettcher, 2018). Particularly regarding discriminatory practices related to gender, sex, or socioeconomic status (Faulkner, 2001; Wajcman 2009). For instance, how facial recognition systems fail with black women (Buolamwini and Gebru, 2018) and how this relates to the lack of diversity among programmers (Wachter-Boettcher, 2018).

However, less studied are discriminatory practices concerning age (Ayalon & Römer, 2018). Reflecting prejudices, such practices deprioritise, disregard or exclude certain groups of people. Thus, by not taking into account habits, uses, and interest of older people, media technologies tend to reinforce ageism (Rosales & Fernández-Ardèvol, 2019).

In this project, we interview programmers in media technology companies in Silicon Valley, Scandinavia (Stockholm, Copenhagen & Malmö), Berlin and Barcelona. Conversations revolve around participants’ past, present and future programming trajectories to reflect on their age discourses and how those shape the products they develop. Thus our research interest is on ageing ideologies within the corporate culture of media technology industries and how they influence their products and services.

First interviews show that most participants have concerns about their abilities to continue their programming trajectories when they turn 40 years old. They point to physical declining associated with age “people doesn’t have the same energy when they are 40”, to the limitations to learning new programming languages as they become “old”, and to the team building corporate politics that fit better for singles or workers without parental responsibilities. This stereotypical depiction of old age -that begins at 40- illustrates the disconnection of companies from the interests, needs and values of their older users.

Keywords: ageism, corporate culture, programming, inequalities, older people, algorithms