Can You Be Over 40 And, Like, You Know, Dope With The Web?

There’s a company, which shall remain nameless, based in Austin that supposedly doesn’t do business with anybody over 30.

(I might add: It’s the same company that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a recent web business-to-business product launch, without mentioning the product category in its creative. And got, quite rightly, a fulsome 10 semi-qualified leads. Ouch.)

Voluntary disclosure: I am 42. Three years ago, I got hit by this speeding truck called the web, and I didn’t get the license plate number. Been somewhat unsteady on my feet ever since.

But, even in my compromised condition, I get exercised over age bias. In business dealings, I’ve met 55-year-olds who understood more about the web than 27-year-old online marketing managers. And I’ve also butted heads with 45-year-old marketing directors who think the web is unproven or, worse, just a fad.

There is, in my opinion, a subtle “age war” being waged. Anecdotally, I have noticed how technology companies find creative ways to “pasture” their older workers. I have been privy to conversations of 20-somethings as they savage a 50-something boss, primarily on the grounds that he doesn’t “get it.” (He may, in fact, not.)

The age war is nothing new. One of the uhh joys of capitalism is that we all are competing with each other for dollars and status and attention. We are all (gasp!) products. We must all (gulp!) brand ourselves so as to distinguish our look and feel and attitude. This is all (sigh) just part and parcel of the hustle for the legal tender.

And in this competition, friends, we are not kind. The slower members of the herd — or those that we presume are slower — are left to the lions and the hyenas.

And need I even mention the cultural fact of our youth worship? Even though our populace is aging, we still readily equate beauty, and certainly hip-ness, with youth.

One of the many interesting things about the web is how it can abstract you and others from facts of age and appearance. You can be anybody in chat rooms and on investor threads. You can, if you choose, become a text-approximation of your actual self. (Now that’s kinky.)

Email comes to me from folks who say they are college students or webmasters or business executives, but who knows for sure? All I have to “judge” them by are their thoughts and the way they represent them: spelling, grammar, etc. (Which, by the way, leads to a whole other kind of bias. The web, for now at least, puts a premium on facile writers. Not that I’m complaining.)

But, in a variety of business contexts, I have seen the web and its jargon used as a force to divide, separating the in crowd from those on the outs. Often this division is, unfortunately, along age lines. There is a presumption, becoming ossified in some quarters, that if somebody has some gray around the temples, they cannot be bearers of the received web wisdom.

The argument can be made that arrogance and bias go both ways. To be blunt, there are a number of C-level fossils (CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, etc.) who are aggressively uninterested in what the web is all about.

“I don’t use the web, so why should our company invest in it?” they ask. “What can some punk kid tell me about my business?” They unapologetically equate their own power with knowledge.

Here’s what I want. I want the C-level folks to take an elevator ride downstairs to borrow books and bookmarks from their “web guys.” (I want them to be as mighty Odysseus was at a critical point in his journey of renewal: A beggar at the threshold of his own door.) And I want the “web guys” to borrow some books about business processes. I want web guys quoting Drucker and Hammer and Kotler. And I want the C-level fossils quoting Wired and Industry Standard and Bezos and Dyson and Gilder and Negroponte.

Then I want to introduce them all to an 89-year-old creativity consultant I know who will blow out their hardened categories, whatever age they happen to be.

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