When someone wants to describe how easy a new app is to use or observe that anyone with a shred of intellect could figure out the latest Facebook feature, here's the one word that gets trotted out most consistently: "mom." I'm told at least weekly how an entrepreneur's website is "so simple even your mom could figure it out," a comment usually followed by a sarcastic eye roll and wry smile. (Well, har har. I'll have you know my mom is a Skype master, inseparable from her iPad, and a digital-photo editing savante.) Another regular: "This tablet is nothing special, but, like, my mom would use it." In short, "mom" has become a synonym for "technologically incompetent."
Yeah, we've got some mommy issues. Case in point: MomThisIsHowTwitterWorks.com, an idiot's guide to @ replies, retweets and other social media jargon. I've checked and the URL "DadThisIsHowTwitterWorks.com" isn't taken. The go-to example for an out-of-touch Luddite who suffers a nervous breakdown before she can find the back button is "your mom." And it's a stereotype that needs to be snuffed out. The pervasiveness of the "even your mom" myth is particularly surprising given that women are the savviest social networkers and web users around. Female Internet users are 6 percent more likely than the average online adult to have at least one social networking profile, while men are 7 percent less likely, according to a recent Nielsen study. According to a 2010 comScore report, women spend 8 percent more time online than their male counterparts -- and those active Internet users aren't just teens. Women older than 55 spend an average of nearly 300 minutes a month on social networking sites. Men their age averaged less than 200 minutes a month doing the same.
Women have been the powerhouses propelling to popularity such sites as Pinterest (its users are 97 percent female, by one estimation), Zynga (more than half its gamers are women) and Facebook (the majority of its users are women). The average male Facebook user posts six status updates a month. Women? Eleven. Research by Hubspot in 2010 found similar results for Twitter: Women, on average, have more than twice as many followers as men; have tweeted more than twice as often; have been on Twitter longer; and follow more people.
But let's talk about moms. Mothers account for a full third of bloggers, Nielsen reported Friday. Moms also are more likely than the average online adult to have shopped the web for clothes (35 percent more so), toys (50 percent), music (29 percent) and ebooks (23 percent) in the past 30 days.
And don't for a second think moms aren't savvy with their smartphones: More than half of all mothers access social networks from their phones, compared with 37 percent of all online adults. While 50 percent of mobile subscribers own smartphones, 54 percent of moms do so.
According to my Twitter followers, who chimed in to discuss MomThisIsHowTwitterWorks.com a few months back, many of their mothers switched to smartphones before their fathers or beat their dads to Facebook and Twitter. Yet entrepreneurs, engineers, designers and writers persist in throwing their mothers under the bus. Gizmodo, though far from the only offender, included this paragraph in its story "HP Photosmart Premium Web Printer Review: Your Mom Will Love It:"
In case you're not picking up on this, regular Giz readers may not be the target audience. [The HP printer is] as much an arts-and-crafts hub as it is a don't-want-to-mess-with-a-computer resource, full of easy-access widgets that scream out "overworked mother of five," with barely anything for "twentysomething nerd." (Honestly, I can picture Kristin Wiig using this and making one of those weird smiles of surprised satisfaction.)
Sure, there are mothers out there who get befuddled trying to tinker with their privacy settings or install their apps. But so do I. And so does my father and so do my 20-something coworkers, and so do you.
You know who else likes gadgets that aren't unnecessarily complicated? Everyone.
Mocking our mothers' techxpertise isn't just bad manners. It also has the danger of suggesting to women that they're expected to be -- and should be -- incompetent at handling anything with an on switch. A small change in word choice could have a big change for some women's relationship with tech (though I'd argue many moms are already BFFs with their devices).
One alternative is to start throwing our uncles, cousins, sisters and dads under the bus, too ( "Skype Motherboards From Asustek Lets Even Your
Mom Uncle Skype"). Or better yet, maybe we should just do away with the digs at our relatives altogether.
And this Mother's Day, if your mom really is an "even your mom" who has trouble with tech, don't give her grief. Just give her a hand.