I think this is in part because, as people, we are associational. We inherently relate to what we know. Similis simili gaudet ("like in like rejoices") is the Latin maxim that captures this. And younger people tend to relate to that which is new and exciting to them (this site, of all places, certainly typifies this, as one sees discussions all the time on issues that appeal specifically to the young). The counterpart to this, however, is that those who are younger also tend to be dismissive of the things to which older people relate, things which the older people themselves found new and exciting some years back - these are not just select things, they are the day-to-day things of life: social trends, the heroes we identify with, the people we go out with, the movies we watch, the cultural events that grab us, even the ideas we believe in and the values that we share. In time, for those who are young, such things have "had their day," become faded, and become foreign and distant.
That part is natural and perhaps even unobjectionable. We all become invested in our own generation to some degree and it is natural to relate to the things we grow up with and to believe in them, even if this means "moving on" from older things and from those associated with them.
But youth is also highly prone to lose perspective because, as Aristotle put in many centuries ago in his Rhetoric, the thing that most tends to characterize youth is a (false) sense of invincibility, what he termed in Greek the word we know today as hubris. When one is young, one tends to strut about and there is no room, when one is strutting, for those who are perhaps slower, less aggressive, possibly infirm. Yes, a young person can be kind and gracious and have all the good qualities too. But, at that age, arrogance can all too often be at the forefront. This propensity leads to the negative part of ageism because it types those who are older in ways that are unfair, prejudicial, and, indeed, foolish - when perspective is lost, youth fails to see the self-evident strengths in those who are older (the wisdom, the years of accumulated intelligence, the leadership strength, the wealth of experience, etc.), and this results in a net loss to all.
The reality, then, is that such prejudices tend to be inherent in how we function as human beings. They can be overcome but only by a conscious effort that will not likely affect the mass of people no matter how much the issue is raised in people's consciousness. Of course, that doesn't mean that each of us can't attempt to overcome it in our own lives, and that is the commendable goal we should strive for.
However it is worth noting that this is handled differently within different cultures and even within different fields within one culture. For instance, my step-mother is originally from Korea and she tells me that elder generations are treated with much more respect than they tend to be in America.
In my own observations in America, I have seen a distinct preference for younger employees in fields such as technology. On the other hand, from what I have seen in law, medicine, and intelligence analysis age seems to be less of a factor and the older practitioneers seem to have some advantage in the fact that they have had more time to build seniority.
Although I'm still young (27) ... I'm becoming more and more dismissive of new technologies.
Why? Because my experience tells me when something new is just a rehash of some older concept that sucked. That's why I stayed away from SOAP ... learned about CORBA in college and hated it. That's why I stayed away from ASP.NET ... because I first had the pleasure of working with Rails and with PHP (with my own home-backed framework).
Of course ... I could instantly see the potential in IPhone ... all those portable devices that fit in your pocket, with a GPS, a photo-camera, an Internet connection and a single online store that sells apps ... all of which could lead to interesting stuff like augmented reality ... that's love at first sight.
I also think that it's a bad idea focusing on grokking technologies. Algorithms, data-structures, math ... these are things that will never be deprecated and where experience matters.
The young are more likely to just accept it because their entire life, they have been influenced to accept it.
"Respect your elders"
This may be half-addled philosophy, or it may be common sense, but I think it is fair to generalize about people in this sort of way and about how this might color their perceptions of age and youth. On the "youth" side of this, you do get a tendency to say, "the world is ours and we can conquer it" in every generation and this tends to lead to a brushing off of those who are not in the same position. Call it what you will and, if "arrogance" is too strong, pick your own word. It is not meant to come across as biased. Bias, I think, manifests itself not when we try to make observations about what we see as attributes of age or youth but rather when we treat the individuals we interact with according to type and not based on their individual worth.
Your point about young people often being unfairly discriminated against is well taken - all too true and essentially the flip side of the ageist coin. The lesson is to treat people fairly as individuals and not arbitrarily according to type.
If you really did, then you wouldn't have even written this post.
Like Dave Winer, I am also 54 and absolutely do not care what anyone else thinks about it.
When I first started out I quickly rose through the enterprise ranks and was never taken seriously because of my age. As a wimpy looking nerd, I had always been underestimated by others and I found a way to use that to my advantage. When the time was right, I would just shoot them between the eyes with the right solution. My young age didn't matter.
Fast forward 30 years. I never notice age discrimination. It may be there, but I simply don't notice it. I think being in IT and in my 50's is a tremendous advantage.
For every issue I have to address, I have that many more instances of experience dealing with something like that. Many more iterations of similar patterns to draw from.
IT is one field where you can actually get better with age. You don't have to run fast or carry heavy loads, but you do have to think nimbly and get things done, both of which get better with lots of practice.
IT is also one field where "what you get done" is more important than "who you are". This is always good news for us hackers and makers, regardless of age, sex, background, or anything else.
I am currently writing the best software of my life, by far. Not just how I'm writing it, but what I'm writing. I have seen so much that I have a natural instinct for what is needed, what works, and how to best go about it. New technologies keep me fresh and engaged. I feel perfectly at home here at hn even though I'm older than most of you. I can't imagine a better place to be, with 21st century technology and 30 years experience!
To me it's odd that someone as accomplished as Dave Winer doesn't feel the same way. Then again, maybe it's just state of mind.
My grandmother taught me one of the most important lessons of my life, "If you look hard enough for trouble, you'll probably find it."
There is negativity everywhere, about ageism and a million other things. The secret is that it's only data to process as you choose. I have decided to ignore it and continue to do what I love and love what I do. I suspect that Dave should as well.
Perhaps that explains why you are also less likely to perceive it when it happens. Perhaps Dave Winer is more sensitive to this issue and that explains why he notices it more. I doubt that he is imagining this since you are one of the few people in IT that I have heard having a contrary experience. Perhaps you are simply an outlier.
It seems crazy to me now, but I worried most about ageism when I was around 38. I had just started a job in the Bay Area where almost everybody else was in their early twenties. To the extent that there was a problem, it was all in my head.
I am now 46, I have a much better perspective on it, and I don't think about it at all. I suppose it is possible that I have been discriminated against during job searches, but I've got plenty of more important things to worry about.
If you happen to be in situation where age discrimination can't effect you, well, that's great.
If you think that's an excuse not to consider it as an important social issue, well, that's lousy.
I think there are a lot of disadvantages that could drag you down: you're losing your hair, you're short, you're ugly, your parents put you through a rotten childhood, and so on. But you can always find examples of people who have those same disadvantages and are thriving anyway.
I knew this girl once who thought she was ugly. She mentioned that it goes beyond mere social conditioning, that even newborn babies react more favorably to pretty people. So I said: who would a newborn react more favorably to, a pretty stranger or her own homely mother?
If I am facing some type of disadvantage, I am always going to be looking for a way to stack the deck in my favor to get around it.
I wholeheartedly agree. I'm 43, and have worked in IT for about 20 years. Even in that span of time I've seen the same ideas gain popularity, fade, then return again (under another name, or in newer packaging, but fundamentally the same old concepts). Gives you a lot of perspective to be able to avoid getting caught up in the breathless enthusiasm of younger people returning from the latest conference or trade show.
I believe you, but can't help but wonder if you find that potential employers see it this way as well?
Some companies (Facebook comes to mind..) are reluctant to even hire people in their 30s, as they are not as receptive to "free pizza/code till 10pm" working style. Once you've reached the kids & mortgage stage, unless you're a genius or an executive, your choices are severely limited as far as startups go.
Keep in mind that Winer doesn't seem to be talking about ageism that's directly aimed at him. His examples are public figures and general cultural attitudes.
That and his new found mobile passion is just hilarious to witness. Confused about SMS and MMS (which he called multimedia SMS), unaware of the differences between GSM and CDMA, etc etc. He may not be gramps yet, but if he's looking to duck the title he should stop writing about mobile.
9 times out of 10 I'd take the former over the latter...
Who knows, maybe that was just an excuse. But the beard seems to have helped.
Somehow I doubt everyone else was treated like a prodigal son when they were younger and my experience was just bad luck or poor preparation. When this was happening in 2007, I was able to get about 20 interviews that only ever amounted to 2 job offers.
Although my situation was somewhat complicated - applying for entry level project management work and having a philosophy degree.
I started hiring people when I was 26 (now 37), and I can tell from my own experience than my first attempts of interviewing people older than myself were quite uncomfortable -- so it's not surprising that I tended to avoid such applicants.
As a self-employed consultant I have found that some people get nervous when they find out my age (25, started when I was 23) - presumably because consultants are selling their expertise and judgment to someone who lacks the skills or confidence, else they wouldn't need you. Confidence is a big part of what you're selling. Nobody gives a shit if the 3D engine in a game is written by a 18 year old genius living with his parents, but you're less likely to present him to enterprise customers. Hiring grey-haired sages oozing confidence probably makes business sense for consulting companies - skill may well be secondary; besides, measuring performance is notoriously difficult in the first place.
Similarly, the recruiter may not have been terribly confident themselves and were looking for a proxy who would project confidence.
Not only that we have a lot more money than you and we know a lot more too.
I think of people as whatever age they act and I think Dave is a curmudgeon a lot of the time who believes his age gives him special rights to press his ideas on other people. I wouldn't discriminate or put down his abilities because of it (heck, in many ways he's a genius) but his behavior doesn't go far to help people in general treat him objectively.
"My girlfriend or wife is [group], and I can tell you..."
"I was in a gang when I was a young man, and let me tell you..."
"My brother is an IT guy, and so I can say that..."
With age-related remarks, no one needs to even posture. There's an implicit "...and I can say this because I'm one of them, or will be".
Just the opposite: most people can't really see themselves as old, and like to think that as they age they'll still somehow stay cool and hip and up-to-date, not like those creepy Readers Digest AARP people.
I've yet to meet anyone who didn't say, Wow I can't believe I'm(40|50|60|...).
You realize, intellectually, that it will happen, but it never seems quite real until you are there.
That and politics. I'm absolutely amazed at the hateful language that friends and talking heads use for people who are "differently politicized."
As for me, I "knew" I was old and irrelevant (or seen as such) the day I answered a telephone poll for local radio stations. The first question was my age, and the next statement was "Thank you for your time <click>."
I was guilty when I was young. The tables have turned, and I try not to let it bother me now, although it sometimes does.
> That and politics
and weight, and attractiveness, and "white trash" / rednecks, and ...
Not to mention that there's still an awful lot of racism and sexism around. Just look at how much TV comedy is built almost entirely on gender stereotypes.
Next time you think a 54-year-old is washed up, remember what you just said.
Not only that we have a lot more money than you and we know a lot more too.
I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that smiley meant he was being ironic, but it was still too funny to not point out.
Based on the fact that he can still get so offended by something like this, unlike edw519 in this HN thread (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1052618), it seems Dave hasn't reached his full cognitive maturity as of yet (not to mention that elsewhere in the comments Dave admits that he is unable to enact change or persuade others on any meaningful level). Given this, I'm willing to bet there are at least a few people reading his blog that are younger, have more money, and have more knowledge than him.
Sorry, I couldn't resist ;-)
By ageism, I mean people saying that my age makes me less intelligent, informed, clued, aware, whatever."
Having kids will do that, at least once they get to be 10 or 12.
If today's young teenagers (my wife's cousins are glued to their phones, sending hundreds of SMSes a week) are any indication, we have a very strange breed coming down the pipe.
On the macro scale, I think it's obvious that people are getting smarter. If you compare people now with people 1000 years ago, it is obvious that the average IQ now is higher than it was then. If you compare with people 10k years ago, 100k ago .. no contest. There was a time when calculus was something only the smartest people in the world understood. Now it is a subject routinely taught in high school. All of human progress has been written by young people getting smarter than old people, and proving the old people wrong.
The question then should not be are young people smarter than old people, but is the difference in generational intelligence so great that it is noticeable? I don't know for sure the answer to that, but one has to ask what are the origins of the ageism prejudice in the first place.
Not saying that any kind of discrimination is acceptable, there certainly are highly intelligent, highly competent older people out there. But there are also a bunch of old people who stopped learning anything new 30 years ago, who nevertheless own a lot more stuff than their children and more political power than they deserve to have, and we should be able to recognize that too.
At least, if they make the test the way they're supposed to.
I'm still trying to figure out what causes people to perceive me as younger than I am. I find it baffling. But it has happened on the Internet too. So I suspect it is in part behavior-related, not just a looks thing.
Then in the 40's, as bebop began, the older generation said the same thing, except those in the older generation were the ones who had been criticized for playing jazz (ex. Louis Armstrong), but it was still just the younger generation wanting to be different and not having any real emotions. And the older generation has never been 'hep' or 'hip' or 'cool' or 'down' or 'hot' or ...
I guess the "Ageist" position is that yes, human bodies and brains do decay, but experience and wisdom precisely mitigate this. It seems a little absurd.
Oh, and in case anyone disputes that cognitive abilities decline with age: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory_and_aging#Memory_decline...
Even once one finally does get exposed to people of all ages, with some people it may take years for this uneasiness to wear off.
He has a hell of a reputation as an asshole. I don't think anyone besides service employees care that he's old.
I think there is plenty of pain to go around caused by the inefficiencies of cultural divides.
Advice: go where you are needed and appreciated.