Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
I was disheartened to read a news story about a 54 year old Google Manager being fired and suing Google for age discrimination. According to the story, ex-Googler Brian Reid was told that his ideas were “obsolete and too old to matter.” The lawsuit has just been reinstated by a state appeals court, and if Reid’s claims are true, I cringe to think of the humiliation he must have suffered hearing these words.
For the record, Brian Reid was an associate electrical engineering professor at Stanford University prior to becoming a manager at Google – so, obviously, a smart guy. Once hired by Google, however, Reid alleges that his younger coworkers referred to him as an “old guy” and “fuddy-duddy,” and that “…Google routinely gave older managers lower evaluations and smaller bonuses than their younger colleagues.” The court will have to determine whether Reid’s claims are true, and while not wanting to cast aspersions on any company unless they are proved guilty, I am reasonably confident that age discrimination of this kind is happening across the country, every day.
My industry is filled with extremely talented young people. Just this month, respected SEO Rand Fishkin announced that his firm had decided to accept an offer of $1.25 million dollars in funding. Rand is 28 years old. I read a story last month about a 16 year old kid saving up for college by running a monetized blog. I’ve watched toddlers operate computers. We’re living in an age where the grandkids teach grandma how to get onto Facebook, much in the way that immigrant children have traditionally taken on the responsibility of teaching their elders English when they come to America. Young people have a special brightness and inventiveness, and seem to adapt to new things with admirable ease, but I think an industry that would classify an educated, skilled 54 year old man as obsolete has got a lesson to learn.
I’m 34 years old at the moment. Not a kid, but not an elder yet. In the forums and Social Media sites I frequent, it’s my habit to listen with greater attention to people who are older than I am. I figure they may have both life and business experience that would make me look like an infant. And from a technical standpoint, people older than ‘us’ may just be the very folks we ought to be paying the closest attention to.
Some Quick Statistics
Consider this: a recent study of YouTube users concluded that more than half the people watching all those videos are between the ages of 34-64. This may surprise you the way it did me, but if I were trying to virally market a video, maybe I’d want to ask an ‘old guy’ like Brian Reid what might have most appeal to him and his pals.
Consider this: nearly 75 million Americans are over the age of 50. By 2005, 43.1% of these Americans were using the Internet. Want to market to them? Again, I think I’d be hiring an ‘old guy’ to advise me.
Consider this: The folks over 50 are 52% more likely than younger Americans to have spent $10,000 or more online in the past six months for travel services. They are 23% more likely to visit hobby websites, 48% more likely to visit a news site, and 36% more likely to visit a health site than a young person.
And then there are the people skills
I have repeatedly been stunned by the lack of communication skills I encounter amongst young people in the service industries. On a recent shopping trip, I discovered that there were a bunch of worms infesting the raisin bin in the bulk food section of my local grocery store. In a quiet, concerned tone, I reported this to the 20-something cashier. Her reply, a spaced-out,
“Oh, my goodness. How distressing! I am going to get someone on that right away. I really apologize for the bad experience. I’m sorry.”
I have had experiences like this again and again with young folks in stores and restaurants who seem to be completely untrained in regards to handling emergencies, uncomfortable situations and customer complaints. The vacant, “oh” seems to be a customary response to almost everything.
A new Whole Foods Market recently opened in my neck of the woods, and I noticed that they were employing a handful of older people as cashiers – a marked departure from the normal eyebrow-pierced and forehead-tattooed staff I associate with these stores. Several of the employees looked to be in their late 60’s/early 70’s. The difference in their way of handling the public truly impressed me. Not only did these elders execute all of their technical tasks with apparent ease, they also knew how to instigate a pleasant conversation with a polite, but not overly personal tone. They sincerely seemed to want to know if I’d found everything okay while I was shopping and when they wished me a ‘good afternoon’, it sounded so much more genuine than the listless, ‘have a nice day,’ which no longer has any meaning to any of us.
I think I’m erring on the side of generalization in what I’ve just written above. Many young people are socially adept in addition to being technically skilled, and many old people are grumpy and wouldn’t know a youtube from a Yahoo! But I’m trying to tip the scales back in favor of the wisdom of the elders which is too often ignored by our civilization in its current preoccupation with whatever is newest. The life skills and technical know-how a 54 year old human has in his noggin is nothing to shrug off as so-last-year. After all, Google itself has just celebrated its 9th birthday. In Internet years that’s like being 90 – an ‘old guy’. If what goes around comes around, the technology industries should be very careful about stamping ’tilt’ on the tremendous resource that makes up 1/4 of the population of the United States – the people who are over 50. What a waste if we ignore, overlook, dismiss or insult their talents, buying power, accumulation of knowledge and vital role in our socio-economic structure.