Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Women and Tech Toys

At the height of the shopping frenzy that characterizes yuletide and year end, we try to allow ourselves to be entertained by what advertisers seem to think are their clever insights into gender roles – old mops, mopping on being replaced by new tech savvy cleaners; speedier, hi-tech chore-achieving equipment to entice lazy men out of sofas to take up their share of household responsibilities; men inveigling their children’s support in one scheme or the other to outwit their nagging moms.
In their oblivious reinforcement of gender stereotypes, the advertisers seem to be missing the obvious – that many of the new hi-powered equipment meant to make household work easier (and to encourage men to participate) are better meeting the needs of the expanding numbers of single, female headed households. Some avid sociologist might want to take up this observation as further evidence of male marginalization - the new catchphrase in ongoing gender-based analyses. Meanwhile, clearly unknown to the advertisers, women are relinquishing the nagging, and are taking up newly invented high-powered easy-to-use equipment, and just doing it themselves.
A friend of mine was engaged by a UK company some years ago to do market research on how women use technology. The growing purchasing power of women’s pocket books were making females more attractive subjects of scientific research and development as corporations did not want to miss out on the opportunity to bite into some of those hard-earned bucks. Cell phones and computers, for instance, were beginning to be turned out in pinks and reds and pastels – to cater for the possible interest by women in these gadgets, of course, until someone thought that women’s interest in these tech toys might go beyond skin deep – and they might actually be interested in the applications and functions of these new age devices. This research project has since evolved in the UK, into a television series called Lady Geek that ranges through the bewildering maze of new apps, particularly on smart phones, to help women understand which may be best suited to their needs.
I have spent the last several years searching the shelves of technology for a basic household, uhh accessory. (Not quite an appliance, nor a tool, I have to call it a household cleaning accessory). Older generations would call it a mop. I have explored local and international household department stores. I have seen a world of mops, steamers and vacuum cleaners capable of handling various kinds of floors, hard or carpeted, but have not found one that can suit my needs, and that, very simply is a mop – one with scrubbing and vacuum functions that, dries as it wet-cleans, can cover 10,000 square feet of ground space in one cleaning without leaving its bristles or frayed fibres or microfibers in its wake because they cannot live up to the size of the task.
Sometimes, frustrated in my quest, I may drift into tech stores, hoping against hope that some genius might have invented my dream mop as this year’s gadget of choice. To defray the inevitable disappointment, I may allow myself to be lured into the fascinating world of the newest smartphones, computers and their apps that have now been transported from our palms to the galaxy. Now there I can find almost everything I need from such a device, having evolved from wanting a phone that can be tucked into my bra where my mother tucked her wallet (let’s face it, where do you put it when you’re decked for an evening out!) to a device that serves most of my general on-the-go phoning, computing, surfing, reading, music, photographic and video needs with all the required applications – and that can fit, if not into my bra, certainly in a neat purse without the danger of neck and back damage, slim-line, and of a colour of choice. So for those who were about to ask, if I can’t have a mop for Christmas, certainly a galaxy fits the tech tab.