Computers, Phones, and the Internet: Domesticating Information Technology

By Robert Kraut; Malcolm Brynin et al. | Go to book overview

7
The Neutered Computer

Gendered Diffusion of Technology

Malcolm Brynin

It is widely acknowledged that men incline more to technology than do women, both at work and home (if not to the technologies associated with housework). Given that over their lifetime most people's welfare depends on their productivity at work, and because technology is an important basis for this productivity, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that technology provides men with a significant welfare advantage. At the most general level, a wide range of evidence indicates a strong relationship between technical innovation and productive potential (Gallie, 1994; Nickell & Bell, 1995; Machin, 1996). More specifically, there is evidence of a possible association between individual usage of technologies at work—especially computers—and both productivity and wages (Krueger, 1993; Green, 1998). Although this relationship has been disputed (diNardo & Pischke, 1997; Entorf & Kramarz, 1997), an inability or unwillingness to use computers might reduce an individual's scope for employment or for fully effective employment.

How inevitable is this? Is the male advantage the result of a response to technology, whether innate or socialized, that is positive for men and negative for women, or is the issue more transitory and contingent than this? One strand of thought sees girls, generally considered to be closer to mothers than boys, as favoring caring and interconnectedness over competition and aggression.1 This might ultimately feed into different responses to technology (Turkle, 1998). Girls and women tend not to undertake technical subjects in school and higher education, which has direct implications for the nature of their subsequent employment (Gaskell, 1992)2. This might be reinforced by differential access to domestic leisure technologies,3 and in particular the home computer.4 Such a difference might have direct welfare implications, as women would gain less than men from the capabilities of the computer, and in particular of the Internet (see Wellman & Haythornthwaite, 2002, for an overview of such effects). However, experience with a home PC might have a further effect on access to or efficacy with work-based technologies.

Alternatively, we might say that rather than having underlying differences in attitudes toward technology, men and women have differential experiences, especially at work (Webster, 1996), which might in turn give rise to distinctive attitudes. Thus, traditional employment demarcations cause the attitudinal gap, rather than the other way around. This seems reasonable given the long-standing male pre-

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