Why Silicon Valley shouldn’t fund 25-year-olds

Americans like youth. Driven by the unforgiving movie camera, we began to obsess about it in the 1920s, when ‘baby’ and ‘chick’ both became widespread as slang for a woman. The focus on youth pervaded novels like Tender Is the Night (1934) and Lolita (1955) [nod to Harvard’s Philip Fisher and his fabulous course The 20th Century American Novel].

It afflicts men, as well, especially over the last decade. In 2010, more than 1 million American men had some kind of plastic surgery option, quadruple the number in 2000.

So it was no surprise running into youthism while reporting a story on trends in technology. High tech prizes itself on merit but gives big bonus points for youth; some of that legitimately stems from how hard it is to keep up with exponential change (Moore’s Law puts Kuhn’s ‘normal science‘ on speed). Some of it is just plain bias; few of us can resist the culture’s preference for the young.

Since Silicon Valley prizes MIT and Stanford PhD-types between 20 and 25, I expected the executives I interviewed to say they looked to their younger staff for insights into where to go. Instead, they went way younger. Here are some sample comments:

There used to be a time when the general masses didn’t quite understand how computers work. Today a child is born and they know how to use a computer first, before they’re born. It almost seems that way. Your three-year-old kid can do things with your cellphone you can’t.

Kids demand things that are better and are first adopters, have a sense of ease in technology. That has an impact for us. We better be on that curve where kids and consumers are learning technology much faster and we need to make sure we adapt our products to reflect that.

Both that comment and the next show how much consumer expectations of technology are changing, and how quickly outmoded our tech platforms have become. Here’s a projection from that same curve:

The kids go to their computer and put their hand on the screen and try to move stuff around. That same thing is going to happen with voice. In one of the Star Trek movies Scotty is busy talking to the computer.  And he says ‘why isn’t it responding?’ And they all look at him like he’s crazy. We’re at that moment.

There’s still so much potential think about how much easier technology can continue to make our lives over time. This ultra-connectedness will continue to be a challenge for people. Once people become digital natives like our kids are, you think about being overconnected. Things could be easier and our kids will definitely not go to libraries and not look up things like we did.

Another nod to tot tech:

I still remember how I had to translate in my mind what it meant to have a file that was a digital representation instead of a file that was a physical representation.  Today the world is nothing but digital natives, that grew up deeply steeped in these technologies. I’ll steal Don Tapscott’s line in Growing Up Digital; he talked about how his father looked at the TV as technology and was always messing with the antenna and the clicker. We look right through the technology to the content. That’s what kids do today. Three-year-olds can swipe into a device and go to their games and play.  That’s the fundamental effect of consumerization. There is no longer a different class that deals with technology.

Here’s the biggest reason why Silicon Valley shouldn’t be funding 25-year-olds:

The one that has me really, really astounded right now is my 11-year-old son has been playing Minecraft. I’ve gone down and sat in the man cave with him and listened to him online with his friends and watched the interaction of them building, because that’s all Minecraft is. Having 20 kids on at the same time working together to do that.

My oldest is 25. She started with IM. She still loves texting. She can’t understand why my son loves sitting down there and talking with his friends over Kinect. That’s just evolving so much.

This executive thinks his company might want to establish Minecraft-like collaboration group. But will non-tweens take to it?


Here is an example of Minecraft collaboration, involving my son and one of his friends: