I heard your mom likes social media

There’s a tendency among tech writers to use “Mom” as the prototypical average user. This often raises complaints from people who claim that it’s sexist (never ageist, though—funny, that). I have no doubt that in some cases sexism is at the root of it, especially when the comments are mean-spirited or make Mom out to be clueless. But I’ve seen Mom invoked often enough by women tech writers to know that that’s not the whole story.

I believe Mom comes to mind when tech writers need an Every(wo)man user because that’s who, in their own personal experience, best matches the profile. Certainly in my circle of friends—which consists primarily of Mom- and Dad-aged people—it’s the Mom who’s most likely to have an active Facebook account, and to be on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In years past, it was Mom who first started texting.

The natural consequence of this is that it’s Mom who’s most likely to get crosswise with bad interface design, poorly written dialog boxes, and devious privacy policies—hence the stories using her as the example. Dad sits on his ass in blissful ignorance.1

So most stories about Mom’s difficulties shouldn’t be considered demeaning. She is, as Teddy Roosevelt would say, in the arena, making mistakes because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. Especially when dealing with Facebook.

  1. Dad does show up in one common tech-related story, though. You know the “racist uncle” who forwards those atrocious emails? That’s certainly someone’s dad, and is probably Dad himself, hidden behind his brother to avoid embarrassment.