This recent dust up around ageism and internet entrepreneurship struck me as odd. As a 33 year old white male, I’m observing this from the sidelines of the argument, so to speak. I’m probably considered “old” to the youngest of guys (especially since I’m married with school age children), but young to many others. As I read all of the posts on the subject, it strikes me that there are a lot of profound statements on aging and its relationship to our creativity and productivity in society. Dave Winer, Fred (A VC), and Clay Shirky have all written on this subject. A line from one of my favorite movies comes to mind- “Opinions vary.” As with other “-isms”, there are people that come down on all sides of the subject. Sexists come in both sexes. Racists come in all racists. I think the same is true of ageism.
While thinking about this topic I ran across something that Scoble had something to say that inspired me put some thoughts down in writing. He wrote, “Anyone who thinks that old people can’t come up with innovations, or new ways of looking at the world, or can’t understand Facebook should go have dinner with Douglas Engelbart. He’s 82 if I remember right and I’ll put his brain against Mark Zuckerberg’s any day of the week.”
Very well said. Better still, I’d probably put my 7 year old daughter Emily up against Zuckerberg (she’s pretty smart). The point here is that age can be argued on both sides and probably doesn’t matter. I’ll posit a theory on this subject that is so obvious that it probably doesn’t need stated. Young people can be very passionate about their ideas and can be very good at selling them. This isn’t exclusive to young people of course, but maybe that’s what attracts the VCs and pundits to the young internet entrepreneurs of this age. For folks that have been around for a while, they have developed a perspective that isn’t easily molded or changed by VCs. Maybe this attracts VCs or industry pundits- perhaps they feel they can project their opinions and insights onto the young. Is this an advantage for the young or an inaccurate perception about those that are older? I’m not really sure. And I also don’t really care. This theory of mine doesn’t advance the conversation.
One thing I am sure of is that if you read all of the varying opinions on this subject, you won’t really learn anything that you don’t already know. Young people have some advantages. So do older people. Stereotypes abound. Young people tend to be less tied down. Older people have the benefit of experience. Young people have a lot of energy. Older people have wisdom. You can go on and on. And people will continue making profound statements about the young versus the old, trying to find an answer to which is “better”. Meanwhile, for many of us, we’ll try to avoid making more profound statements and just state the obvious- age doesn’t really matter here at all. Next?