There is an extreme youth bias in programming environments around the world, an ageism which could entail many risks, so it is revealed in new book, Digital Ageism: How it Operates and Approaches to Tackling it.

Older people are not getting jobs as programmers, something which is evident from both my studies and those of my co-editors.

Jakob Svensson

“If only young people design the new technology, we also only get technologies that are adapted for young people. This means there is an age discrimination both towards those who will use the technology and those who are allowed to design it,' says Jakob Svensson, professor of Media and Communication Science, who co-edited the book.

For many years, he has conducted in-depth interviews with programmers around the world, from India in the east to Europe and California in the west.

“Older people are not getting jobs as programmers, something which is evident from both my studies and those of my co-editors. There was a rumour when I was conducting interviews in Silicon Valley that if you're over 30, you can't get a job at Google. You go from being young and promising to being considered old at 35.”

According to Svensson, programming environments, such as Silicon Valley, are painfully aware of their poor gender representation, and they also work to include both LGBT people and people with disabilities. However, 'older people' seem to have been forgotten.

“If you look at the roots of the technology movement from the 1970s, there is already a focus on youth culture. The first technology developers were part of the hippy counter culture movement, later we had the whole hacker culture which has also had an impact. So many of the origins of technology development have elements of rebellion against parents, authority and the old guard. Even the entrepreneurial culture, which is about thinking differently and outside the box, has a clear youthful underdog perspective.

“Ultimately, it is a question of democracy; new technologies are supposed to solve all sorts of problems that we face, such as climate change and intolerance, and with AI mechanisms addressing issues in welfare services and policing. Is it then appropriate to rely on a group of programmers who are so clearly focused on the fast, the youthful and the rebellious?,” questions Svensson, adding:

“Mark Zuckerberg and many of the other former young entrepreneurs are becoming middle-aged, so things are changing somewhat. But if there is a new hungry generation that wants to overthrow the entire establishment, for example Google and Facebook, they will be young too."

Text: Magnus Erlandsson and Adrian Grist