By: Mari Cochran
I used to think of technology like I think of tools – it’s for men. You have to be a man to use it. Let’s face it. That’s the perception created by the history of technology. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Oracle Founder…they’re all men. When we think of computers and technology we associate it with engineering, math, science and nerdy Ivy League students. The movie, The Social Network, only reinforced this perception by depicting a bunch of wannabe computer nerds closeted away in small rooms, frenetically writing code at all hours of the night fueled by caffeine and their passion for hacking. It’s no wonder then that technology has had little appeal to women. Women are social creatures and sitting behind a computer screen all night isn’t something that appeals to us. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with family, food or friends. Or, does it?
My first experience with technology other than school was with work. I wasn’t that impressed. It was a means to an end. However, over time, I did begin to appreciate what technology could do for me at work. I remember when scanners first came out. I couldn’t believe I could scan a document, it would translate the copied text into printed type and have it appear on my WordPerfect in a matter of minutes. That was cool. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it, but I still saw it as a necessity. It’s like learning how to use the CD in your car. If you want to listen to music, better learn how to work those buttons.
Bringing families together
My perception about technology really changed because of my family. Like many other families, mine is spread apart—in other states and even in other countries. It started with email. Email kept me in touch and that was nice. However, with Google Voice, I could actually hear my family in South Africa for two cents a minute. The voice I really wanted to hear was my seven-year old little nephew. Facebook became handy not necessarily to reconnect with old friends but to see pictures of that blond little bundle of joy nephew in South Africa and see all his antics. When he came to visit this past summer it was with Facebook that I kept his parents informed and let them know he was alive, fed and actually being relentlessly spoiled. Today he’s learning to surf. I know that because I saw the picture on Facebook.
Connecting family through technology is one thing. Finding a family you didn’t think you had with technology is a whole other matter. I was born in Seoul, Korea and adopted when I was three years old. I came to America and for over 30 years lived a normal life living in the South. I acquired a fabulous southern accent, learned how to make fried chicken and like a good ‘ol southerner developed a love of fishing. However, I was always curious about my Korean cultural roots. In 2006 that curiosity began to turn into a plan.
I really wanted to explore my Korean culture and what better way than to visit my birth country? I had never visited since leaving after the adoption. The trip planning began. I did what every other American does, I went online. My research wasn’t about hotels and where to visit. It was a search to see if the orphanage I had been adopted from still existed because that was one of the “historical” places I wanted to visit. It did and the rest is history. I was able to email the orphanage and their site interpreted English. I expected nothing. Who would when you’ve been told you were abandoned? But with those few typed words and a review of their records, they soon replied back and told me they had found my birthmother. (I can’t even tell you what kind of shock that was – that’s a different article.) She had actually been looking for me for years. When I visited Korea in 2007 I met my birth mother, my 3 older siblings, their husbands, their children and my aunt. Wow.
Technology enabled me to find a birth family I thought was un-findable as so many Korean adoptee stories go. Technology enables me to keep in touch with both of my families, separated by oceans and with one family separated by language. I was soon to learn that technology was also going to change my career.
Technology as a social tool
Technology is a social tool and more women are realizing this as they become less afraid and as their children are growing up with it. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook are women 55+. Why? So they can stay in touch with their children and grandchildren. I have many friends in their 60s with Skype accounts so they can videochat with family members in other states and in other countries. My 75-year-old American mother wrote her entire life story and emailed it to the family in life chapters last year. I learned a lot about her and gained a whole new sense of appreciation.
Combining our inherent communication abilities with our ability to multi-task, women are taking technology and learning how to reinvent it as a social tool. Marianne Kilkenny was recently featured on NBC Nightly News because she uses online Meetups, her website, etc. to create and develop the new “Golden Girls” community living arrangement. Goes to show, this technology stuff isn’t just for the young.
I recently met two women who created SoulKu, a business that combines the concept of ‘pay-it-forward’ with technology through their use of motivational cards. Finders of the cards can log-on and receive inspirational messages from friends or strangers.
Women are taking traditional concepts and redefining them with technology. I recently read of two women who’ve reinvented a traditional marketing tool probably thought of as almost obsolete – stationary. They create custom stationary with social media themes to develop further relationships with people they’ve met online. They send thank you notes for “mentioning” them on Twitter. They send “thanks for being a fan” to fans of their business pages.
Empowering women in business
Technology is not just a social tool where we can online date and find recipes. Women are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs. Not only are we filling the seats of high level executive positions (Xerox & IBM are led by women, Ebay was run by Meg Whitman and the COO of Facebook is a woman), but we are also creating and running our own independent businesses. Technology has played a huge role in that growth, not just as an industry but as a tool to empower independent women owners. Even during these times of economic hardship I’ve read countless stories of women who have started at-home businesses in baking and crafts, shipping everywhere and using the power of the Internet to find their customers. We’re no longer confined to our Zip Codes, we can provide our services and products anywhere. Technology has enabled me to create a business that I can do from anywhere and for anyone no matter where they live. I know of several local examples. Kimberly Masters, founded, owns and operates a soap-making business. She has no retail front, yet she has developed it into a successful business that ships all over the country. She uses her love of cycling with the combined efforts of her relationships and Facebook to promote her products.
I belong to the Asheville Women’s Roundtable sponsored by the local SCORE. It always astounds me because each and every meeting brings 20 to 30 women entrepreneurs who are all in some way using technology to grow, build, re-energize, organize, manage and streamline their businesses.
I founded my business to combine the power of the personal relationship with the benefit of hands-on learning to empower other business owners as they learn how to use various technologies. Does it surprise me that the majority of participants are women? No. I appreciate technology because it makes me more efficient, more productive and also more profitable. I love technology because it empowers me and many women like me to be independent and redefine how we parent and work…with balance. It keeps me connected to the people that matter in my life.
The way I view it, technology is about relationships. It can affect the kind of relationships we have with each other as we expand and grow and change our zip codes. It’s worth examining what kind of relationship we have with our technology. Many of us get frustrated, want to throw it out the window or ignore it. But it is part of our culture and happening worldwide. To begin your friendship with it, I say, learn it, do it. Through knowledge and understanding of the technology you gain more control and experience the benefits it offers….and maybe you just might “friend” it or fall in love!
Mari Cochran is the owner of DIY Tech Geek, Teaching Technology Tools to Empower Businesses. www.diytechgeek.com