Technology is Not Sex Neutral

Many people claim that they are just too bad at technology to navigate the internet, but is it their own perception of their abilities that makes it so difficult? Drs. Kelly L. Page, Matthew J. Robson, and Mark D. Uncles analyzed survey data from 2077 participants and found that there is a strong positive correlation between a user’s perception of their web knowledge and their belief about the usability of the web. In other words, the more a user believes in their own web skills, the more valuable and easy to use they find the internet. After further studying the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that there are two main factors behind this phenomenon.

One factor is experience. Participants with a background in technology, especially technical design, reported being more confident in their own abilities and found the web to be more useful than those who did not have much experience with tech. These users have less anxiety around using the web and, as a result, they are able to navigate it with far more ease and expertise

The study also revealed that a user’s perception of his or her web knowledge is greatly influenced by biological sex. On average, women tend to use the web less than men, and consider themselves less knowledgeable and skilled at using the web than men do. Thus, they often get less out of the internet than male users do. This phenomenon can be attributed to women’s tendency to “yield more to social pressures and look more to the opinions of others as opportunities to learn more about their own abilities” (Page et al.). However, experience with the web can negate this effect, as women with web design experience tend to rate both their own knowledge and value of the internet even higher than men with web design experience do, the study reported. 

The implications of this study are incredibly relevant to professional writers and communicators. From articles to speeches to blogs, everything is online nowadays and it needs to be accessible. This means designing websites to be equally available to both sexes, but also considering how male and female socialization comes into play in schools and in the workplace. Men are more likely than women to feel emboldened to seize opportunities, especially in STEM fields, thus causing technology usage and the technological design industry to be male-dominated. As technical communicators and professional writers, we must be mindful of the way we present our work so that both sexes can equally benefit from it. 

Resources

Perceptions of Web Knowledge and Usability: When Sex and Experience Matter, by Kelly L. Page, Matthew J. Robson, Mark D. Uncles


Viewpoint Written by Jennifer Tso, University of California, Davis

Edited by Eliana De La Garza, Texas State University


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