Interview with the Geek Goddess

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Is technology different for women? Christina Tynan-Wood, author of the recently published How to Be a Geek Goddess from No Starch Press, says Hell Yes.

If anyone should know, it's Tynan-Wood, who is the only woman to have written monthly columns for both PC World and PC Magazine. She's currently a contributing editor for Family Circle, writes The Gripe Line blog for Infoworld, and is proprietress of the Geek Girlfriends blog and social network.

She also holds the dubious distinction of being my wife. (Everyone has their own cross to bear.) Despite this, I persuaded her to sit down and answer a few questions about her book and the coming "feminization" of tech.

The very first line in your book reads "My husband is a pompous ass." You were just speaking metaphorically there, right?

That's a rhetorical question, right?

There a gazillion tech books out there; why do we need another one?

There are a ton of books full of acronyms and insanely long explanations about things no one really wants to know. There are very few books for a woman who just wants to tech-up fast and is tired of listening to long lectures from her husband just to get a simple answer to a simple question.

I have written for many of the tech trade books and I know firsthand that none of them appeal to women. They are like tool catalogs. All the talk about speed and power, the scantily-clad model standing over a computer, comparisons that use a stop watch to see how much faster one computer completes a graphics test than another. All well and good if you are a man and really into tools. But women buy - and use - computers too. I wanted to write something for them. Not that some men wouldn't like my book too.

What is a "Geek Goddess" and how does one attain Goddess-hood? Is there a certificate or something?

You want to know if we plan to wear some sort of scanty outfit, don't you? No. We don't. Get back to work.

The implication of the book is that women know less about tech than men. Do you fear tech-savvy women might find that condescending?

That's the implication a lot of men have been making, sure. And this book is a primer, not a guide to Ubuntu or anything. But that is certainly not the truth. Women simply relate to technology differently than men do. We have a different aesthetic. I'd never go near those shoes you are wearing for example. (Or really any of the stuff you have on. Is that a cheap poly blend?) That doesn't mean I don't know how to dress. Different does not mean stupid. Only a guy would think that.

Let's flip that, then. What do women know about technology that men don't?

I don't know if we know anything men don't necessarily know. We just engage with the stuff differently. Men often like technology for its own sake - because they think it is cool. The same way a man will own a complete set of power tools when he couldn't hang a door in the dining room without a trip to the emergency room. [That finger still hurts, you know - dt.] Women are busy. We hold the family together, we have important jobs, and we usually also take care of a big part of the domestic matters so we don't have so much time to play with toys.

One big part of the domestic matters we handle is the budget. Women control - almost completely - domestic spending. Men often don't even buy their own socks. (In your case, I think we've established why.) Until recently, technology was the last exception. But recent statistics from the Consumer Electronics Association show that men are giving up there too: Women spend $68 billion annually on consumer electronics and influence 89 percent of all purchases. We want technologies that help us get through our day better, work smarter, and connect with our friends and family. I also like technology that looks good, the same way I like my clothes and shoes to look good.

If you could change one thing about the tech industry, what would it be?

I'd get more women in there designing the stuff. Then we will see some cool products women will like.

Are there any gadgets out there you think are well designed with women in mind?

Well, I think there are a lot of cell phones - the T-Mobile Sidekick, several Blackberries, the Verizon enV, the iPhone, and others - that are pretty close to "getting" what women want. I also think the Sonos music system brilliantly solves one of the big problems women have with music systems: Husbands who want to have big ugly stereos in the house and leave CDs lying all over the place. The Sonos lets me quickly dial up whatever song calls to me, even if I have something on the stove and am helping a kid with homework while on a conference call with the CEO of a multinational company.

I also like a lot of portable music/video players (especially the Sansa View) because they let me have a huge library of books and music in my purse so I can endure all the waiting moms inevitably have to do, and it gives me something small to entertain a kid if we are stuck on a bus or something. And I love it that Dell, Lenovo, and Gateway are making these tiny, affordable Net books. It's like having a command center in my purse. That they offer them in a selection of cute colors is just gravy. I love technology that looks good and I'm over having everything be black.

If you could pick just three things readers would walk away with after reading your book, what would they be?

The feeling that they will never need to put up with that annoying guy down the hall at work just to get their computers working again. I'd like them to know there are other women out there who love technology for the same reasons - or would, if it weren't for all the guy talk - and to come hang out with us at GeekGirlfriends.com. I'd like my reader to feel she could slap the next guy who implies she's stupid about computers just because she doesn't like to talk in acronyms.

If you could ask a more intelligent question about your book than I'm doing right now, what would that be? And what's the answer?

You are doing okay, I guess, for a pompous ass.

No, seriously. That's "pompous ass" line was a joke, right?

What did you say? I stopped listening.

Next July, Dan Tynan and Christina Wood will have been married for 157 years (but it only feels like 142). Read her Geekgirlfriends blog here, and his blogs Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.

This story, "Interview with the Geek Goddess" was originally published by Computerworld.

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