Young People are Just Smarter

Came across this article:

on SFGate the other day, relating the difficulties of older workers finding employment in Silicon Valley.  40 is the new 60 down there.  I would usually file this under “Stating the Obvious”, but then one quote caught my eye;

“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” Facebook’s CEO (now 28) told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University in 2007. “Young people are just smarter.”

Yes, this is Mark Zuckerberg.  He went on to say:

“Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

First I will say up front, that although difficult, I am going to ignore the inclusion of a six year old quote in a story which apparently thinks it is exposing a new trend.

As for the quote however, I am almost at a loss as to where to begin with this collection of sentences.  They seem to have been assembled following one of those instruction sheets written by someone who doesn’t know the English language.

Stressing the importance of being young seems innocent enough; not that there is really any great accomplishment to this.  I would guess that a fair majority of the human race has, at one time or another, been young.  In fact I myself have occasionally touted the importance of being young; sometimes even in a positive manner.

The sentence that follows is the one that really that really jumps off the page.  It’s a heck of a sound-bite!  Before you know it your posterior is perched on the edge of the chair as you read on seeking amplification, justification, gratification.  But then, like the old geezer who discovers the viagra bottle is empty, the whole thing collapses under its own weight and sags to the ground.

Most chess masters, he tells us, are under 30, and he explains why.  Oops, sorry, no he doesn’t.  Turns out he doesn’t know why, so he asks us.  This seems something of a failure on two counts.  First on his knowledge of the subject itself, and second, on the wisdom of bringing up your own lack of knowledge in a speech about the superiority of your mental abilities.

Soldiering on, somewhat deflated but still hopeful, we discover that young people have simpler lives. No car?  No Kids?  Awesome!  You’re free to focus on what’s important!  And I guess, through inference, he’s talking about work.

I have to give credit to Mr. Zuckerberg here.  He has made me think, and I am a house divided; 50% laugh, 50% throw up.

Jesus, if you so believe, was a simple man, who saved the world.  Ghandi simplified his life in order to lead people to freedom.  Buddha decamped to the wilderness, as did Moses.  Mandela lived an enforced simple life for 27 years in prison because of the importance of his ideas.  That is Importance.  Those are concepts, beliefs, visions, that require a life of simplicity.  Pulling an all-nighter to run a debugger in your cubicle just doesn’t seem the same somehow.

Well enough of this silliness.  I admit that I may be going a little over the top here about what may well have been nothing more than some extemporaneous remarks.  We should also remember that Mr. Zuckerberg was somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 when he made these remarks.   Oops, but then again, maybe we shouldn’t.  He’s trying to convince us he’s smarter because he’s younger, and I’m saying the exact opposite. Maybe we’re both age-ists.

I would like to ask him a few questions though; present day.

1.  Is he still a member of the smarter set?  Or has he aged out?  If not, what is the cut off?

2.  Has he noticed that he is getting dumber over the last few years?  If you were to extend that decline on a graph, how old will he be when we have to buy him a drool cup?

3.  Has he learned anything new in the last 6 years? Or have they been a waste?

4.  Has he found any value in older folks yet? Or are they (along with him, at some point) write-offs?

I like the word Callow, it is seen too infrequently nowadays in print, but it is seen quite often in action.  Definitions include: inexperienced, immature, and lacking adult sophistication.

Young people do possess certain attributes which are of great value in certain applications.   Attributes that many older folk either don’t have, or just don’t give a shit enough any more to exhibit.

Fast-paced, high stress environments, long hours, low pay, overnighters, rapidly changing job requirements, little if any job security, scanty benefits; all these things and more are much better suited to the 21 year old with wide eyes and diploma in hand than the 40 year old.

The difference is, all those 40 year olds have been through that 21 year old stage and know it well. They have learned how to be more focused, more efficient, more productive in less time so they can actually devote time to the things that really are important, like those kids.

These are the people who can teach you how to build a happy, sustainable, productive, and satisfying life while still getting a job done.

Take a stroll through the nearest cemetery some day.  Look at the gravestones.  Read the inscriptions.  These are whole lives pared down to one phrase.  Search for the ones that say CEO, or Chairman, or Acting Vice President, or President’s Club for Sales.  Go ahead I’ll wait.

Oh really?  Well what do they say?  Hmm, Loving Father, Devoted Mother, yes, that sounds about right.  They all speak of love, family, the home, the heart.

Take a tip from those who have moved beyond age.  These are the important things in our lives, whether you are old smart enough to know it or not.

  1. Of course, having left teenage more than a half-century ago, I would naturally tend to agree with you.
    However, I also think of the almighty muckups we are still faced with emanating from the whizz-kids, and the folly of those who listened to them instead of telling them to be good little boys and girls until they grew up a little. The business environment of my day was simply a more pleasant and productive one than you find in the average modern corporation. In most cases what the smart ideas have gained on the swings they have lost twofold on the roundabouts.

  2. engineer said:

    Dunning-Kruger explained this effect well. Zuckerberg–and I was in the audience when he made those remarks– thinks that he’s smarter because he’s ignorant of all the things you learn from experience. He’s not competent enough to realize what he doesn’t know (or didn’t know, hopefully he’s gotten smarter since then.)

  3. Clive Owen said:

    Zuckerberg is just a mediocre PHP programmer turned manipulative, money-grabbing Jew. That is all.

    • Clive, you’re a “keyboard hero” still living in his mom’s basement.
      Zuckerberg gave hundreds of millions in Charity. More than the Christians who ran Enron that’s for sure… an example….

  4. foobar said:

    Why can’t people spell ‘Gandhi’ correctly?

  5. Alright. That is enough. When Zuck said that, I said it too. And I am two years younger than him. Did I not know that I was going to be the age I was patronizing? Of course I did. But here is the thing: Less than thirty is the age a person is just fresh out of school, hip, open to trying new things, less fearful, and energetic (cross that, more likely to be hopeful). People over thirty are just not there, in that mode, where they can experience all that is new, all that is hip, all that does not bring about memories of how things went south.

    It is indeed unfair to criticize the over thirty population for their position, but it is also unfair to criticize the under thirty population as being too _______ (fill in the blank). When Zuck said it (and when I said it), he was responding to stereotypes against the young population and the scared attitudes people have about hiring fresh kids. His point: DO not let anything hold you back from hiring them in large numbers, because they are great and amazing and hip.

    So now what do you do when you become older than thirty? You join what other thirty-somethings do: manage and watch the young kids take over the world, and help them in the process.

    • Jenny said:

      Because 30 is old? Are you kidding me?

    • Lugus Luna said:

      I completely agree that not giving someone an opportunity just because they are young is wrong and counterproductive. But reacting to prejudice with more prejudice is foolish and destructive. If you want to convince people to give young people a chance, even though they are inexperienced, doing that by vilifying or denigrating older people is absolutely the wrong approach–not to mention baseless. Anyone with any experience hiring people knows that good employees come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and ages, and things like ability, attitude and chemistry should be the basis of decision, not age, race, gender or any other self-serving nonsense.

  6. Lugus Luna said:

    Unfortunately for Mr. Zuckerberg, actual statistics disagree with him–the average age of successful start up founders, based on Forbes magazine, is 40. HBR puts it at mid-30’s. Of course, a big part of this is simply that older people tend to have more business experience and more resources, which facilitates the launch of a successful startup. VCs don’t see this statistic for the simple reason that older founders often don’t need capital beyond friends and family.

    The bottom line is: anyone who hires, promotes or invests based on anything other than their candidate’s demonstrated ability is a fool. The fact that the fool in question might be rich and successful doesn’t validate their approach to hiring, promoting or investing, it just means they have some other driving factor that was strong enough to overcome their foolishness. Being rich doesn’t make you wise–it often has the opposite effect.

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