What is it about Wall Street Journal editors that makes tech executives give horrible, self-destructive quotes? They got Google's CEO to say children will someday change their names to escape their Google hits. And now they apparently got the inventor of the Segway to say many women and minorities are more interested in "bouncing balls" than studying computer science.
The Journal just published some comments it says Dean Kamen uttered at the paper's "ECO:nomics" conference today. They seem slightly controversial:
On a more serious note, Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway transportation device, said that society needs is to fill kids with the "passion for science, for technology and for hard work," as well as for risk-taking.
Kamen went on that it's very hard to convince people, "particularly minorities and women" that these pursuits are as exciting as "bouncing a ball."
So the idea is that minorities and women could overcome stereotypes and institutional barriers if only they could be weaned off their childlike fascination with basketballs and other round objects. As opposed to white guys, who in high school and college are certainly not obsessed with, say, footballs. This from the 2000 National Medal of Technology recipient.
Surely Kamen will say he was misunderstood or taken out of context. And hopefully, for everyone's sake, there's some video to back up that assertion, because otherwise it will be hard for Kamen to live down how he was quoted by his own hosts.
If all that fails, the esteemed inventor should be able to find a sympathetic ear from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who in a 2010 sit down with the Journal predicted that, in the newspaper's words, "every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites." He later said he had been kidding, but the Journal, which said he was "apparently serious," missed the joke, and the PR damage was extensive enough that Schmidt was asked about the quote on the Colbert Report and CNBC.
What is with executive saying insane things to WSJ editors? The paper has become like the tabloid scandal sheet of boring CEOs. Except in these cases it doesn't have to do much work - the CEOs hang themselves. Playboy was famous for getting these kind of self-destructive quotes out of people in the 80s and 70s but that magazine had the power of Hugh Hefner's model-stocked mansion to wield over sources' good judgment. What do WSJ editors offer to pull this off? Good scotch? Alternatively, it's possible many business big shots are out of touch with the basic facts of reality. But if that were the case we'd be in some kind of ruinous economic depression right now, right?
[Image: Kamen showing off an energy-efficient engine in 2008. Via AP.]