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Growing Up Geek….

I read an article the other day on ‘Silicone Valley Syndrome.’ Now typically this is a physical therapy diagnosis associated with spending long hours on the computer, but this article took a different slant. Apparently children of adults who work in silicone valley are producing a higher percentage of slightly ‘odd’ children than is the norm. These children, often of parents who both excel in technical jobs tend to create elaborate fantasy worlds in their minds, they get into computer programming at a young age, they interact better with adults than other ‘age-appropriate’ children etc, etc. The article was about the ‘slight’ autism that is occurring in record numbers in this area. Uh, no. This isn’t autism; this is ‘geek.’ And it happens more often when geeks get together in high numbers and breed with other geeks. These children are not ‘autistic;’ they are your future silicone valley employees!

The problem. The kids are getting picked on in school, and the school has no clue what to do about it, so like every other problem we have no solution for, we blame the victim. Newsflash- geeks have been getting bullied for generations. It is a problem. And it has nothing to do with their ‘inabilities’ and everything to do with their ‘abilities.’ Sure, they have no clue how to avoid the bullies and ‘fit in,’ but do you want them to? They are more comfortable talking to adults, because they have critical thinking skills, understand logical inference and problem-solve. Do you really want them to regress? Geeks think differently, and that is always going to get them in trouble socially.

Do you want to know if are dealing with a geek? (If you are one, you know.) Here a few clues:

1. When you give them anything that tests their critical thinking they spend more time explaining to you why one or more of the questions are invalid than they do finishing the test. Geeks believe everything in life should be ‘fair’ and if it is not than it should be ‘fixed.’ One of my relatives only missed two questions when he took the SAT. Ask him about it, and the first thing he will do is explain to you why one of the questions was wrong. Non-geeks see this as showing off. Geeks want to know what the question was and see if they agree. (I do not know the question. When he started explaining, people tried to shut him up, and for social reasons I did not pursue what I was dying to know. I’ve learned to ‘shut-up’ too.)

2. Geeks come up with their own solutions to the problem. They do not merely repeat what they have been told to do. As adults they will not read child-rearing books, either. (Or if they do, they will tell you when they disagree with what they have read and why.) Why? Because geeks like to figure things out. They do not want to follow the norm. They assume that logic works better than copying what someone else has done. They will hear, ‘Why can’t you just do it the way everyone else does?’ a lot in life. They will not understand why people ask the question, nor will they understand why you would want to do it the way someone else does. They see following someone’s example as doing something ‘blindly’ and it scares them. For a geek, comfort is in understanding what you are doing and why, and not in knowing that everyone else does it that way.

3. They do know how to hold a conversation- with other geeks. Geeks will talk for hours about what they have come up with. It may be a new invention, fantasy game idea or whatever, but it will be something uniquely theirs. Geeks like to talk about what they have invented in their minds. Other people talk about celebrities, the weather, music or sports. A geek can’t fathom why, since these people did not invent these things, or play in the game, nor are they in a position to improve anything. If a geek is to talk about mundane things, they will be contemplating how to fix, or change them. Geeks do not talk about ‘the weather,’ unless it involves cloud seeding, or making it snow when it is 90 degrees out.

4. Geeks do not put their measure of self-worth in what other people think. An award is meaningless to a geek unless he thinks he has truly earned it. A geek trusts his own perception of whether, or not, he did well, so when there is a negative social interaction the geek will examine whether, or not, he thinks the fault is on his side. If he concludes that he did nothing wrong then he will not change his behavior. He does not blame the other person; he just realizes there is nothing he can do about it on his end. This leaves people thinking that the geek is ‘cold,’ and ‘unfeeling.’ This is not true. Geeks love people deeply, they just do not see why others should have a say in the way that they behave, so they do not conform.

5. Geeks are hurt deeply when others bully them, more so than a non-geek. Non-geeks understand that if they change, the bullying may stop. Geeks see everything they do as a logical result of their own thought process, so everything about them is tied to who they are. To make fun of that is to hurt a geek deeply, and because what they wear, say and do is based on a choice they made (and was not a random act) they are unable to easily change it without altering their own identity, or feeling ‘fake.’

6. A geek child asks 20 million questions. Their ‘why’s’ drive a typical parent nuts. These children are thinking and processing what you say. They are not content that things ‘just are that way.’ Later, the will attempt to read the encyclopedia, or some equivalent work. Let them.

7. A geek child will also drive the teacher nuts. When the teacher, or the text-book makes what the geek-child perceives to be a mistake, they feel the need to point it out. They are not trying to prove how smart they are, or be disrespectful. They honestly want to have all of the right information, and assume that you do too. They do not view life as a competition; they see it as an opportunity to know and explore everything.

8. If the geek-child enjoys a topic they will research everything there is to know on the topic. This too can be a challenge for their teachers as they are not likely equipped with this much information on everything they teach. (They once removed the books on the topic I was reading from the elementary school library and told me that those books were misplaced and should really be over at the high school. I cried.)

9. If you introduce a new topic to a geek, expect to hear everything they know on the subject first. They are not telling you this to impress you, they are just catching you up on what they already know so that you can go from there. This is actually a time-saving technique for your benefit. They also assume that you would want any information that they have, that you do not have, and they want whatever information they have to be elaborated on or corrected, so that they have more and better information for the future. Non-geeks see this as the geek being a ‘know-it-all.’ Many adult geeks have learned not to do it, but it is a difficult thing for a true geek to suppress.

10. Geeks frequently interrupt each other. This too is a time saving technique. It tells the other geek that they know where they are going so they do not have to finish their thought, and they are both now free to jump to something new. If they are wrong, the geek who was talking will interrupt and correct. Many geek conversations go so fast that no thought is ever completely spoken. Human speech and social protocol are limiting when a geek’s mind is racing. Two geeks together makes for seemingly unintelligible speech if you are not well versed on the topics they are discussing.

11. Geeks do not stay on topic. They may return to any topic previously introduced at any point, but there will always be rabbit-trails onto other things. This is fun for geeks. Not so much for people who like talking about celebrities and sports.

12. Geeks can’t talk about celebrities and sports because they know that both people already know everything about what has happened. There is no new information or insight here, so why would they spend time telling people things they already know. Geeks rarely gossip for this reason. If it is not new information, and it is beyond their control to change it, then they do not understand why they would consider wasting their time on it.

13. Geeks will also not offer basic hospitality. They assume that if you are hungry, or thirsty, or have other basic needs you have the ability to let them know and/or take care of it yourself. They will also let you know if they do not want to share something. While another person might let your children drink all of the milk, the geek will explain that they need it for breakfast and that there are no stores open at that hour to acquire more. They do not mean to be rude; it is just a fact. Geeks believe that true friends should be honest about their needs so that visiting is not an inconvenience. Society teaches that good hosts cater to their guests. Geeks treat their guests as capable equals who know how a house works. Asking, ‘Would it be possible for me to get a glass of water?’ implies that you do not think the geek has running water and/or cups and makes them pause and look at you funny.

14. Geeks point out problems. They do not do this to be mean, or to make themselves look good. They honestly think you would want to know and would want to fix it. If you explain to them why it is not a problem, they will be fine and not mention it again (unless you did not convince them that it was not actually a problem- then they have two problems to fix- the problem, and your perception of the problem). Geeks believe everyone wants to have their problems solved. They do not understand why this would not be true. If you want to get the geek off your back about something of this nature, give them the authority to fix it.

15. Geeks will explain to you why something is right or wrong. They will not merely quote sources, or say ‘all of these people can’t be wrong.’ A geek trusts logic over popular opinion, and knows that large numbers of people can, and have, been wrong. Do not ever think you will win an argument with a geek by saying so-and-so believes it, or you just have to have faith.

16. Geeks are perfectionists. They do not like not finishing a job, or not being able to figure something out. They love problem-solving. While other people may be relieved that they no longer have to work on the problem any more when you tell them to leave it, the geek will become more frustrated. They want to know the answer and want to get to the conclusion.

17. Geeks often have interesting home plumbing or other appliances. They do not like doing things the way everyone else does them. They know that their needs are different and want the best solution for them. They are often not worried about ‘pretty,’ but care about ‘functional.’ If you explain to them that someone might trip over the cords, they will move them. If you tell them cords in the middle of the room look bad, forget it.

18. Geeks can talk about sex, race, politics, religion and other facets of life wherever and whenever, and in great detail. Why? Because to them these things are just facts.

19. Geeks do not care what you believe, as long as you show there is logic behind it. Geeks have friends with many different belief systems. It is not a problem. The problem comes when you want them to agree with you just because you are friends, or ‘millions of people can’t be wrong.’

20. Male geeks like strong women. They believe everyone should work to their potential. They will help with something because it is literally too heavy for her to carry, but not because they are the man. This is a logical fallacy. They will ask how she is to carry their children if she cannot move a 5-pound bag of trash. It is not that they will not do it for her if she wants, but they will not do it because they believe they are ‘the man’ so they have to.

21. Geeks do love people deeply. Notice that all of the popular ‘geek’ interests seem to revolve around super heroes whose secret identity is picked on or misunderstood. They do not want to be the super-villain, but the hero who is finally appreciated for all that he really wants to do for others, but can’t in his current state. The geek may not be able to convey his love in a way a non-geek would perceive, but it is there. Remember, geeks do not give flowers, they give strange things they came up with themselves… and sometimes the ‘meaningful’ thing they share is just their thoughts about what life would be like on a planet with a helium atmosphere…

Growing up geek is hard. But there are places where geeks congregate. When we went to a college orientation for my son, we heard jokes about t-shirts that said ‘Number One Dodge Ball Target in High School,’ and were told that sports at this college revolved more around robot races than Ultimate Frisbee. (Though somehow rugby, karate and swing dancing are excellent geek activities… Apparently it is not a dislike of sports, just the packaging they come in.)
Because of the abuse throughout childhood by their peers (and even by many adults) many geeks will become reclusive. Most of my friends do not socialize much outside of their immediate family. Why? It is not because they are anti-social. We love getting together. What do we do when we are together? Talk. Geeks are more about the conversation than the activity, though it may not seem so on the job. If there are no other geeks around, most geeks have learned that it is better not to talk at all. This is okay, because they tend to love the problem-solving that goes into their work as well.

Recently I was told that 9 out of 10 people who had known IQ score in the genius range were not doing jobs that reflected their potential. (No, I do not have the reference. I am a geek. Knowing geeks, I agree that this is a logically intuitive truth for many reasons, so I can work with the premise and move on.) Unfortunately this did ring true to me, and it is sad. Due to repeated, over-the-top, worse than teachers can imagine because the only thing bullies are good at is fooling teachers and other authority figures abuse in school most geeks do not want to deal with the typical social idiocy and bureaucracy that goes on in most jobs. Even if they own the company, they often have to deal with what geeks would classify as ‘stupidity.’ Geeks do not see why people cannot leave them alone and let them do their job. If they do their job well, they do not see why it is anyone’s business what they do with their product. Bill Gates decided to bundle a failed product (by failed, I mean not number one in the market- which was I assume his goal) with another product and got dragged before congress to explain why he was being ‘nice.’ He quit. That’s about right. (At the time I told my husband that his future actions would tell whether he had any nefarious motives associated with his business plans. Quitting to work under your wife to give money away in a responsible manner- yeah, that shows where your heart is.) Bill Gates is a good example. He has the ability to make huge amounts of money, and he does. But he values being left alone to do what he feels is right- not what other people tell him to do.

Geeks quit not because they cannot handle the socialization, but because there is a level of misbehavior they cannot withstand. A geek does not mind if the guy who gets all of his work done plays Tetris for the rest of the day, in fact he will play with him, but the guy who does nothing, and thinks he can join in- no way. The fact that a large percentage of the work force spends much of its time trying to get out of the work they are paid to do drives the geek out of his mind. And if a ‘non-producer’ tries to take credit for something they had nothing to do with, the geek may explode. For the geek, it is all about right and wrong. There is no fitting-in and making people feel good. Why? Because a geek derives his self-worth from inside himself. He examines his life and decides whether, or not he is right or wrong. He cannot imagine how someone can know they did nothing, then feel good when everyone congratulates them. For a geek it is not about the kudos, or appearances, but about doing the things that should earn the rewards. Withholding kudos from a geek hurts them because they know they deserve it and you are being unfair, not because they need the applause.

This is my view of geek mountain. Yours may differ. The premise that every geek is the same is fallacious, but I worked with it in order to help the non-geeks understand, and, primarily, so the non-geeks would cease and desist their attempts to label, and presumably treat and medicate the next generation of geeks. We are fine. In fact we are more than fine. Leave us alone. If you want a problem to solve, try dealing more affectively with the bullies instead- before one of the geek kids actually does invent a flame thrower at a much too early age and tries handling that problem on his own!

I hope this helps.

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