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Geek Native vs. Geek Immigrant

Back when we were in the throes of treatments for the first time, when I imagined myself a parent, it was usually in a state of new motherhood with an infant sleeping in a stroller.  I didn’t picture reality: the squalling baby refusing to sleep, or the spit-up in my hair, or the curling up like a comma on the top step of the basement stairs and crying hysterically due to sleep deprivation.  Who the hell would sink a needle into their stomach if they didn’t focus on all the good things? (A side note: in my experience, the good things outweigh the bad things at least 6 : 1 overall.)

If I thought about things beyond those early months, it was usually how much the kids would love what I love.  Of course they’d want to sit around and read books all day long.  They’d be willing travel companions and consume vast quantities of chocolate with me.  And sure, in the back of my head, I knew that they’d probably introduce me to a few things or have some interests outside of mine.  But I didn’t think about how much I would learn through my kids; because of my kids.  If I thought about knowledge at all, it only flowed in one direction; from my brain to theirs.  Certainly, by the middle of the elementary school years, this isn’t the case.

And nothing prepared me for my status of Geek Immigrant amongst Geek Native children.

Imagine something you know nothing about.  Maybe it’s quantum mechanics.  And let’s say you’re fairly happy in your work as a cake decorator.  But one day your boss comes up to you as you’re putting the finishing touches on a wedding cake and informs you in a very happy voice that he just loves quantum mechanics and from now on, that’s what we’re doing at the bakery.  We’re just going to work on creating a unified field theory instead of decorating cakes.  So… you know… study up!

That’s how it feels with the twins love of computers. We’re trucking along, enjoying all sort of activities that I feel comfortable leading and then bam — they want to explore something I know nothing about.  Not only do I not know anything about computers beyond the basics of word processing and surfing the Web, but they seem to grasp ideas at a much greater speed and intuitively navigate new technology the moment they pick it up.  A case in point: while I was still trying to turn the iPad on, they had already skated through three different apps.

Part of me is a little jealous.  The reality is that it goes much deeper than digital native vs. digital immigrant when it comes to a lot of  middle-aged women.  We are all digital immigrants of a sort, the technology commonplace today (smart phones, tablets, computers) simply not around while we were growing up.  We’ve had to learn them as they’ve come out, whereas kids today are born into them.  My kids don’t know a world without computers.

But while it’s cool for all kids to be geeky kids these days — there are no gender norms when it comes to using smart phones or playing video games — it certainly wasn’t encouraged to be a geeky girl when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  And that is why I think I’m a Geek Immigrant today.  I still feel more than a little shy and unsure about delving into things mechanical; apologize for not knowing information when I need to speak to people more knowledgeable, and rely way too heavily on others rather than trying things myself when it comes to new technology.  I think if society had encouraged my geekiness, I would be having a very different experience with the digital revolution.  I would be throwing myself into it with my whole being, instead of tentatively skirting the edges and wishing I could be in the center.

Being a Geek Native means that from day one, you embrace your passions no matter how fringe those passions may be.  Being a Geek Immigrant means learning to stop caring so much about what others think of your passions and dive into them in a full body belly flop.  I not only need to learn a lot in order to aide the kids in what they want to do, but I need to get a different mindset.  I need to see the possibilities in front of me, not just feel overwhelmed by how much I need to learn.

I need to learn a lot in order to enable the Wolvog to do what he wants to do.  I had to learn how to code an image map so I could teach him how to code an image map when he got it in his head that he wanted an image map on the front page of his website. (Backup: I had to learn how to self-host a site so I could teach him how to self-host a site when he announced that he wanted his own website.)  I’ve had to stay one step ahead with his robot obsession, learning how to construct them and program them.  Most of the time, he shoots way ahead of me and has to come backwards and help me out.  But I get to be a geek through him.

I get to be a geek with the ChickieNob, who is leaps and bounds ahead of me in manipulating images on the computer.  She skates through Photoshop, knowledge courtesy of a computerized art class over the summer.  She’s taught me how to play games on the iPad, explaining slowly what she somehow intuitively knows about the gyroscope that shifts the movement on the screen.

If it’s important to them, then I want it to be important to me.  The best way to understand their world is to dive in.  So computers it is.

I’ve been putting together a series of guides for GeekDad on being a Geek Immigrant with Geek Native children.  It would be very different if Josh or I had a background in engineering; if we worked in computer science or, let’s face it, any sort of science at all.  But we don’t.  We’re both writers.  And while our kids love to write, they aren’t satiated just with the information we readily have at our fingertips.  They want to learn all sorts of stuff we don’t know.  So we’re learning it too so we can turn around and teach.  I’m now becoming proficient in the computer language Python and write posts in HTML without the WYSIWYG editor.  Baby steps.

I’m glad the twins are having geeky childhoods if a geeky childhood is what they want.  Just to be clear, I don’t feel sad that I squelched my geekiness a long time ago.  I don’t mind being a Geek Immigrant, especially since I have good native tour guides traveling with me.  I think late life geekiness is a special kind of geekiness, sort of like converted Jews or learning Italian at 40.  You see the religion or language in a different way than a native, marvel at things others barely notice.

I didn’t flex my geek muscles as a child.  But I’m certainly flexing them now.  Geek Immigrants unite!


1 Barb { 10.14.13 at 8:24 am }

I think it’s more intimidating and harder to flex your brain in change as a middle aged adult too. For me, who was a straight A student, has a bs in biology with some graduate courses and works with animals every day, it’s been harder than I thought to start switching to medical transcription. I think it would have been less intimidating younger.

2 Orodemniades { 10.14.13 at 9:31 am }

I can see it in the Chieftain, too. His dad is a programmer and fully intends on teaching the Chieftain programming. They start the computer stuff in kindergarten! But, since the Chieftain has speech therapy at that time, he misses those ‘classes’. And I’m getting a little worried that he’ll miss something important in Technology. Which is ridiculous. Right?

Personally, as a science fiction reader and writer, I feel that I was born at the right time. I’ve been reading about computers and how they’ll be integrated with society and people for so long it’s weird to live in the time that that is actually happening. I mean, the first computer I ever used was in 7th grade – and it ran on cassette tapes!!! I used to get the email in 1983-4 for my first job. Having said all that? Modern phones…they scare me. I can do many things, but the phones, man, the phones…

I consider myself neither native nor immigrant, but whatever it is in between – a member of the crew that ships one to the other, perhaps…

3 Mali { 10.14.13 at 11:33 am }

I’ve been learning Italian at 50, so I know what you mean! I am a bit of a Geek immigrant – but I have friends who have no interest in any geekiness at all, regarding computers as a necessary evil to use for work, or keep in touch with friends. I can’t imagine how it feels to be a geek native – not to marvel every time they skype, or talk to someone across the world (just as I am doing now), or photoshop and see an ordinary picture become great. I feel a bit sad for them in some ways – that they don’t get to marvel at things we marvel at, because they take it all a bit for granted. Then again, your kids seem to love the geek world, so they are proving me wrong even as I type this (in Poland).

4 Queenie { 10.14.13 at 2:08 pm }

But it’s such a gift, isn’t it? To be able to explore all of these new things, and see it through their eyes. You would be having such a different experience and such a different reaction to it all if it was your area of specialty.

5 JustHeather { 10.14.13 at 3:55 pm }

In regards to computers, I think I am somewhere in between Immigrant and Native. With some aspects, I was late.. my family didn’t have an Apple II or Commodore 64 and I don’t always feel the need to have the latest and greatest gadgets. With others, I feel that I was an early adapter (playing online D&D type games in 1994, where I met my now husband on the other side of the world and got my first email account that year too). Among my girl friends, I think I am the most computer literate, at least when it comes to the HTML, how to Google and other stuffs. 🙂

I can only imagine what it will be like watching my guy grow up. He already wants our phones to play with (at just over a year).

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.14.13 at 5:06 pm }

In some ways I can outgeek my kids (like understanding html code, which they have probably never seen), but it’s all book-type learning. They have a more intuitive way about interacting with devices.

May I unite with you?

7 luna { 10.15.13 at 2:11 am }

I love how you delve into what excites them so you can share it with them. while I’m not sure I’d pick up programming just to do it with my kids, I do love sitting down with the 4yo and letting her teach me how to play a game, or explore a new app. it’s WAY more intuitive to her, for sure.

8 chickenpig { 10.15.13 at 8:38 am }

I am very thankful right now that I am married to a geek native so I don’t have to get techy. Computers to me are a tool. I don’t need to know how to build a hammer to pick up a hammer and use it. One of my twins is ‘on the spectrum’ and goes through obsessions. There is no way I can know more on a subject than he does when he is obsessing about it, but I love learning about things from him 🙂

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