In Praise of Older Geeks


Originally posted at Fan To Pro

“Know your roots.”
-a T-shirt featuring a NES controller.

Geekery is often presumed to belong to the young.  However, this is probably due to the stereotype that the average comic book reader is a ten-year-old boy.  Even high tech gadgets, thought to be the domain of those raised on a steady diet of Internet and cell phone use, aren’t really procured by kids unless their parents spring for it.  It’s a misconception that just because our technology is hip and new that the strongest example of geeks are fresh on the scene as well.

The average gamer is around 37 years old.  Older adults have the money to keep up with “must-have” devices, which are “must-haves” not because they’re that much better, but because the previous model is going to be phased out soon.  Therefore, by necessity, geekery skews older.  As another example, businesses require their employees to remain constantly connected, sometimes giving them Blackberries or iPhones to facilitate this.  At the same time, certain schools are still discouraging technology because some profs assume a laptop in class is used for MSN instead of note-taking.  Once again, a truly geeky world is not as youth-oriented as one might think.

At the heart of it, geek culture is about imagination, passion, open-mindedness, quick thinking, and adaptability.  These are traits that can be found in anyone.  We wrongfully associate them mainly with youth.  Young people may have plenty of “youthful” exuberance, but so do older geeks.  The difference is that older geeks have had time to refine their outlook.  Really, young people are still learning about the world, and are therefore not experienced enough to know when something is truly revolutionary.  Those of us who are interested in the world may mistake rehashed trends as something new and exciting because, well, everything IS new to us.

Remember, geek culture is based on knowledge.  You have to know your stuff, and the more you have experienced first-hand, the better.  I’m not saying an older person is necessarily geekier.  I’m saying anyone could be a geek, but it skews older, and we need a reminder of that as Geek goes mainstream.  Commercials for geek products featuring young people send the message that young people are better-versed in the modern world.  How can you be better-versed in something when you have yet to see anything else for comparison?  Does a fish know what water is before it sees the surface?  I’m quite sure, those of us who have had to help our parents send an email will get a laugh out of the “I’m a Mac. / And I’m a PC,” commercials.  However, that’s talking about a geeky child of a non-geeky parent.  When you have a young geek learning from an older geek, it’s a whole different story.

My message to my generation is that we are lucky to know these older geeks.  Culturally, they are our ancestors.  Older geeks remember when geekery was, well, geeky.  Today, if you tell someone you play “Angry Birds,” the person’s response will probably be that they do as well.  Thirty years ago, if you told someone you play “Pacman,” the response would probably be a patronizing sigh.  Older geeks “get” what we go through.  They’ve probably had it even worse, so they’re unlikely to dismiss us as wasting our time.  What’s more, they actually care about all the wacky things that we care about.

These are people who grew up Geek back when Geek meant something.  What does growing up Geek mean today?  You have a computer?  So does everyone else.  Older geeks understand that geek culture is something special.  Some of them have made geeky career niches for themselves, and they may be able to teach us how to do so as well.  They can inform us that our favourite movie is a remake, and give us the opportunity to appreciate the original in all its glory.

Most importantly, THEY UNDERSTAND our situation.  They get that we want to be writers or game designers instead of the proverbial doctors or lawyers.  They’ve been there too.  While your parents and teachers might be adamant in their positions, older geeks are understanding enough to “get” that we do things our own way.  Actually, there’s a good chance they themselves have taken the road less travelled, and they can advise us about their mistakes and successes.  They understand that we’d rather go to an anime convention than a baseball game.  Actually, you can just marvel at the fact that someone over 40 knows what an anime convention is.  Let’s not play into believing the stereotypes.

Geeks are ideal mentors.  They genuinely care when it comes to passing knowledge onward.  They are also flexible enough that they are willing to listen to us.  They want to learn from us as much as they want us to learn from them, because they understand the value of information.

For today’s upcoming generation of young geeks, the most important thing we can do is access the wealth of information that older geeks have to offer us.  They are open-minded and compassionate, for the most part, and are highly unlikely to tell us to get off their lawns.  Older geeks appreciate the new, and that applies to people as much as it does to technology.  Many of them will WANT to help us.  As the Nerdy Under Thirty, we owe it to ourselves as well as to all of geekdom to learn as much as we can from those who have geeked before us.

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