Sunday, January 30, 2011

But You Are a Geek, Right?

It seems anytime I try to point out that not every person diagnosed as autistic is a savant or a socially awkward geek, someone write to ask, "But you are a geek, right?"

There's not really a good answer to that. While I'm busy trying to dispel what I consider an unfair stereotype of people with autism spectrum disorders, someone else is busy taking notes of the various ways in which I match the stereotypes. I'm not sure if that's sardonic or ironic revelry at my expense.

The little bits of my personality that people notice are the bits they see in themselves or their children.
The reality is, beyond the computer skills I'm not much of an archetype, though I am old enough to predate the young people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Maybe if I had been born 20 years later, I'd be more "typical" or something.

And now I present, yet more questions from the virtual mailbag on the issue of technology stereotypes. Questions have been edited for pithiness.

Q: You are a computer geek, right?

Yes. I started programming in the late 1970s and by college was coding on the university mainframe. I still prefer procedural programming, too, which I find elegant and predictable. I love playing with new languages, operating systems, and software in general. And yes, I built my own computers until switching back to Macs in 2001. Since then, I've still torn apart the PowerBook and the MacBook Pro to upgrade memory and hard drives.

Q: You ever play Dungeons and Dragons? Or anything like that?

No. Not the least bit interested in gaming, which involves other people. I don't play online games, either. Can't stand them. The games I play require one person: me.

Q: You do play video games, don't you?

Pinball is my favorite "arcade" entertainment, followed by Skeeball. I love the real things more than a simulation. I'd have a good pinball machine in the house if I could. It's far more interesting to me than any video game. Who doesn't love Skeeball?

At night, I often play Wordjong DS, a word puzzle on the Nintendo DS. It's probably the only video game I play at least monthly. We own a PS2 that is currently covered in dust. When I do turn on the PS2, it is to play arcade classics, like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Centipede.

Q: You say you don't read science fiction. Never?

I've read science fiction, but I don't actively seek it out, no. I have read two Star Trek books and one Star Wars novel in my lifetime. I read two or three William Gibson novels, as well, but wasn't captivated by them.

Q: What about sci-fi films or television?

I thought Deep Space Nine was good until the last few seasons. I don't have any "appointment" television shows that I can't miss. Science fiction movies are okay. I love "Galaxy Quest" and "Evolution" -- neither of which was a huge hit.

My wife likes science fiction more than I do. She's an engineer, so maybe it is a requirement.

Q: So you're a computer geek who doesn't read sci-fi, watch the SyFy Channel, or play World of Warcraft?

I'm not a "normal" computer geek, I guess. My interest isn't video games or animation. My fascination is with words and computing. I'm more fascinated by fonts than avatars. Words were why I cared about computers in the first place. I spent hours trying to customize bitmapped fonts and tweaking the dot-matrix printer output. I still find raw PostScript more interesting than most server-side scripting languages.

Q: What about sports? You hate them, right?

No. I don't hate sports. I enjoy cycling, tennis, racquetball, and skating. I'm not good at sports, admittedly. I like to watch sometimes, but I'm not a huge fan of most team sports. Baseball is all about statistics and odds, so it is interesting to guess what a manager is going to do. I probably couldn't name more than a dozen current players.

As always, feel free to send me more questions and I'll consider answering them.

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