A case for geekery

Giant Killer Robots: I dare you NOT to have fun.

Geek: Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to refer to “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake.” As defined by Wikipedia.

Parents today will besiege you with tales of kids who sit in front of console games, iPads, phones or watching TV for hours on end. On the outside (figuratively and physically) it looks like kids are endlessly active, but the reality of home life for many is they sit playing with, or watching, screens in their own bubble. For all the parental complaining though, you very rarely hear of parents actively engaged with their kids on the home front; most will talk about little James who plays games they don’t understand — ‘oh he plays that Minecraft thing…’, or how ‘Sally taps away on the Facebook’; you’ll rarely hear ‘we regularly sit down and do XYZ together’.

Houston, we have a disconnect.

Geek past times — art, gaming, coding,… boiled down, anything done inside and not moving, have for the most part received a bad wrap and the stereotypes they’ve generated have gone on to be propagated by film and TV, making them accepted as the norm. That’s not to say it’s unjustified, the stereotypes exist — historically ‘geek’ has generally attracted the less, errrr… physically driven. From personal experience though, the gamut of people one meets partaking in geek is every bit as diverse as those you meet at a Sunday afternoon BBQ. Stereotypes and generalisations, while based on a segment of substance, have given geek an undeserved reputation that scared, and continues to scare, parents — ‘I don’t want little James becoming a nerd…’ which of course has kept a lot of kids away, and parents disinterested.

The flip side to this attitude are the ‘jobs of the future’ these same parents talk about over lunch — coding, robotics, maths, engineering a.k.a. STEM — the hot education topic of today, are all well entrenched in the geek; for many prior, the ability to sit down and play games, read, whatever, has translated well to having the patience, persistence and mindset to learn, and excel, at professions such as coding.

Catch 22.

The pursuit of sporting activities seems natural way for many to keep their kids ‘engaged’, out of the house and possibly fill in the gaps left by not having any stationary interests of their own to share. While there is no question sport, or physical activity of some type, is an absolute must for myriad of reasons, especially in the face of the ever mounting evidence, the pursuit of sport as the do all and end all — if you’re not doing you’re watching, is a flawed ideal and one that many parents are pursuing at ever greater lengths. But just what do kids do if they are not doing it?

One can not spend every waking hour running around a field. Watching sport (on screen) is every bit as bad as watching anything on screen for lengths at a time, and note to Australia, watching is not doing, it’s watching. Keeping kids occupied by shuttling them from point to point, activity to activity is not engaging with them (and it could be argued causes more family stress than it’s worth over the long term), especially if on the home front (or in the car) there are no connection points — ‘oh he plays that Minecraft thing…’, ‘Sally taps away on the Facebook’; it’s also not encouraging, or promoting, other more brain or imagination focused activities (2). If parents themselves can not offer engaging alternatives, we end up back at the original issues of disconnect.

‘Geekery’ was shunned by many parents when they themselves were younger*, either completely from the get go (it was not cool to be interested), or buried it in the past as they got on with becoming… ‘mature adults’. The fact is, geeky activities today offer a raft of interests both kids and parents can engage in together on relatively equal terms, especially as kids become older. What’s more, activities such as gaming (as in board or tabletop games, not screen) are far better for overall development than sitting in front of an X-box (1), offering opportunities to develop social interaction skills (you play with other people), fundamentals such as reading and comprehension (rules can be involved and you need to remember them!), tangential thinking (creative thinking within a set of defined rules), as well as learning important skills such as how to win and loose gracefully (something arguably vanishing from kid’s sporting fields… on all sides). Again from personal experience, while I was never a ‘hard core’ gamer, the games I played saw me broaden my reading and analytical skills, as well as help develop my visual and imaginative problem solving; skills recognised today as fundamental for the ‘jobs of tomorrow’ (read in the next 10–20 years).

Today, possibly more than any other point in time, the gap between what parents and their kids may be interested is the smallest it has ever been. How many dads can honestly say they didn’t take their kids to the recent Star Wars movies, as much for themselves as for their kids? Moreover, of those that did take their kids, who can’t honestly say that the conversations they had afterwards were not more engaged, and interesting, than those they had with their parents after seeing Star Wars the first time, some 30 odd years ago? It could be said that culturally, time has slowed between recent generations – where what my father did as a young ‘un might have held little interest to me, my boys show more than a passing interest when I pull things out I did at the same age.

So if you can take your kids to Star Wars, or the latest J.K. Rowling movie, and enjoy it every bit as much as they did, then there is a very good chance that there are many other things that will do the same; Star Wars and JK are completely geeky, you just need to let go of your preconceptions, strangely something most parents are willing to do for movies. Board and table top games for example are a perfect way to engage with kids at home. Sure there will need to be a common interest point (and let’s face it, if you enjoyed the movies, it won’t be that hard to find one) but once found, instead of your kids sitting there playing with their phone, or blasting away on the X-box, you can do something that’s every bit as challenging, and interesting, together.

*The problem many parents now face is where they may have grown up thinking geekery (computers, programming, gaming, whatever) was not cool, hence shunning it, their kids are now doing many of those geeky things as the norm, creating a divide between they and their parents.

(1) Screen time is now being seen as a hinderance in the development in ‘deeper level thought’, effectively creating an expanding generation of ‘shallow level’ thinkers

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?_r=0

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/the-touch-screen-generation/309250/

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/is-technology-producing-a-decline-79127

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/7967894/How-the-Internet-is-making-us-stupid.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

(2) There is an increasing debate about the failure of the education system (in Australia) to promote and develop the imagination of younger children; it’s widely accepted that the school system is excellent in extinguishing most creative imagination. The federal government has identified the development of imagination in tertiary education as a core aim, in an attempt to prepare students for the future workplace, but as an education expert rightly pointed out, by the time a student reaches university, the imaginative skills have been extinguished with no real hope of rekindling them. Isn’t it better to address this when imagination is alive and well?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-15/schools-and-teaching-are-they-killing-creativity/8271362

http://www.news.com.au/technology/australians-lack-imagination-and-work-school-and-growing-up-are-to-blame/news-story/551e4d64a50bac9a3e2a4ff5d34e19ea

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/line-dalile/a-dictator-racing-to-nowh_b_1409138.html

Upsides of boardgames and kids:

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/creativity-play/benefits-board-games

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/stop-playing-monopoly-with-your-kids-and-play-these-games-instead/


Thoughts from the poolside lounge, stuff I do not always publish over at my site Playforest.com

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