A Glass Half-Full Kinda Guy

Ivor Tossell sees the bright side, on the cancelled Fort York Bridge project:

I suppose we can count ourselves lucky to live in a time and place when rival factions spare us the bloodshed and merely run around, cancelling each others’ bridges.

from An Eye for Eye, Bridge for a Bridge in the Toronto Standard.


Does Geek Culture Reinforce a Fixed Mindset?

I just read “Nerds, we need to have a talk” at Thingist. It’s about the author’s perception of geek culture as excessively critical, judgemental and impatient with newbies and amateurs. I haven’t been part of geek culture for a long time, so I can’t comment on whether his perceptions reflect the general community, but I can certainly vouch for that attitude at the undergrad level.

One passage from the post struck me. The writer is describing his attempts to learn how to skateboard:

One day at the skatepark I was sitting off to the side just watching everybody else and kind of wishing that I wasn’t there. One of my best friends, Steve, came up to me to ask what I was doing.

“Oh, man, I suck at this. I’m just going to practice at home or something. I don’t want to get into anybody’s way.”

“What? Dude, you look like a weird-o just sitting over here, and you’re not going to learn anything by just staring at that thing. If I ever catch you sitting on this bench again, you’re not invited to the skatepark anymore.” (There were probably quite a few more vulgarities, but this was the gist of it)

I have never seen this attitude in the geek community. It’s always been “You’re doing it wrong, and you should give up because you suck at it.” or “if you’re not using $hip_new_language, then you’re a loser.”

“You’re doing it wrong, and you should give up because you suck at it.” That was pretty much my religion between age 8 and 24; I gave up on so many skills prematurely because I wasn’t immediately good at them.

Maybe it started because I was overpraised, but it never occurred to me until now that the geek culture I immersed myself in in university might have reinforced my mindset, by reinforcing the fear of “looking stupid”.

(As it turns out I never did manage to get past the “looking stupid” phase of becoming a programmer, largely because I didn’t realize that if I kept plugging away at it, I would eventually improve.)

Stranger Danger Wins Again

Yesterday Toronto got its collective knickers in a knot about the Doctor Who-ishly named #wanderingboy. The story is, at 8:30 am someone spotted a little blonde boy (“around 5”) alone and crying near Eglinton and Avenue. They reported the sighting to the police — two separate people called and reported the boy — and the police leapt into action, asking the media and citizenry to look out for this poor abandoned waif (who no-one had actually reported missing).

For the rest of the day there was a great deal of retweeting and clucking and concern – who is #wanderingboy, where is #wanderingboy, let’s all look out for #wanderingboy. The police canvassed local businesses for security video of the boy. Later in the day a report came out that the same boy (how could they tell?) had been seen with a man, 40-45, in a trench coat. At 8:30. So was he alone? Or not? I’m still not sure.

Later still, almost inevitably, it came to pass that the boy had been at school all day; he was never lost.

In the midst of it all I tweeted that I wasn’t sure if the #wanderingboy thing was sweet or creepy. I settled on creepy.

If you see a little kid crying on the street, for god’s sake stop and help the goddamn child. A crying child is not a matter for the police! A crying child is not like a crazy person or an unattended piece of luggage, not to be approached except by professionals. You can actually just go up to them and ask if they’re okay and if they need help finding their adult. (That’s what we’re called at school — “Do you see your adult?” “I see my adult!”)

I know, I know, stranger danger. You don’t want to approach the child because you think you’ll be accused of something, or you’ll scare the kid. You know what, fuck stranger danger. You know you’re not a creepy molester, I know you’re not a creepy molester, and the kid and the kid’s parents will in all likelihood figure out pretty quickly that you’re not a creepy molester. In fact, the odds of you being accused of being a creepy molester are probably only slighly larger than the odds that you are a creepy molester, which is really small. The sad fact is that stranger danger fear has made the world a more hostile place for run-of-the-mill miserable children who could use a hand, in the name of protecting children against the vanishingly small danger of being snatched by a stranger.

For more about how the overblown fear of everything is making life worse for kids, read Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy, and then check out the Free-Range Kids blog.

Blog 5.0

Welcome!Welcome to my… oh boy. Welcome to my fifth blog! (I thought it was my third, but there were two very false starts back in 2000 and 2001 (Livejournal!). Then there was Perpetual Calendar and of course Blog-o!)

Blog-o! will live on as a domestic journal, where I will post long stories about our lives which are of interest only to family and friends. Over here I’ll put up shorter, pithier, more frequent (hopefully) posts about books, parenting, politics, writing, ideas, connections, and observations.