Gear and its boy

rabbitIt’s Down the Rabbit Hole Day, a day when you’re supposed to adopt a different blogging style. Cory at BB did a great job in his post about junk so I’ll give it a try as well and be a little more personal.

I’ve written a little about how I got into gadgets, writing, and gadget writing but I’d like to explore that a bit today, mostly for my own edification and self-examination. One of the things I’ve noticed recently that with two kids you don’t get much time to sit around and think which has recently made me sloppy and scatter-brained so maybe this sort of thing will be interesting and helpful at the same time.

So I wasn’t particularly good at technology. I wanted to become better but was either too lazy or too unskilled to truly be “good” so I took a voyeur’s stance when it came to many of the things I purport to understand and write about. I was never even a particularly good gamer so I would watch my friend Rick play and beat most of our Nintendo games. I was also never particularly good at electronics so I’d take apart stereos and things and basically keep and categorize parts, just in case, the way my dad taught me. I was, in short, standing on the outside of these things and, as far as I remember, I was fairly happy.

One thing I always remember is making something and thinking it wasn’t “good.” I was constantly in search of some way to reduce the chasm of quality that would differentiate the handmade – from my hand – from the mass produced. I’d make something and think “This isn’t good enough” and I’d probably stop trying. That happened for a long while with most of the projects I took on, from model making to writing stories and books. I just couldn’t find that one thing that made me feel like I had finished something.

I think I began to narrow that chasm with my writing. I began, obviously, as a reader and wanted to emulate what I read. Rick and I wrote fantasy books in grade school and made a bunch of comic books but in high school I received actual praise for my writing and that is essentially what drove me into journalism. But tech was always with me. Instead of studying writing in college I studied IT and did basically what everyone else did in the dot com years – make lots of money doing stuff that is laughable now. I was never a programmer per se, but I was good enough to hire out as a consultant and consulting took me to Poland where I met my wife. But journalism brought us both to New York and now I get to bore you guys with my ramblings on a daily basis.

So now my own son is beginning to understand that gadgetry is cool. I’m not talking about toys, per se, simply because he is living in an era where there is more computing power in a Nintendo DS than I had experienced in my first eight years of life. Gadgets are easy for him to use, inexpensive, and I am lucky enough to be able to write about them so they’re pervasive. As I read to him at night some of the books that I read as a child (Goodnight, Moon is a good example) I’m struck by how similar my life was to the characters in the books and how far distant his life is from that pre-gear age. He won’t think typewriters are quaint machines that could replace a computer in a pinch. He’ll instead see them as devices so far removed from his experience that it will look one of those weird Victorian orgone machines. That’s just one example but you can easily extrapolate things out: the world in which I live now is vastly different from the world I grew up in and, in theory, this is not true for the millennial generation. They have always known cool gear.

I don’t know what my son and daughter will create as a child in order to learn who they are and will be as adults. Maybe it will be game levels or some sort of programmable hardware hacking. Maybe it will be something I can’t even imagine, some sort of weird mash-up that is given its own value in their own era. My father helped me find my way by giving me what I needed to learn: books and broken stereos. He also taught me a way of thinking about these things that made it easy for me to understand them. Hopefully I’ll be able to be heard over the DSes and Wiis and Blu-Ray movies my son will be consuming and exploring so I can help him find what he really loves and really loves to do.

I asked Scott how to close this little piece up and he noted that I am basically advocating being a Maker, not a User. I wanted to make things when I was a kid, I was encouraged to make things by my father, and I learned which things I was good at and which things I wasn’t good at through trial and error. I know the resources are out there for kids who might be coming along and trying to do the same thing and I think it’s in all of our best interests as parents and as a worldwide, social group to encourage it wherever we see it.