Larry Welkowitz's Radio Weblog
Discussing Asperger's Disorder and other Psychology topics

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Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Geeks, Spelunking, and autism/Asperger's

A psychology professor and friend, Tony Stavely, recently commented on my discussion of the geek/practitioner:

Interesting about being a "geek/practitioner," as you call it. As readers can see from my email and web addresses, I am a colleague of Larry's. I'm also more than a little technological. To learn and use information technology requires considerable time and attention to arcane detail. Time spent on that work is not available for other sorts of work. In my experience, time has some elasticity - by concentrating and applying energy efficiently one can do a lot in a little time and by losing focus, attention and energy can dissipate, leaving little to show for one's efforts. Nonetheless, choosing to master a piece of software or to learn some programming language means not reading several journal articles of book chapters. It may be the case that newly-acquired technology skills will save future time, rendering one able to catch up on professional reading, but I think what really happens is that the intricacies of technology simply draw one deeper into the maze. Speaking for myself, I gain the illusion of mastery and understanding (I have a good map of this maze in my head) while being ever drawn around the next corner to see where it leads. It's a kind of spelunking, I guess.

This reminds me of Jim McGee's recent comment (or reference to another comment) about being amazed that many people use software without learning more than 2 or 3 things about it.  As a non-geek radio userland person I understand this.  Some of us resist the type of electronic "spelunking" as Tony calls it...perhaps because we just don't have the "geek brain" that's willing attend to that kind of detail in a sustained way.  Personally, I'd rather spend the time reading a journal article, schmoozing with friends and colleagues (in person in the hallway or having coffee in the Student Union), or just working on something else.  Of course, Jon Udell is probably correct in saying that even geeks aren't using their Outlook correctly (admit it, your inbox is a nightmare!).

Tony goes on to say:

individuals said to be "on the spectrum" demonstrate considerable powers of concentration and focus on arcane detail, so I understand. Maybe "off the spectrum" folks are better at multitasking. To drop one focus of attention and take up another smoothly, and then return later to the dropped one without missing a beat (or only stumbling a little) is a capability the spectrals lack? That's a question because I'm not a practioner and lack relevant experience.

So, Geeks need to remember that non-geeks don't want to spend time learning html, googling for instructions on tweaking software, solving systems problems, and so on.  Neurotypical brains are simply not oriented that way.

1:09:53 PM    comment []

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