On geekiness being hereditary

posted 09 January 2005

It's established knowledge that genes for geekiness are hereditary. In fact, so much so that the high concentration of geeks marrying other geeks in Silicon Valley is leading to an epidemic of autism and Asperger's syndrome in their children, as double-geek genes magnify to produce children who are too smart to interact with the ordinary world.

So, did I inherit my own geekiness from my mom or my dad? I always assumed, in a rather sexist way, that if I got it from anyone it would be from my dad. After all, he's the chemical engineer with the gadgets and the workshop, right?

But on closer examination of their professions and their careers, perhaps not. Mom has a degree in education -- specifically, physical education. Dad on the other hand has a degree in chemical engineering, clearly the geekier of the two disciplines. But after university, their careers took different tracks. My dad became engineer, certainly -- but only initially. Soon he became a manager, then a director, then a chairman of first one, then many boards. My dad knows how to get people to agree with him, how to motivate them. He's really good at that stuff. But those are people skills, not geek talents.

Mom, on the other hand, became a teacher -- but O-level chemistry and biology instead of P.E.. Teaching is a pretty geeky profession, and being a science teacher even more so. My mother is also not what you'd call a natural people person. She's hardly antisocial, and by no means a party pooper (stories of her wild youth surface more and more often the older I get). But she doesn't have the abiding love of people for their own sake that so characterizes my father.

There are physical signs, too. While I certainly got my high forehead and big lips from my dad (sigh), my fingers are -- relative to his, at any rate -- long and slim, quite unlike his stubby digits. And while it may have come to her late in life, my mom has certainly got the geek's love of new gadgets. She started off slow -- a cordless phone, a digital dishwasher, my second-hand computer -- but soon moved on to better things: a fax machine, a photocopier, a printer, a scanner. And then she hopped onto the upgrade path and began to accelerate: her fax machine, photocopier and scanner have all gone through two iterations, she's got a brand new printer and a dedicated photo-printer.

And yesterday, as I sat in the study fiddling with blogs, she sat in the comfy chair playing with her new Palm Pilot Tungsten E, a gorgeous little toy in brushed aluminium with a colour screen and decent sound that can store photos and contacts and a calendar and her notes as well as have any custom software she can find and download (so far: Bridge). When she finds a cute new feature, she giggles in a way that is estremely familiar to me.

Gosh. I got my geekiness from my mom. Who knew?

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