Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A geek manifesto

A friend sent me a link to Temple Gardin's talk on TED. Despite her goofy outfit, she does offer some brilliant ideas, and will soon bask in the well deserved fame provided by a new Hollywood movie about her life. A diagnosed autist, she explains how she is able to think visually with perfect clarity and attention to minutest details, as the visual networks in her brain are not encumbered by wiring geared toward social skills. By avoiding abstract generalizations, she says she was able to think like a cow, a mental capacity which allowed her to develop some innovative facilities and managerial protocols for the more humane slaughtering of cattle. Gardin also makes a broader argument, saying things like: "the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids." Those kids should be encouraged by teachers who understand them and can steer them toward rewarding scientific and Silicon Valley careers. Losing their contribution to society, she argues in an attempt to formulate a clear pro-autistic manifesto, would have devastating consequences for technological progress. It should be crystal clear that people in the autistic spectrum invented the first tools, and later spearheaded every scientific and technological revolutions, so losing their services would bring about a technological shipwreck (to use a handy visual metaphor). That's very enlightening, I just wanted to add another career path for the kind of gifted individuals Gardin describes - public finance. As Bulgaria's current finance minister (a former World Bank official in his 30s) demonstrates, there is a correlation between social awkwardness and a steely resolve to resist populist pressure for government payouts (like those demands that the Bulgarian government pay the one billion Euro it owes to private businesses for past contracts; or provide the money for timely payment of various benefits - all under the guise of calls for "stimulating" the economy in the midst of the current crisis, as other less responsible governments have done). So, the kind of nerdish/geeky inclinations Gardin describes (in an admirably self-deprecating way) can bring heaps of unsuspected added value to their carriers and society - not just the benefits of the visual thinking which worked so well for Gardin and the cows she empathized with (kind of).