Teaching “geek thinking”

In the past six months, I’ve become a bit addicted to a TV show called “Holmes Inspection.” In each episode, a family has a major problem—sometimes several—with their new home. Mike Holmes comes in, does a detailed inspection, points out everything the original home inspector missed, and then “makes it right” by fixing everything up properly.

Now, please understand, I know nothing about home repair or the building trades. I’m the last person you want to see with a hammer in his hand. But, as I’ve watched the show, something interesting has happened: I’ve started thinking a bit like a builder or home inspector. I may not know how to install attic vents, but the next time I’m in my attic, I guarantee I’ll look around to make sure the vents seem “right.” And I have some sense of what “right” means, even if I don’t know every intricacy to look for. Before, I wouldn’t have even thought about the vents.

I think this carries a lesson for how we educate “the masses” about the effective, safe, and responsible use of technology, the more I think we have to focus on teaching “geek thinking.” Just as a good home inspector looks at a house differently than most of us, a geek experiences new technology and new technological challenges differently than most people. When a non-geek sees an error message, he thinks “what am I supposed to do now?” When a geek sees an error message, she thinks “how do I find out what this means and what I should do,” and she has a few basic strategies for finding the answer. It’s a different mindset, and it’s what we have to start exposing people to.

Learning geek thinking won’t make people into technology experts any more than watching Holmes Inspection has prepared me for working as a building contractor. But it will help them be more informed, prepared consumers of technology, and wouldn’t it be nice to have more of those in the world?