I've been thinking about the different languages and cultures of geekhood, and why it's sometimes hard for me to... well, engage with other people. It's not because I'm smarter (I'm not) or because I hate people (I don't) or even because I'm shy (I am shy, but that's not the whole reason).
This comic analysis sums it up pretty well. It refers to this section in the comic strip (the full version is at the link - note that unlike the other stuff on my site, this image snippet isn't creative-commons licensed):
The comment that grabbed me:
Because some people speak geek and some don’t, there is a huge communication gap. Geeks understand the “reason” that it works is because x = y. But their language is algebra, which lots of geeks don’t understand. So geeks end up saying things like, “Now that you’ve seen the proof, you know fully why it works.” Yeah, some people do, and some don’t. What geeks don’t understand, though, is that algebra is more or less just a language. It is not the reason, really, it’s just the language they use to explain the reason. Plain english can explain the reason as well, it just takes longer. Algebra is pretty much just shorthand. Because geeks “get” this shorthand, they’ve forgotten that other people don’t, and they don’t see the reason to expend the effort to rethink it so they can explain it in plain english... What geeks don’t get is that if someone doesn’t “speak” algebra, they can’t understand the description, so it doesn’t explain anything to them. It’s like when Robinson Crusoe tries to communicate to Friday in English, and Friday doesn’t get it. So what does Crusoe do? He speaks louder. That’s what geeks more or less do. How smart can they really be, then?
Right. I think this is why I teach well when I teach well - the best TAing I've ever done involved translating whatever I was teaching (electronics, math, physics, or computing, usually) into the primary "language" of the student I was working with. A bio major couldn't understand positive and negative feedback in circuits until I said "okay, explain these cell biology processes to me," and then went bam, that's positive and negative feedback right there, the chemical signaling you just explained - and she went "oh!" and went on to write a brilliant lab paper. PID control made no sense in Matlab to a couple of my mechanical engineering friends until I had them talk about cruise control on their car. Voltage and current, to an art major, were the thickness and darkness of a line depending on how hard or fast or far she pushed the charcoal stick against the paper - that made it click.
Teaching is translating.
And I think the thing I've been lacking lately might be people to talk with. I should go out and ask people about their awesome projects - talking with inspired people is contagious.