The Speed of Dark
August 9, 2005

I just finished reading this book by Elizabeth Moon called The Speed of Dark, a really interesting look at a future not too far away and a man named Lou Arrendale. Lou works at a company where he is employed to "find patterns."

As it turns out, Lou is one of the last generation who is an autist. By the time Lou was born, there are wonderful educational techniques which enable people with autism to interact and socialize with the world more like the high-functioning autists of today. But, not long after Lou is born and learning through these new methods, a new treatment for autism is discovered -- correcting the issue and making those who've had the newest treatment normal (or nearly so - we get some intimations that their social interactions are a touch off, but no more so than the typical insensitive person).

What I found fascinating about the book - besides the wonderful writing and really vivid characterization - was the similarities between geek culture and the culture that Moon created around these folks with autism.

Lou and the other folks like him at his work, enjoy a small gym where they can go to calm themselves down. There's a small trampoline and a treadmill; there's classical music to help them get into a project or calm down; there's lots of colorful spinners in Lou's cubical which help him focus himself on his pattern finding projects.

Geek culture has some similarities, I think. Our jobs often involve either a creative process or programming process (sometimes both) that the higher ups generally don't even pretend to understand. And most true geeks that I know have at least a few toys (action figures, cars, PVC statues or minis, LEGOs, Star Wars and/or Star Trek, Nerf!!!). They have these toys to keep them creative, to keep them focused, to keep them sane under pressure - even though others may think them childish or simply silly.

And, of course, there are a lot of geeks (not all, by any means) whose social skills are still not very great. A great many geeks would prefer to do away with some of the niceties of social interaction and just "say what you mean." We see a lot of this in the book, too. Lou often thinks to himself about various common social phrases and has to think through both the literal meaning and then what he knows the social meaning of the phrase or act is. And he constantly asks himself if it wouldn't just be simpler to say what you mean instead of these weird social codes. You can still see the "damage" that autism has caused in Lou's interpretation of social cues, where he has a fundamental confusion over why people do some things that's not even seen in geeks.

But the parallel is there.

And, of course, there's been a lot of news coverage and research lately into the creativity and ... well, the geekiness of high-functioning autists. How they get into art or music or computers or pure math.

Just makes me wonder ... how many "diseases" or disorders are out there where the diagnosis is only quantifying a segment of a continuum? Does talent in one area cause a deficit in another? Or does a deficit in one area cause a talent in another?

If we know the speed of light, why don't we know the speed of dark?

Posted by Red Monkey at August 9, 2005 12:35 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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