Geekery: Is it Better to Go Wide or Go Deep?

Image: Nomadic Lass via Flickr

Image: Nomadic Lass via Flickr

In the past few weeks, we’ve started a lot of things that we haven’t finished. We’re working through a few books at once — Python for Kids and Super Scratch Programming Adventure. We have an unfinished game of Zork on the iPad with the thief still skulking around. We started Dash online and worked our way through a few lessons; and now that tab is staring at me while I write this, guilting me as if it can see that the Snap Circuits are out on the dining room table and I have a post-it note reminding me to order a Raspberry Pi. Lego sets are half built, we have dice but no game in progress, and a solar robot with no sun (or perhaps just a bad panel).

Don’t even get me started on apps. The Room is still unsolved, Can You Escape is holding me hostage, and I can’t remember the last time we watched a whole video with Khan Academy.

Sometimes I feel as if there is too much out there; too many cool opportunities, too many cool projects: just too many parts and books and sets that pile up, covering the surfaces of my house and making me feel very very anxious over how many things we’ve started but haven’t finished.

I mean, don’t we need to finish them? Like library books? Or… dinner?

I’ve been internally debating whether it’s better to go wide or go deep when it comes to Geekery. Is it better to dabble, trying dozens of games and books and projects? Or is it better to seriously commit to one thing — Python, let’s say — and immerse ourselves in it fully?

Because the kids have limited time. Very limited time, once we toss in school and homework and language lessons and sports. And I want them to discover all the things I thought were fun as a child, and experience all the new stuff that has come out in the meantime. Some of the activities will fall to the wayside out of disinterest, and I think that’s okay. They shouldn’t keep up with something if it doesn’t speak to them. But that still leaves too many interesting possibilities to fit into a compact schedule.

It’s important for a child to follow a project through to its end point. To decide to code a video game, and finish the video game so there is the pride that comes from having a finished product. But how many finished products are enough finished products? The Wolvog completed a great game at computer camp last summer. Can we count that as a goal reached and now play around for the rest of the year?

I think more than other areas of life — at least for girls — there is a feeling that if a chosen area isn’t explored well and deeply, the cry of “fake geek” will ring out, as the Doubleclicks express so well. I’d love to expose my kids to facets of Geekery that I don’t know well, such as Dungeons and Dragons. It’s been over 20 years… uh… maybe more… since I’ve last played. And unfortunately, it’s a game where it’s hard to find friendliness unless you go deep. Unless you fully immerse yourself in that world and learn the rules and commit to a campaign. I can’t speak to what it is like to try to fit in as a boy, but I can tell you what my daughter will experience if she doesn’t delve deeper than the Ring trilogy and the Hobbit when it comes to Tolkien; her thoughts will be dismissed, her commentary written off. Even if she does read the Silmarillion or The Children of Húrin, her ideas still may be dismissed due to her sex. But at least she can fight back by shooting off all the names of Morwen.

And then there is just the bare fact of not going deep enough: you can’t, for instance, accomplish a lot with a surface understanding of coding. Is it worth touching on programming at all if we’re not going to follow through to the point where we can depart from the books and do our own projects? Sometimes depth matters beyond proving your Geek mettle.

With writing, there are some ideas that fully come to fruition, gently guided from a series of notes into a published novel. There are many other ideas that grabbed me in the moment, filled me with excitement while I wrote, but fizzled out after a chapter or two. It’s not that I didn’t love those stories, but it wasn’t the right time to tell them, either due to mood or timing or other commitments. I know there is always a chance that I’ll circle back to those stories, especially if the right opportunity presents itself.

Maybe that’s the attitude I need to take with some of our projects. That it is better at times to go wide until you find the place to go deep. And plumbing the depths of a bit of Geekery isn’t something that happens for every project, book, or game started, but instead is something that can’t be always planned or predicted. Sometimes we just stick with things because they stick with us.

Or sometimes your mother tells you that she spent a lot of money on that Lego set, and it better get built.

Just sayin’.

Do you think it’s better to go wide and try a lot of things, or go deep with just a few areas of Geekery?

Melissa Ford

About Melissa Ford

Melissa Ford writes women's fiction, but she does it while wearing a Superman shirt. A geek to the core, she is also the author of the award-winning site, Stirrup Queens which the Wall Street Journal named one of the top ten motherhood blogs. You can find her in all sorts of places around the web including Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+, and Amazon. She completed her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her writer husband, Joshua, and their twins.

Melissa Ford

About Melissa Ford

Melissa Ford writes women's fiction, but she does it while wearing a Superman shirt. A geek to the core, she is also the author of the award-winning site, Stirrup Queens which the Wall Street Journal named one of the top ten motherhood blogs. You can find her in all sorts of places around the web including Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+, and Amazon. She completed her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her writer husband, Joshua, and their twins.

10 thoughts on “Geekery: Is it Better to Go Wide or Go Deep?

  1. I tend to a mix — I go deep on many subjects (or as deep as I can go before frustration sets in) and wide for many more. Probably a 1:10 ratio. Electronics, for example, was a big focus of mine in 2010 and I spent over a year experimenting with standard and Arduino circuit building. I’ve done the same with woodworking and a few other hobbies. But when it comes to wide, I can name dozens and dozens more of unfinished interests — PC games, apps (although finishing The Room is definitely worth it, Melissa… plus you can now download the bonus puzzle when done AND Room 2 is out in December!), programming, origami, cooking… the list goes on. I would label myself a Jack-of-all-Trades, but I can go a bit more complex with some topics.

    For my kids, however, I think wide is the best option UNTIL a child shows a definite interest and gift. I’ve got a 6 year old who’s head spins with all the cool stuff I’ve collected over the years… we get into a little woodworking for a few weeks, then we go hard on board games, and then we’re on to cooking… right now, we’re experimenting with a few Erector sets I’ve collected since before he was born and he’s loving it. Will it last? No idea. But I think you’re right… somehow it just feels right to let our kids meander. I think wandering around is probably good until they’re into their teens, and hopefully by then they’ve expressed a desire to focus on an interest or two.

    • I like calling it meandering. And I think you are right; they’ll naturally start going deeper when they’re ready to go deeper. Right now, it’s good to just be exposed to a lot.

      Though what about me :-) Is my due date set to start going deeper rather than wider?

      I do want to do the Room. I’m thinking about ditching the kids and solving it myself if they’re not going to sit down and finish it with me.

    • Yes, it is a great post. Once again Melissa posts an item that could be expanded to an entire book.

      The idea of deep versus wide with respect to kids may seem like a no brainer (wide!) but there may be some valid arguments to going deep that I’m not aware of… would be interesting if an expert could speak up.

    • Oh! I really like that post as well as your graph. Though I wonder if there is ever a point of “enough” when it comes to this: “The term “geek” often seems to indicate this type of singular obsession. It’s not enough to just have some knowledge about something; to be a real geek you have to know your subject.” What about retention ability? Is someone who can’t remember all the fine details but who has seen every episode of Star Trek a “Star Trek” geek? Is it the amount of time we spend with the object of our affection or the amount we absorb it?

  2. It really should depend on the temperament of your child. Some kids are focused and one track minded and they should be left to it. Some are happier experimenting and jumping around, and why shouldn’t they be? While both might need a little bit of guidance (a child should have practice both in focus and balance), you can’t really force your kid to change their personalities. You can only try to provide them with tools and guidance to making their personalities work for them rather than against them.

    I’m speaking more from experience as a young person who flitted around various obsessions as a child. Fortunately, being homeschooled, I had a lot more free time and I was able to devote a lot of it to a lot of things.

    With my own two being still very young, I just try to expose them to as much as possible and let them decide what they are interested in, and then harness it (my five-year-old loves Doctor Who so I write her Doctor Who themed easy readers, use it to jump into art appreciation, and dip our toes in astronomy.).

    http://www.typativemamacat.com/2013/08/doctor-who-easy-reader-by-me-for-coryn.html

    • Very good point about personality coming into play. Though looking at that comment directly above, does our capabilities define our “geek” status more than our love of the activity itself? I’m referring to Jonathan’s comment and post (just pulling more things into the discussion).

  3. This is a really great question, about geekiness, and about life. My wife and I are still wondering what to do with our kids in terms of exposing them to new ideas and areas of interest while trying to get them to develop their current ideas and areas of interest. Heck, even I, at 34, still wrestle with this. Should I keep working on this novel or that comic book idea? Or should I push more on the technical side of things so I can handle my own web publishing myself? It’s even in pop culture; we started watching Doctor Who relatively recently because my wife suggested that, as geeks, we should. We owed it to geekiness, or something. Fortunately we enjoy it. (Though Trek is still my first love. In terms of geekiness. Not, like, wifey-ness.)

Leave a Reply