[This post is also part of a larger discussion of age and geekdom. Serdar discusses anime demographics here.]
I went to Fanime this year as opposed to Anime North. Along with a busy year, a lot of factors came together to make a trip to Canada seem far more onerous than I usually viewed it. I and Bonnie opted to stay local and go to Fanime. Of course I spoke there on resumes because I’m me, but still it was a change of pace.
Needless to say it’s a younger crowd than, well, me; easily very late teens to late twenties in general. Most people in attendance I saw that were my age were a mix of parents, collectors, speakers/demonstrators, and the occasional curious drop-by.
Age-wise we were a distinct minority.
Watching the younger crowd though, I got a burst of nostalgia. I remembered when I first got into conventions, with the costumes and the speakers and all the events that just made it seem like magic was going on. I remember how I’d leave each convention energized, no matter how little sleep I had. I remembered fitting huge amounts of my newsletter staff into a two-bedroom room in a logistical and eventually olfactory nightmare.
I remembered more then; how I’d gotten into speaking and presenting in my 30’s. Now in my 40’s I’m the guy people invite to speak on careers and run game shows. I’m everyone’s wacky uncle, the guy with the advice and the twinkle in his eye who may be old but he’s not old-old. I’m the guy that still understands the young people and hasn’t lost his enthusiasm.
However one reason it was easy to reflect is that things were incredibly well organized. The staff was strongly present, registration was a breeze, events were interesting and well-done. On the last day I was there I and Bonnie went to compliment the staff on their work. Needless to say, in the staff room, we felt we were, shall we say, more demographically in sync.
Or to put it simply, they were our age.
Of course it’s the same for many conventions. I’m sure you’ve been at a con and suddenly realized the staff is older on average than the attendees.
But it got me thinking about age, geekdom, and legacies.
Yes, There Are Less Of Us
We Elder Geeks are a minority in geekdom, and in some areas a small minority indeed. Over time as I do events I meet less and less people my age as a percentage of the population. Every year I feel the gap a bit more significantly.
Part of this is age. We get busy. We have kids. The job calls us away. We have responsibilities. And, let’s be blunt – we get sick and we die. I’ve been on convention staffs where mourning of the lost was a little too common.
But there’s something else beyond age and responsibility that makes us the minorities. That’s because Geek has spread.
Simply, now Geek is everywhere. What we enjoy is more mainstream and better received. Technology is omnipresent. There’s more respect (at least shallowly) for technical skill and creative media. There’s more people “in the fold” so to speak, and a lot of them came in younger.
Geeks also embraced the hell out of the internet. We used it to connect and network and grow and expand. Some young geeks essentially re-invented fandom anew with little Elder Geek input because of the speed of connectivity – though ironically some of them are now entering Elder Geek territory.
So, yes, we are in a minority. If you’re an Elder Geek like me, trust me, it’s very, very real. It’s not you.
It can be hard too. You feel a bit less cool. The media doesn’t interest you. Things have changed. There’s nothing out there pitched to you specifically. You can feel a bit alienated, but I think that’s normal for every aging demographic.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play. In fact, we should go out of our way to find something to offer the generations to come.
In fact, that’s part of gracefully sliding into Elder Geekdom, and at Fanime I felt it more achingly true than ever.
Keep The Party Going
As I watched the crowds, the costumes, as I talked to people at Fanime, I reflected on all the great times I’d had before. I’ve had quite a history really, starting with the Atlanta Fantasy Faire some 32 years ago. I’ve been to many a convention over the decades and I’ve had a blast as noted.
All those young people, all those people I met having their first con, were discovering the big, never-ending party of geekdom. Some of them were just like me, at age 14, meeting Robert Asprin, or Theodore Sturgeon, or Wendy and Richard Pini.
And I realized – I want the party to keep going. It’s a good legacy we have, we aging geeks. There’s a lot we’ve done over the decades and a lot we can use our experience to do. There are challenging times ahead and the convention scene and geekdom with it’s newsletters and crazy events and the like is worth keeping.
We Elder Geeks are a smaller, aging population. That’s a given. But like any aging population the question comes what do we do next.
We had our time with the parties. We may still have fun with them. But we can also take our experience,our connections, and keep them running, keep them going, and make them awesome. For all those young geeks, new geeks who are coming in.
We have a lot to leave them.
Watching that crowd, watching all that amazingness, I realized that I want to keep the party going. Long gone are the days I could have six hours of sleep, or that I tore through a dealer’s room looking for obscure things. But I have my speaking, my organizational skills, and my career wisdom.
You have plenty too.
We just have to decide on what kind of legacy to leave consciously as Geeks.
Elder Geeks Need A Direction
I think we Elder Geeks can – at times – become directionless, especially in an age of change and in an age of changing demographics. We can wake up one day and feel old because we don’t care about that cool new anime. Our favorite convention may fade away. We’ve got to take care of the jobs, and the kids, and the bills and that affects our spare time.
I think we need to look at ourselves, we aging geeks, and consciously choose what legacy we’re going to leave. There isn’t any cultural infrastructure in place to help us out, at least not one that’s widespread. There’s no organized idea or in cases even terminology for us and what we should do at this stage of life.
So we have to decide. Maybe if enough of us decide we can build a cultural infrastructure for those geeks who have yet to discover the worlds of menopause, prostate exams, and hair loss.
What is your role as an Elder Geek? What are you going to do to leave a legacy and keep the party going?
Me, that’s part of my whole Guru thing. I’m Steve, the wacky guy with the job advice who still gets your problem. I’m the crazy creative games guy trying to egg you on with randomized games. I’m the organization guy who helps things run. Thats me.
If you’re going to handle Elder Geekdom well you need to ask who you are and what you’re doing. Maybe you’re already doing fine and don’t know it – you’ve run a con for a decade and plan to for another, or you speak on writing. But if you look and say “what am I doing” and there’s silence, then it’s time to ask what you can do.
Who are you going to be as an Elder Geek? Consciously?
Some Thoughts On Who To Be
This got me reflective, so here’s a few common roles I see for Elder Geeks:
- The Con Staff. Very common – in fact this may already be you. You help run events or advise on events. You can also help pass things on to younger people.
- The Guru. You share knowledge and information online, in panels, write books, etc.
- The Historian. You keep archives, speak on history, even write on it.
- The Coach. You help run events or get publications working and so on. You may not do something directly, but you share knowledge directly on a project.
- The Professional. You use professional skills to help out Geek events and causes, like accounting, project management, or website maintenance. Your skills may be ungeeky – but you apply them to your legacy.
- The Manager. You run something like a website or a publication that is a geek cornerstone and keep it running. Be sure to think about who inherits from you.
- The Bridge. You’re the Cool Elder Geek who gets everything the younger people do. You may help run events, staff a panel, or recruit for a convention.
- The Talent. Maybe you make geek stuff directly – books, games, manuals, software. Keep at it – and find how to use that to support the community.
I’m sure you can think of many roles you can take – or that you already have. If you have ones, share them with me.
Let’s Do This Deliberately
It’s a great time for Geeks. We’re coming into our own. That just means a lot of us who came into the Geekosphere decades ago are feeling a might old.
Well know what? That’s good. Let’s enjoy our experience and the fact we remember when “Transformers” wasn’t associated with screeching metal live action, or when Patrick Stewart wasn’t Professor X. We’ve got experience and wisdom and knowledge.
So let’s have a legacy. Let’s build something for those there now and those to come.
Let’s do it consciously.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.