On My Friend's Hard Childhood And, So Very Tangentially, Gadgets

Joel Johnson, who ran Gizmodo a while before he rejoined us, is my friend and fellow nerd. I love him. When he wrote this dark story about his childhood, I cried. And surprisingly, I thought about gadgets.

Joel's story is about the sexual abuse he was dealt by his adoptive parent, and how he and his family dealt — or didn't deal — with it. It's one of the most powerful and beautifully written things I've seen in quite some time, and in one small way relevant to this site's core topic.

At one point, Joel explains that his stepdad would take him shoplifting for gadgets, teaching him how to peel off the security strips and fill his pockets in an effort to buy off his silence. Joel was the kid with a bag full of Game Boys — and a broken life.

I remember my father, an HP engineer, teaching me about things like soldering irons and RC cars. That was wonderful. Yet I had more electric toys than friends, perhaps because toys made me less nervous. I could control them. And I didn't have many friends or confidants, so obsessing over my electronic distractions was often a way to fill the emptiness.

I'm not saying all people obsessed with gadgetry have been abused or have had troubled childhoods. And I'm not saying that adult gadgetheads are sad, either. I am very lucky for my life, filled with the things that I love. (Barring, perhaps, CES.) To assume a direct correlation would be presumptuous. But before being so sure, I had to ask myself this question: Do I obsess over gadgets because they let me down and hurt me less often than people do?

Because a gadget-for-gadget's-sake seems like a waste of time; What could it be but a shallow material replacement for something it could never really replace? Gadgetry sprung from tools designed to help us communicate with other people.

That's the small gadget related part that I felt when I read Joel's piece, but there's really a lot more. The rest isn't really gadgety but I was moved by it and won't forget that story, ever. And if you know Joel, or have read his work and feel close to him, you may want to carry on to the link below. But be warned: you will feel the rollercoaster-drop from toes to nose.

Anyhow, this is what I've been thinking about a lot lately. Thought I'd share.

[JoelJohnson]

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