Why a passion for technical subjects can be lonely

Preface

I like to learn and teach. The same enthusiasm a cat exhibits while unraveling a ball of yarn is how I feel about developing new insights and sharing them with others.

However, I’ve noticed my passions for programming, cybersecurity, and really anything to do with hacking,1 are difficult to relay to others effectively, and I think I’ve figured out why. In order to explain my reasoning, let’s examine one of my other passions first: music.

Music is a universal passion

As a kid, I didn’t really know how to relate to people (I still struggle with that). The way I talked and conducted myself was foreign. I was an outsider, at least until I started playing music. That seemed to draw interest from others. People got curious and started talking to me more often. Using that window of opportunity and what I learned from observing others, I started to make friends.

So why did music make a difference in my case? My hypothesis is that it comes down to a basic quality of music: music engages the senses. While it’s true that a background in music can foster a deeper sense of understanding and appreciation, it’s far from required. Similarly, a good chef is adored by many, even those who don’t know how to cook, because they can taste and enjoy the food.

Tech is a less universal passion

In comparison, writing and reverse engineering software seems disembodied. There isn’t an easily accessible, built-in sensory experience to bridge the gap in knowledge between two or more people as there is with music and cooking.2

Also, one has to consider the relationship most people have with technology. Some people regard computers and digital tasks similarly to hammers and nails. That is to say, understanding the nature of the means (how to best use the hammer/computer) often isn’t prioritized as much as achieving the ends (a nail driven into an object/a completed digital task).

Given these realities, the situation I find myself in is a similar situation to the one I found myself in all those years ago: feeling alone and wondering how I can feel understood and appreciated instead. I suspect knowing how to fruitfully share what I love with others would help.

Ways to approach/deal with this predicament

Here are several observations that I hope others may find helpful as well.


  1. As the document mentions, the term ‘hacker’ is best when bestowed by others. I don’t call myself a hacker for the same reason one wouldn’t walk into a monastery and claim to be an arahant. 

  2. Trying to convey higher level concepts that require subset(s) of fundamental knowledge is challenging, but it isn’t exclusive to tech. Chemistry, engineering, music theory, and chess theory all have this problem as well.