Growing Up Geek: Joseph Volpe

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Growing Up Geek: Joseph Volpe

Welcome to Growing Up Geek, an ongoing feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have our very own Associate Editor, Joseph Volpe.

Let's get this out of the way. I did not grow up a geek, I was a sorcerer trapped in the body of a husky little boy. Or, so I managed to convince myself for years on end, wearing my Mother's Argentine poncho, and wielding a carved wooden staff (my wand, ahem!) and a yellow glass marble -- all tokens of my extended magical abilities. Before you wonder aloud if I spent much of my time sitting alone at recess convincing bugs to transform into Popples, I will tell you now that you are wrong. I did, in fact, have plenty of company in my (failed) attempts at insect transmogrification. Esoteric interests, it would seem, are the flame to the kindred weirdo's moth.

Russia factored wildly in my youth. Aside from the Cold War themes omnipresent in every '80s film I watched obsessively, and my unrestrained glee for a country frozen in an unending winter, I had my third eye fixed squarely on its governmental research into psi phenomena. Yes, I was a seven-year old who carted around a paperback copy of Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain and engaged any unwitting adult in my quest to harness telekinesis. To the credit of my immediate family and one slightly freaked out Grandma, my repeated mental attempts to move the crystal napkin holder were graciously humored over pancakes and eggs.

My early life wasn't all a vain attempt at unlocking my sixth sense. No, I had other loves -- namely books, comics and video games, but not in the way you'd think. While most children were happily rotting themselves into contented alpha states in front of the boob tube, I was poring over fantasy novels, concocting potions and searching graphic novels for the "knowledge" that would get me out of this earthly realm. Jean Grey was somewhat of an early hero to me; the X-(Wo)Man who would later become Phoenix had the power pack combo of psychic powers I'd always wanted. Ours was a love / hate relationship that ended in bitter resentment. (She never shared her secrets!) I'd moved on from my fictitious frenemy when I unearthed a book at primary school called The Girl with the Silver Eyes about a young child with (surprise, surprise) psi abilities born from prenatal drug use. Cue me repeatedly questioning my poor Mom as to the list of medications she took while I was in utero. Any other mother would have found this alarming, but mine was only further charmed.

Technology was something I took for granted back then, since its silicon circuitry lacked the magic I so desperately sought after. My father was a computer programmer and we always had a plethora of personal computers stationed around the house. One of my earliest memories is even of him bringing home the first Macintosh. I wasn't aware then that at-home computing was a rarity for the time, nor that it was a nascent market. I'd accepted computers the way most young kids accept a new baby, or puppy. Year after year, model after model, we aged together, developing an intimate bond that just seemed natural. When AOL first swung open the dial-up gates to the World Wide Web, I was there trading insights with folks in the New Age chat rooms.

It was about this time, my early teen years, that I also decided to take a serious swing at coding. I'd sit in our basement for hours on end, feet up on the desk, head buried in some dense how-to for Hypercard or C++, vainly attempting to make sense of the programming languages I couldn't seem to master. Four months in, and I'd numbly settled into the realization that programming was not my calling. French, however, would turn out to be my bag(uette).

From the age of two and continuing up until around 17, my heavily opinionated Sicilian extended family had me fingered for a career as a Pediatrician. I know, pediatrics and the supernatural aren't what I'd call bosom buddies either, so you'll understand the internal disconnect I had for my planned future. Thankfully, a little something known as the PlayStation and Next Generation magazine would come along and permanently derail medical school from my pre-arranged life track.

Midway through a presentation I'd created to get them to purchase a still unreleased PlayStation for Christmas, I saw a look in my parents' eyes that said, "This kid has no intention to actually play video games." And they were right. I didn't and never have really had an interest in defeating Bowser, rescuing Zelda or bringing down Dr. Robotnik. Mine was a pure love for the industry and its inner machinations. I pored over processors and discussions about phong shading the way most follow news of the Brangelina horde. It was clear to me then what had to be done. I'd learn Japanese, move to San Francisco and work as a video game journalist. Some of these things happened, but none in the way I'd intended.

And so it went that I dove head first into foreign language study, 4.0 GPA territory and enough extra-curriculars on my booked up schedule to exhaust even the brownest of brown-nosers. Here, my friends, is the moment where fringe geek intersected with overachieving nerd and completed my ascension to the freak throne. I bought video games to collect them, read industry magazines to analyze them and lived in Japan in the hopes of reporting on them. As you can probably tell, I didn't succeed in that goal. Oh, I became a journalist, no doubt, but the fascination with 3D gaming took a turn for the general gadget category somewhere in my Akihabara wanderings.

Now, I proudly bear my geekdom badge as it's been legitimized by a certain reputable online publication. Gone by the wayside are my dalliances with the supernatural, and my preternatural obsession with the video game industry. In their stead, I now pursue with an equally obsessive zeal research into quantum mechanics and ancient astronaut theory, swapping out The Boy Who Could Fly from my Netflix queue for What the Bleep Do We (K)now!? And don't worry, I still carry my inner husky boy with me -- except now he knows that real magic lies in the specs.

Joseph Volpe is always on the Twitters doling out nuggets of pop cultural ephemera to anyone who dares follow him (@jrvolpe). He cannot promise to side with humanity in the face of an Anunnaki return.

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