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A blog for electronics professionals, amateurs, hackers, and anyone interested in the world of electronics.

27 October 2010

Geeks, Element-14 and ... What the Heck?

I am going to risk making myself very unpopular here. So be it. I am most definitely a Yorkshireman, and tend not to mince my words when it comes to saying when there really is an elephant in the room.

Farnell, aka Premier Farnell, aka Newark Electronics, aka Element-14 (seriously guys get this sorted please) is sponsoring Ben Heck (His profile says: The amazing Benjamin J Heckendorn; a graphic artist turned internet celebrity famed in the world of electronics “modding") to do some pop engineering videos. I'm not going to knock this. They are, on the whole, interesting and entertaining videos, aimed at the wider populus. Quite why Farnell would do this though, I don't know - they do not generally sell to private individuals, so wider public awareness achieves little. Its fine though. No, really, go watch his videos. Good aren't they?

Here is where I become unpopular.

Electronics has struggled for decades to shake off the boffin-in-white-coat image. The image of professional engineers is one of the main factors in keeping our status in the UK and the US as low as a snakes belly, and thus pay and social respect that can never even hope to hit those of lawyers, doctors, architects, teachers, and all the other professions that had to study equally long at university. If you are a kid into electronics, and you admit it, then chances are you will be jeered, laughed at, and possibly bullied. If you want to be a footballer, porn model, "celebrity", or even a banker then that's fine. Just don't show any technical interest or ability. I was lucky, at school I was tall, dark haired, well built, and cynical. 

You might think then that in order to make engineering more attractive and accepted by the wider public, especially teenagers, then Farnell might have picked someone who broke the stereotypes. Someone like Jeri Ellsworth (who is not only one of those female things with a, erm, chest and stuff, but is really rather - you know - hellloooo) or Dave Jones (ranty, health loving Aussie with a love for canyoning and general having-a-life sports) or maybe even someone a bit rock-n-roll like the Mythbusters guys. So, did they choose an auburn haired temptress who makes her own transistors, or a bloke who thinks nothing of jumping into a mountain river? No, of course not. They chose a balding, ginger haired, spectacle wearing skinny bloke who has an overweight mate who helps him out. Pretty much the stereotype of the nerdy kid at school into electronics. Thanks for that.

An engineering stereotype pictured earlier.

See, I have alienated redheads, balding men, short sighted and overweight people (and skinny people) and Americans. Except that I have absolutely nothing against any combination of these, and I especially have nothing against Ben. What I DO have a problem with is the use of stereotypes. If you want to attract kids into electronics then you really shouldn't be pushing a walking cliché. Especially ones who are, by their own admission, not engineers but artists.

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