Geek Obsolescence

We are entering, or have perhaps already entered, a strange new era. It has crept up on us while we were busy discussing inconsistencies in Battlestar Galactica and arguing about the ramifications of a particular pairing in the latest Harry Potter fanfic. It is the era of accessibility.

Chances are, your mother has a Facebook page. Your sister-in-law (yes, the one who never misses an episode of Project Runway) has an iPhone, iPod, iPad and Kindle. And while your grandfather may not be compiling a Linux kernel on his netbook at this exact moment, it’s really only a matter of time.

Technology, historically the demesne of the geek caste, has become a standard element of middle-class life. The relative who needs us to set the clock on her VCR is a dying (if not altogether extinct) breed, and we find ourselves standing at a crossroads. The fact is that access to technology, and the accessibility of that technology, have conspired to make the geek obsolete. We are no longer the socially awkward miracle workers of the office, but are instead the guys with the poor hygiene who know too much about The Simpsons and too little about etiquette. We are returned to our roots as unwanted outcasts, only now our smug sense of superiority is based on nothing at all.

Let’s consider the facts. But first, a word…

It is not my intention to pass judgment on anyone or anything (except where it’s funny to do so). I am not attempting to discuss truth or virtue – rather I am pointing out trends common to subcultures as they evolve. A new movement is, by virtue of being new, rebellious. A movement that is resistant to new developments is conservative. These terms should not be read politically, although there are certainly ramifications in that arena.

Now, if it please the Cos, let us continue!

The term “geek” as we know it did not reach the American Heritage Dictionary until the late 70’s. As late as 1976, the only official use of the word was to describe a carnival freakshow denizen who bit the heads off of live chickens. We’ve come a long way, baby! At some point (and our elder readers might be better able to nail it down) the term ‘geek’ became more-or-less synonymous with ‘nerd’, implying both a gross inability to comport oneself publicwise and possession of a certain degree of intelligence or skill in an unpopular (but not necessarily disapproved of) arena – specifically, technology.

Napster is commonly vilified for its role in the downfall of the music industry, but I believe its major contribution to culture was that virtually everyone wanted in on what it offered enough to get online and figure out what the hell was going on. From that point, the popularity of blogs, online journals and networking sites were pretty much assured, and easy access to those resources has been a key marketing point in the production of new, user-friendly hardware.

One can’t help but notice that, as this evolution in technology has taken place, so too has an evolution in geek culture. While geeks have certainly always been prone to specialization, one finds that people (especially in the 90’s and 00’s) began to see ‘geek’ as too broad a concept; enter the movie geek, music geek and science geek. This evolution coincides, as I mentioned, with the traditional geek medium, technology, becoming more popular – and we began to see people who were not traditional geeks begin to apply the geek moniker to themselves. Young female pop music fans, for example, would sometimes call themselves “Britiney Geeks”. I consider myself something of a “History Geek” and “Lit Geek”. The hipster culture led the charge on “geek chic” as a fashion concept. There were even Sports Geeks for crying out loud!

And perhaps I shouldn’t use the past tense. These terms are still in circulation, and it is perhaps only the traditional usage that has fallen out of favor. Not entirely out of use, but certainly less bound to its original previous moorings. So while the old guard geeks yet live, our language has been more-or-less hijacked. As our interests became more attractive, they were also made more accessible, so while there’s a lot of talk about “geeks” being cool these days, it’s simply not so. Cool adopted “geek” as a term, but it didn’t adopt the people. It seemed like it was going to, because for a time the only people who knew how to upload a video and embed it in a webpage were the same people who had spent their adolescent years assembling motherboards in their parents’ basements – but as that skill becomes disassociated with narrow specialization, those specialized people are made both less special and less necessary. And this has certain, predictable ramifications:

1) Geeks have become more generally conservative.

This is a subjective issue, obviously, and it’s what I didn’t want to sound judgmental. Maybe being conservative is a good thing, maybe it’s not – that’s for you to decide. The point, though, is that conservatism is about, by definition, conserving something, real or perceived, that is slipping away. That’s why it’s so prominent in movements that have entered a decline. On some level (subconsciously for most) geeks have become afraid of the future and afraid of change. We’ve become resistant or even hostile to new ideas. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a geek who would acknowledge this in himself, because being a geek has traditionally meant that you were enamored of the future. It’s a strange reversal, and a significant, meaningful one.

Geeks rail against file sharing, for example. That’s fine on an individual basis. My point is not that file sharing is good and geeks are bad for opposing it. My point is that geeks created file sharing. You’d be hard pressed to find a geek, even the most rabid hater, who didn’t have and use Napster back in the day. They do exist, of course, but so do duck-billed platypi – and they break just as many helpful rules-of-thumb. So the point is that a change has taken place in the attitude of the culture.

2) Geeks have changed their focus.

While still claiming the label “geek”, we have become notably less concerned with our traditional focus, technology; and more concerned with the peripheral trappings of traditional geekdom – namely video games, comic books, science fiction and convention culture. Being a geek, to us now, means being a hobbyist. Personally, I think that’s unfortunate, but it’s not my call.

Remember, the telephone wasn’t invented by a geek. But phone phreaking was. It’s not that we are the great inventors, but we are the great understanders. We’re the first people to embrace a new development, push it to its limits and come up with new and interesting applications. That is our contribution to society, and it is significant. Or it was.

Now being geeky is less about technical savvy or intelligence, and more about useless trivia and obsession. Granted, there has always been a bit of fanboy-ism in geek culture, but doesn’t it seem that we’ve gone off the deep end? Geeks are no longer considered by the broader community to be bookish or bright, but to be boring, lecturing teetotalers. We are no longer the Kubricks. We are the Whedons.

The major ramification of this loss of focus is that while we cling to a term that is no longer used to describe us, the term itself is losing its association with us. Not only is it not used on us, but it no longer should be. Perhaps it is my own geek conservatism at work, but that makes me a little bit sad. The Britiney Geeks might be phony, but so are we.

3) Geeks are entering a Revitalization Movement.

This is closely tied to my previous two points. In fact, it’s difficult to separate the revitalization of the culture from the changing of focus.

A Revitalization Movement is a concept created by anthropologist Anthony Wallace to describe the process that a culture goes through as it attempts to define itself. This can happen a number of times in a given culture, but for our purposes we are talking about an effort to retrofit a culture’s traditional interests to a new set of ideals in the wake of a great change.

The most famous Revitalization is the Ghost Dance of 1890, where many Native American tribes came together in an attempt to embrace their older customs and shrug off the yoke of European influence. As I’m sure you all know, the Ghost Dance worked out great and they started throwing fire balls at police and a dragon climbed out of Mount Fuji and then ShadowRun happened.

Seriously though, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a popular (and popularly hated) role playing game’s mythos begins with a successful revitalization. I think that spoke very deeply on some level to a people in decline.

So what form is our revitalization taking? Well, there are geeky podcasts like Fear the Boot and others. There are geek-flavored blogs on every topic from politics to gender identity to simple daily life. There are geek archivers like the guys over at x-entertainment.com. There are groups like anonymous over at 4chan and Furries and CosPlayers (oh my!). Each of these groups (and there are many more, of course) embrace some aspect of pre-decline geekdom. It’s no wonder that they detest one another. They’re all participants in a conflict. Each group (without, I think, consciously realizing it) has a stake in being the one to carry the torch. In having a claim to the heritage of geeks.

What I hope you take from this essay, whether you agree with the premise or not, is that we are always a part of something larger. We are always watching history play out. You might, like me, spend most of your time playing video games or you might make lego sculptures or podcast – but there are real fields of study out there that find you (and your people) fascinating and relevant. You can witness the human condition anywhere you go, and that’s got to be worth something!

Comments (30)

MichaelFebruary 25th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Name five inconsistencies in BSG. Be prepared for a rebuttal as well.

Greg ChristopherFebruary 25th, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I disagree with you pretty significantly, Stan. I think you are misunderstanding the cultural changes taking place.

Geeks have not, in any way, been dethroned by the embrace of technology by the mass market. If anything, this has strengthened the geek. These masses are now more dependent than ever before on the geeks to keep their technology functioning. Who do you think is designing all these applications and devices? Geeks. One possible change is that the interface is different. People dont have to LOOK at the geek anymore, they just Google a question and read some answer off a message board that, to them, appears to be some random person but who, in fact, is a “geek”. So you dont have to look at the geek’s acne, smell his bad breath, or listen to his stuttering prose. But you are still talking to the geek. Dont believe me? What happens when their technology breaks? What do all these computer users do when their computers fail? They contact geeks. They contact people whose call-center manuals were written by geeks.

And by what definition is Alexander Graham Bell not a geek? Just read his wiki page. The man is clearly a geek. And all this technology that is supposedly being taken over by the mainstream non-geeks…. who is inventing it? The fact that lots of innovation has moved from garages to corporations doesnt mean that it isnt still invented by geeks. And to what depth are these mainstream people using this technology anyway? To look up their Project Runway show times? To listen to their mainstream music? They certainly arent using it like Geeks are.

And your grandma may not be calling you for help with her VCR. For one, who the hell has a VCR anymore. Secondly, she is calling someone for help, just not you. It is from Google. And the answers she is getting out of Google are not provided by some mainstream valley girl, they are provided by some geek.

In fact, Google could be concieved of as a device that merely allows you to consult geeks everywhere for their opinions on your problem. Have a movie question? Google will feed you into IMBD or Wikipedia, maintained by your movie geek population. Music? Video Games? Insert hobbyist web hangout of your choice.

The internet has allowed the geeks to organize, find each other, and deepen their geekiness. They dont have to talk to people about Star Wars anymore because they are talking to people online about Star Wars all the time. They are playing Star Wars games in their spare time. Geeks are not wasting their time stuck in some hell with people who dont share the same interests as them. Modern technology has allowed the geek to purify his interests even further, find more geek friends, and avoid having to interact with non-geeks.

What you call revitalization, I call merely the beginning of the geek-web. All this new media technology is being built by passionate amateurs (code-word for GEEK).

Who is writing the political blogs? Political geeks
Who is making the RPG podcasts? Gaming geeks
Who is innovating web design for social media? Programming geeks

THE GEEKS ARE COMING OUT, BABY!

DanFebruary 25th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

@Michael – Does it have to be inconsistencies, or can I name incoherencies?

Greg ChristopherFebruary 25th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

@Dan – Arent incoherencies simply inconsistencies with logic?

Stan Polson / goatunitFebruary 25th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Michael, you win.

Greg, I think you’re right to a degree – but I think that your definition of what constitutes a “geek” is tied irrevocably to technology in such a way that as technology inundates culture, the people who address it *must* be geeks. I am working from the position that this is not the case – that a person can be capable with technology without being a “geek”. I am saying that one no longer needs to be a geek to accomplish feats that have, for the past few decades, been completely beyond the ability of the average person.

While it’s true that most codemonkeys are definitely geeks, they are also much more divorced from the end product thanks to the sheer amount of expertise required to produce something viable.

So yeah… my point isn’t that there aren’t geeks involved in every level of any given process – but that there is an entire generation of geeks who are relatively unneeded and unwanted by their society. So I agree that passionate amateurs are building fascinating and useful technology – but I also point out that there are a great many geeks today who merely consume the technology that is their birthright without actually playing much of a role otherwise.

My point is, precisely, that “geek” is a schizophrenic term that is being applied to radically disparate groups and individuals with little to nothing in common with one another. It’s not that the traditional geek has vanished entirely – it’s that suddenly there are no non-geeks. And that a great percentage of neo-geeks are only geeks in so much as they enjoy geeky hobbies. The term no longer denotes a certain savvy, but rather a particular brand of vapid, silly, fun-mongering.

Stan Polson / goatunitFebruary 25th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Oh, and for clarity – I’m not saying that fun-mongering is a sin, or that it’s the only quality of the new geek. I’m just saying that it has become the trait most readily associated with “geekiness”.

Greg ChristopherFebruary 25th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

@Stan – So Geeks are getting better at making their creations user-friendly?

Peter Martin / TimespikeFebruary 25th, 2010 at 5:08 pm

So what do those of us with wives, jobs, residences or our own, good hygiene, decent social skills, and a complete distaste for mainstream hobbies like sports and celebrity gossip call ourselves? Because that’s me. All of my hobbies are “geeky” but I’m not the guy with broken glasses and greasy hair in a stained t-shirt who smells like an open grave.

Stan Polson / goatunitFebruary 25th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

That’s the question, Peter. Either the greasy-haired fatbeard needs a new name or we do.

MichaelFebruary 25th, 2010 at 6:49 pm

@Dan, incoherancies are fine with the except of anything pertaining to religion. For obvious reasons.

@Stan, Oh come on Sandy, thats not the guy I used to debate with. Rolling over like that is no fun :P.

MichaelFebruary 25th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Oops, got you mixed up with someone else there for a moment. Disregard the first half of that comment, Stan.

Stan Polson / goatunitFebruary 25th, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I don’t actually know anything about BSG, Michael. My love of always being right about everything ever will not not lure me into your trap!

Aaron StackFebruary 25th, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Speaking as a greasy-haired fatbeard, I don’t think those traits have been purely related to geekery since there have been non-geeky people who still fit the description of the greasy-haired fatbeard. Some of the football fans – ones who wouldn’t know a Cylon from a compact disc – I’ve met fit this description (not all of them, mind, but enough to convince me that this is not a condition completely associated with geeks). Some of the politicians, and used car salesmen, and all sorts of non-geeky folk have been fat and unhygienic throughout the ages. And yet, its geeks that have been targeted with the Fatbeard label. /rage

The scale of “Stickboy” “Fatbeard” is a different axis on the alignment tree from “Geek” “Dull”, and I’m almost sure it always has.

And, as you say, Greg, there are Political Geeks, Music Geeks, etc. The word hasn’t exclusively meant “technologically savvy person” in ages, now. I always have seen it as a universal word beyond the technological domain, but I can understand why the difference of opinion.

So what are we – the presumed ‘we’ meaning tech savvy, sci-fi/fantasy-loving, game-playing, bleeding-edge types – supposed to call ourselves?

“Individuals”.

This isn’t a cop-out. This is a serious statement. We have a subculture that we can barely agree on a consistent language to use to express ourselves, much less consistent themes in our individual histories, body types, and interests. We, as a subculture, are experts in separating out from the pack, making our own way in the world with our knowledge and our fire for our chosen interests. Why do we even need a single word to refer to a group of individuals like us? We’re all too finely separated, too self-focused, too individualistic to use a title.

I understand what you’re getting at – I agree there isn’t a word for us anymore. I think that is the first step towards the human race growing up past requiring labels to create a structure to our society. This is a good thing, that we find ourselves without any labels. It means we’re free to be who we actually are, without obsessing over perceptions.

MichaelFebruary 25th, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Okay, upon further look at the article, I have to say I agree completely. Welcome to Club Controversy, Stan, because I have learned to take these responses with a grain of salt.

The problem posed in this essay is best related to something I deal with frequently; Big Bang Theory. I really tried to watch this show with enthusiasm, but all of its humor (ignoring the dated method of laugh tracks) comes from using direct references to geek culture. It lacks subtlety and wit, and instead relies on proper nouns as its only source of geek humor.
To me, thats faux-geek, anyone can throw around some comic book names, but if someone wanted to write in a Road Warrior reference, then we would be getting somewhere.

I don’t know any actual geeks who watch it for that exact reason, instead I see more of a fringe geek who identifies with a couple aspects of the culture following the show more of as a right of passage than for actual quality. But this isn’t unique to BBT, I see it happening in line to see Star Trek, when hearing about people talk about Heroes, or Anime. These may be terrible examples, but the point I am attempting to make is that anything outside of reality tv, sitcoms, and sports seem to be incorporating more aspects of geekdom as time goes on.

Is this a bad thing? Well ask yourself if you would rather go back to the days of black leaf and shamefully playing your nintendo in solitude. This is the cost of becoming more culturally accepted, geekdom is now leaking into mainstream culture. Its now no longer weird to state you like Star Trek, but in trade you get people claiming to be part of this bandwagon geekdom.

But what do I know? Apparently nothing, flame on!

SusieFebruary 25th, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I see traditional geekery to be a high level of interest in a topic – not just interest, but the desire to physically affect that interest. Geeks and Hackers (in the Stallman sense) are related in that way – they are both looking for ways to control their environment in fun and unique ways.

“Geek” has typically referred to those interested in technology, but I really think that it is a frame of mind that can extend to any part of life, including sports. Another aspect is the accumulation of vast amounts of trivia – and not just on a particular topic either! I think we Geeks like to know everything there is to know about certain topics that interest us (like Star Trek, Computers, Language, etc), but ALSO about almost anything else, even though we don’t know everything about every topic, we know something about almost everything that even mildly interests us.

If you combine this thirst for information with the desire to tinker, you get what I think of as the proper Geek.

That said, it makes me sad when I see how dumbed down consumer electronics are becoming. People don’t need my help because their computers no longer do anything – it’s all becoming fool proof. When this burst of consumerism passes, I think there will be space for more technologically intricate machines that will once again be the sole domain of the Geek – the people who want to put out the effort to control their world.

Stan Polson / goatunitFebruary 25th, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Aaron, Michael and Susie, it feels cheap to just say that you all make excellent points and that I couldn’t put it better – but that’s the case and I am sadly unequipped to do better than to say just that.

BenFebruary 25th, 2010 at 10:51 pm

A very thought provoking post.
I take a somewhat different approach to the issue – I don’t think geekness was traditionally focused on technology, or that the various hobbyist obsessions were peripheral. The term “geek” entered popular culture meaning the same thing as nerd: socially awkward, obsessive and therefore apparently bright individuals who were ostracized in middle and high school. That a large subset of that population happened to be obsessive about technology was originally irrelevant. Someone who played D&D in his mom’s basement and could name every villain Batman ever fought (or Captain Kirk, for that matter), would have been called a geek in high school even if he couldn’t find the on switch on a computer. Indeed, I suspect that it was this social awkwardness and ostracism that drove geeks to technology as well as hobbyism, as it doesn’t require popularity or social skill. “Geek” later became associated with computer technology as it entered popular culture, because the people working with it tended to be of the socially awkward type. As computer use expanded beyond this group to the rest of society, the term geek moved with it and began to lose its connotations of social awkwardness. Those socially awkward people are still around, but the idea of geek chic doesn’t apply to them. The word has changed to exclude its original definition. There are people out there who are hobbyists, or very technologically proficient, but not socially awkward, and they probably wouldn’t have been called geeks in high school. Likewise, there are people out there who are socially awkward, but not hobbyists (or obsessed with technology, for that matter), and they wouldn’t be called geeks now, but they certainly would have been in high school (especially if they are older). The term gradually picked up an association with the things most socially awkward people like, including technology, but it starts with the pejorative usage.
I do agree with you though, now that the term has lost that pejorative meaning, the socially awkward people with whom it was originally associated are trying to reclaim it, in the hope that it will somehow make them less socially awkward, but it’s not going to work.

NathanFebruary 26th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Perhaps it’s now time we called ourselves grognards instead?

I keed I keed =)

MichaelFebruary 26th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Brilliant Gameologists already do that. I wouldn’t put it past them to sue if FtB did…

Peter Martin / TimespikeFebruary 26th, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I wouldn’t put much past the “Brilliant” Gameologists. Good taste, maybe…

Devin ParkerFebruary 26th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

All’s I know is, from now on I will end many sentences with “…and then Shadowrun happened.”

MichaelFebruary 27th, 2010 at 12:30 am

I almost forgot why I like you Timespike, and then I read your recent post.

phelpsMarch 1st, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Wow. What a ton of self-important bullshit.

You describe yourself as a lit geek AND a history geek. Ever read the Grapes of Wrath? Go back to the scene in which the family car breaks down. The father marvels at the kids these days – it’s like they’re born knowing how to fix cars while he can barely run one. The kid himself views it as a semi-battle, superstitiously happy when he gashes his hand because otherwise the car’d take the blood out of him some worse way.

Tell me that’s not a geek.

Read up on the different parties racing toward the invention of flight. Not just the Wrights, read about the group Alexander Graham Bell was a part of. Geeks.

Go back further, to the inventors of the industrial revolution, who gave not a fig for then-modern society but threw themselves at their work just to show they could. If you tell me Tesla was not a geek, then sir I tell you you’re a liar.

Go back further, and further still. Pioneers. Founders. Chemists. Explorers. Mathematicians. Alchemists. Shamans. Geeks, geeks, geeks, everywhere you look.

I could go on, but everything else I’d have to say could not fill a single picture:
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2005/12/12/

DanMarch 1st, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Phelps, you raise a really good point with some great examples. Historically, there’s always been a class of people with unique knowledge that others envy and resent — yet also rely upon. Whether it was reading bones, making phone calls, or programming the VCR, it’s always been there. So I suppose the questions we’re left with are:

1. How exactly will we (the caretakers of our evolving language) define “geek” and how much ownership will our generation take of the word? For example, there have always been proponents of peace and natural living, but there was only one generation of hippies.

2. Are we in fact at a turning point in history where the average person will be more technologically or scientifically proficient than our ancestors, even when compared to the relative levels of technology available? Going back to the PA comic you linked, is that what the future will be like? Or when I’m a grandpa, will my technological youth keep me on the cutting edge of tech even as I rot in a nursing home?

Not being a student of social trends, I have no idea how to answer any of those questions. But you raise some great points about the cyclical nature of knowledge and the unlikelihood of everyone possessing it in equal measure.

That said, please avoid phrases like “self-important bullshit”. Don’t let your genuine insight get lost in unnecessary and inflammatory language.

MichaelMarch 1st, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I recently formatted a usb drive to be able to boot install windows xp and ubuntu on a netbook. But I still don’t know how to program a VCR.

Stan Polson / goatunitMarch 2nd, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Phelps, thanks for the response. I think it’s worth pointing out, though, that where I said the inventor of the telephone wasn’t a geek, I was attempting to draw attention to the ephemeral quality of language. I confess, though, that this point was otherwise edited out from the article in the interest of keeping it (relatively) short.

I would argue, for the same reason, that the examples you sited aren’t geeks either. Not because the word can’t or shouldn’t be retrofitted to suit them, but because the mayor in your town isn’t a knight and the waitress at Applebee’s isn’t a wench.

My point with the article was not that losing touch with technology makes “geeks” today worse than “geeks” yesterday, though that might be fairly inferred from the teasing tone of the piece. It was that our culture is growing and changing. Subcultures are rarely conscious of their own norms or societal role, and often downright oblivious to the natural evolution that takes place within and around them.

I didn’t intend this as a rallying cry or an accusation, but as an anthropological observation that might be of interest to folks who visit this site. The humor may have polluted that a bit, but it was my intention. Geek culture here was meant as a microcosm of cultural movements, and I wanted to introduce concepts like revitalization in this narrow context so that they might be more accessible.

I am fully on board with your observations, and I don’t think they are contradictory with the observations of my article.

Stan Polson / goatunitMarch 2nd, 2010 at 1:15 pm

And again, for clarity: It’s not that I don’t think your examples *could* be called geeks. It’s that the language of the article is built upon the assumption that they are not. The article is about a specific cultural movement that began (roughly) in the 70’s and continues today. I don’t have a problem with AG Bell being a geek generally, but in the vocabulary of the article, he does not qualify.

PhelpsMarch 4th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Dan: As to your first point (and part of Stan’s reply), I’d prefer to abstain from strictly semantic navelgazing. I don’t really care what term is used to describe geeks, or whether you think we’re a movement, or just a fad. My original point was (and still is) that geeks have pretty much always been around regardless of cultural or technological shifts, and it’s simple ignorance to think that we’re at all a special one-time demographic.

Which is the other part of your post, Stan. Geeks, the archetypal gamer nerds who know more than is good for them about technology and seem to live in a world of their own, have always been around as well. It didn’t start with Tolkien and Gygax, despite what D&D might lead you to believe. For example, in 1913 H.G. Wells published the rules for his own homebrew wargame, “Little Wars:”

http://www.zeitcom.com/majgen/98lwars.html
http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3691

In its short introduction he mentions a few “prehistoric Little Wars” constructed by various people at various times, whose rules were sadly not preserved. Then just a little later he says this:

‘ To Mr W. was broached the idea: “I believe that if one set up a few obstacles on the floor, volumes of the British Encyclopedia and so forth, to make a Country, and moved these soldiers and guns about, one could have rather a good game, a kind of kriegspiel.”…

Primitive attempts to realise the dream were interrupted by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors. They regarded the objects upon the floor with the empty disdain of their sex for all imaginative things. ‘

There is no denying that this man fits every possible interpretation of “geek” save the hundred years between him and us. And he sounds ADORABLE:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUdghSMTXsU

I could post some other stuff (“The Last Redoubt” – fantastic post-apocalyptic fantasy from 1912), but ol’ Herb’s probably the cream of the crop.

Your second point, Dan, I think I can help answer. I don’t know how to fix a car, but I can debug firmware. My grandfather can’t check his email, but rebuilt a Model A. Which is more technologically proficient? I can’t really say. Geeks, regardless of whose definition you use, tend to be early adopters. Early adopters need to cope with the kind of crap regular joes can’t be bothered with. As such they learn more than their share of how to fix their gadgets, and then develop a reputation for being the guy who knows how to fix the gadgets.

So, as long as you keep getting hyped up about the Next Big Thing, you’ll continue to wade through the problems that aren’t worth your time. Solving them, for the next crop of geeks who won’t even know it was ever a big deal, who will stand on your shoulders to make pretty little annoyances and horrible music besides. This isn’t a revolution so much as a perpetual churn, stretching all the way back in history.

Stan Polson / goatunitMarch 5th, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Again, in the context of the article I’ve defined “geek” in a particular way. I don’t disagree with any of your observations here, necessarily, but they’re somewhat peripheral to the idea of the article.

You’re taking a modernist approach to language in contrast to the post-modern approach inherent to anthropology. This is an important distinction since one of the crucial elements of the article is the evolution of the word “geek” and what it conveys. Whatever Alexander Graham Bell might have been called, I’m fairly confident nobody called him a geek prior to 1970 – so we’re still left considering the definition laid out by this movement no matter whom we set out to qualify for the term.

The character you mention above does, indeed, sound extremely geeky (and, yes, adorable!). I think it’s fair to call such people geeks. In the vocabulary of the article, it’s probably better to call them “proto-geeks” or something because, again, the article does not encompass the whole of human history but rather a specific movement beginning in the 70’s (but one that was certainly brought about by those that came before).

A more holistic perspective is always welcome, and I certainly don’t mean to downplay the role of geek forebears in the creation of the current culture. Their roles are simply beyond the scope of the article.

shadowacidMarch 6th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Interesting. But I’m not sure if I agree. Simply based on the fact that yesterday another teacher (not much older than I am) in our department (science) at the school I teach at needed me to show him how to switch the TV on the cart in his room from displaying the VCR to displaying the DVD player. More so because I had typed up directions on how to do it and had them taped clearly to the front of the cart the TV was on.

From what I’ve noticed it seems that the accessibility of more technology just means more people don’t know how to work it, and so the tech gets changed to be easier to use (and sell) so no one really needs to know how it works, just how to make it do what they want it to do.

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