Friday, May 18, 2007

Geeks and Geekery

[Author’s note : I wrote this a while ago and completely forgot about it. As you can probably tell, I was in a bad mood and went a little over the top. However, I still believe in a lot of the things I’ve said here…and if nothing else, it’s kinda funny. Enjoy! – Paulius]

I’m a geek, and to be honest, I’m a little bit bitter.

First of all I have to define exactly what a Geek is. You see, there are plenty of people today who will call themselves Geeks, but are actually far from it. In the same way that wearing baggy pants and playing “Tony Hawk” on a console doesn’t make you a skater…wearing a T-shirt that says “ ” on the front doesn’t make you a Geek.

There are lots of ‘Geeky’ interests. Computers, tabletop roleplaying games, comics etc. But the mark of a true Geek is that you liked these things before they were cool.

Anyone can buy an iPod, a laptop and an oh so clever T-shirt and call themselves a ‘Geek’, but the thing is that today it’s become fashionable to be a Geek. Back in the day being a Geek was a ‘Bad Thing’…but then the internet exploded and people with ‘Geek Skills’ suddenly found themselves in demand.

In other words, the Jock might look good on your prom picture, but the geek could show you how to get free music on the internet, or show you how cut and paste could get that paper written in minutes.

In the blink of an eye, we entered ‘The Age Of The Geek’.

Here’s the deal, I wasn’t just a Geek in school, I was a Nerd as well. I was a fully fledged Gnerd.

I was fat, wore big thick glasses in the cheap tortoise-shell plastic frames and thanks to moving at an early age, I had a distinctive accent that was completely different to everyone else I went to school with.

I might as well have walked into school on my first day with a big target strapped to my back.

This was pre-internet, home computers where the exception and not the rule…hell, it was even pre-compact discs. I hated sports (and was never invited to play anyway), so I went deep into the realm of Geekiness. While everyone else was playing football…I was writing short stories, programming text-adventures on my Commodore 64, and had a deep love of science and technology.

What most non-geeks never realize is that being a Geek follows you. You only get one chance at a first impression, and when you’re just a kid and have no idea about the social ‘rules’ that society follows, you don’t understand that reading a book during break makes you a target to all the other kids you go to school with…and once you’ve made that impression, it’s too late.

It doesn’t matter if you completely change your look and your habits, you’re a geek until you leave school and aren’t surrounded by the same people who know you as a Geek. Sure, you can come into school on ‘wear your own clothes day’ in the latest fashions…but that doesn’t stop you being an outsider… it makes you a pretender. You’re a geek pretending to be cool…something that in the schoolyard hierarchy is even more hated than a true Geek.

A Geek turning up at school one day trying to be cool is about as convincing as George W. Bush wearing a backwards baseball cap and trying to be ‘street’. You’re trying to be Snoop Dog, but just not even managing Vanilla Ice. No matter what you do, you’re just a geek in unconvincing camouflage.

The best way I can describe what it’s like being a geek in those circumstances, is to imagine the internet doesn’t exist, but the technology for the Internet exists…but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t explain why that’s cool, what it’s good for or convince anyone that creating it would be a good idea…and every time you bring it up, you get laughed at.

It’s like trying to explain the concept of DVD’s to someone in the 1970s. You mention 1’s and 0’s, and data being read by a laser…and you get laughed at and told not to read so much sci-fi. Here’s a real world example of this:

When I was about 7, I typed a paragraph sized report for school on my C64 and printed it on my dot matrix printer. When my teacher asked why I used a typewriter I proudly told her I’d done it on my computer, expecting an ‘atta boy’. Instead I was made to do it again by hand during break-time because my teacher got the idea that the computer somehow wrote the report for me. This is what it’s like being a true geek. You find a better way to do something, in a way that requires specialist knowledge…and the people around you act as if you’ve done something wrong. I was 7 years old using an (ultra) simple ‘word processor’ I’d coded myself in basic…but obviously I was stupid for trying to ‘get one over’ on the teacher by ‘telling’ my computer to write a report for me.

I also got sent to see the Headmaster (Principal) because I wrote the following on one of the schools BBCB Microcomputers:

10 Print “Computers are great”

20 Goto 10


If you have no idea what that does, it just puts “Computer are great” on the screen over and over. Why was I sent to the Headmaster? Because I was lucky I didn’t ‘break the computer’. Really, running an ultra simple bit of BASIC code on a computer with no hard-drive that resets to factory every time you turn it off. This was the first time I realized I was in trouble for being more intelligent than my teachers.

Being a Geek is being ahead of your time…and getting punished for it.

Then, when I first heard about modems and networks, I remember trying to explain to someone how cool it would be. “Imagine, you could connect a camera to a computer and talk to someone on a screen like on Star Trek!” (This was long before the internet, never mind video conferencing)

Know what my usual response was?

“Stop Dreaming”.

Why send letters through a computer when you can just mail one? You don’t need a thousand dollar computer; you just need a 25 cent stamp! Why talk to someone through a computer when you can just pick up the phone?

I spent a lot of my childhood being told to ‘stop wasting time’ with computers and to ‘do something productive/constructive’. It seems kinda strange that the same people who laughed at me and made fun of me as a kid for ‘messing about with computers’ are the same people demanding it be taught in schools today… and calling me for tech support.

Then things changed. BBS’s became the Arpanet became the Internet. Computers went from the sole realm of geeks and computer enthusiasts, to people who don’t even know what a modem does or what RAM is. Computers went from a handful of houses to pretty much every home. Geeks like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became Rock Stars. The same friends and family members who used to complain I was ‘wasting time’ and should be outside playing football became the people who started calling for advice on which computer to buy, how to set it up and how to work this ‘Internet thing’.

I suddenly went from social pariah to Mr. Popular because I could fix people’s computers and show them how to install Napster.

For the true geeks of the world, it was our turn in the sun.

But then we get back to Geeks becoming fashionable. This gave birth to the geek-poser.

These are the people who think because they’ve got Limewire on their computer, they’re a 133t H4xx0r. They use 133t Sp34k, but have no idea where it came from or why it was used. (Or realize that using it makes them look like complete tools). They’re the ones you see in computer stores bragging about how many ‘gigs’ or ‘frames per second’ their computer has. They’re the ones who’ve never played a game of D&D in their life but wear T-shirts that say “This T-Shirt gives me +5 sexiness.” The don’t actually get the joke, but HTML or D&D references on T-shirts are today just the same as getting a Chinese symbol tattooed on you somewhere. For all you know, your Tat means “Egg fried rice with chicken and cashew nuts”…but damn it looks cool and everyone has one.

If you think you’re a Geek because you ‘haxxored’ free music off Kazaa and Limewire, go talk to someone who used to share warez through BBS’s with a 2600 baud modem using phone phreaking techniques so they didn’t have to pay for the call.

Basically, these people aren’t Geeks, they’re just people using technology that was invented by geeks. Of course, they have no idea how any of it actually works, but that doesn’t matter…as long as they can sit behind their Macbook in Starbucks while listening to their iPods and feel superior.

Ok, I’m just going to say it:

Look, you’re the people who made fun of the people like me at school. I’m sorry that the fact you were Prom King or MVP of your school football team didn’t count in that job interview. I’m sorry that your highschool popularity didn’t spill over into real life. I’m sorry that the kid you bullied is now CEO of the corporation that you work at as a janitor. I’m extremely sorry if you were Bill Gates’ bully.

However, the title of ‘Geek’ is OURS and you can’t have it.

Being a Geek is something you are, not something you ‘wear’ because it’s fashionable. If you think buying a laptop and a wireless router makes you one of us, you’re just plain wrong. You spent all your time making fun of Geeks and now you’re suddenly one of us because it’s become cool? You’re kidding yourself…and true Geeks can spot a poser a mile away.

If you’re over 25 and didn’t cut your teeth on a Sinclair ZX, VIC-20 or earlier you’re not a Geek. If you’ve never used a DOS prompt in your life, you’re not a geek. If you were never made fun of for doing the ‘Geek’ things you like today, you just haven’t earned it.

Basically, not too long ago, the word ‘Geek’ was an insult and not the ‘badge of honor’ it’s become today. We were Geeks when it wasn’t cool, and we were Geeks because we loved it, not because it was fashionable or ‘the latest thing’.

True Geeks made Geek cool. We earned it, and you can’t have it.

So, take off your ‘Think Geek’ shirt, stop using ‘133t 5p34k’ and stop proudly calling yourself a ‘Geek’.

Sure, you might have made our lives hell at school…but we can hack your shit.


OzzyC said...

"...I’m sorry that the fact you were Prom King or MVP of your school football team didn’t count in that job interview. I’m sorry..."

I'm NOT sorry. We did our "hell time" when we were young and impressionable. They chose to be popular or cool. Now the tables have turned... they're merely reaping what they sowed.

By the way, I was a non-stereotypical geek. If the jocks got in my face, I didn't back down. I nearly got my ass kicked on more than one occasion, but eventually they quit picking on me because they realized there were far easier targets than me.

Paulius said...

I was both...I was 6"1 by the time I was 12 so I stopped getting picked on. But not getting picked on isn't the same as being 'popular'.

Kato said...

Good piece. It's nice that Geek is chic now, but yea, the poseurs gotta go.

It's funny that a similar/related thing is happening with video games. PA comments on this whenever Halo comes up (having been adopted by not just hardcore gamers, but the "frat boy masses" as well).

Kids in middle school didn't understand why I'd type my homework on a computer. Bet they know now.