Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Geeks Won

When is the movie coming out?
It's hard to believe, but we won.  We geeks have lurked in the shadows for so long that the harsh light of day is quite disorienting.  Consider the following:  Hollywood seems incapable of making a movie without basing it off a comic book, Phillip K Dick novel, or prior zombie flick.  Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory are two of the most popular TV shows.  The average video game player is 37 years old--your parents or grandparents probably have a Wii or iPad.  Even the way we 'talk' has been shaped by geeks, as textese was standardized years ago on #IRC and BBSs (think emoticons, for starters).

For someone who grew up playing Zork and reading Dark Sun books, it's all a little strange.  It has somehow become cool to be a geek.  What the hell happened?

It's hard to say for sure, but I offer the following: First, it's a fact that the rise of geekdom has paralleled the spread of computers and the growth of the Internet.  Is it a surprise that the Matrix and the iMac were released in the same year?  Second, and especially since geeks on the west coast started making a lot of money, being a geek has been a good career choice.  Finally, we worked so long doing our own thing--and getting made fun of for it--that there's a treasure trove for non-geeks to pillage.

Now that we're at the top, what next?  With great power comes great responsibility, after all.

The way I see it, there are a few options for geeks.  One is to descend into infighting, like the punk rock kids and food activists have done.  What does it take to be a real geek?  Is it based on knowledge?  Do you have to know some Linux commands?  Can you buy your way into it?  How many board games must you own before you are a true geek?  Is it related to a period in history?  Did you have to see Tron in the theater?

Another option is to go back to the Ur-geeks.  One of the reasons I like reading guys like Donald Knuth or Dan Tow is that you can see them carving out their own thing largely on their own.  They quote Aristotle and tell stories about the Early Days.  Douglas Hofstadter was drawing connections between Gödel, Escher, and Bach, a few proto-geeks.  How cool is that?

Even with the addition of these ancient geeks, geekdom still seems like a bit of a boys' club.  One of the principles at the heart of geekery is that it's OK to be who you are.  Let's not forget that the first computer programmer was a woman (even though we don't seem to be very good at keeping them around today) and the first hardware designer killed himself because being gay was a crime.  Let's also not forget the Afro-futurists like Sun Ra or Octavia Butler, or the South American geeks like Jorge Luis Borges who showed us what the future could be like.

Let's let a thousands geekdoms bloom.

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