Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ima say it: Geek Pride Day Should Go

Yesterday, the 25th of May, was international Geek Pride Day. I didn't want to post this on the 25th and spoil everyone's fun, but it's something that probably needs to be said.

At the risk of sounding like a hipster crying "I was a geek before it was cool", that's kind of how it is. Geeks are cool now. I know, right? When did that happen?

It happened a couple of years ago. I can't point to a specific time or event, but it happened around the time when Facebook started to catch on with non-geeks, and Apple launched the iPhone. Suddenly these things that were previously the domain of geeks, were popular and desirable amongst people in general (as some geeks call them, "muggles").

Not only are muggles (I hate that word, by the way, but it fits) suddenly infiltrating the formerly geek-only tech domain, but they also seem quite comfortable with the idea that they need geeks to make all that stuff go. Geeks are now respected.

Not everyone has heard the news, I'll grant you. There are still a few troglodytes around who snigger at the geeks in the IT department. But they're catching on. The first time they need helping installing WhatsApp on their BlackBerry, they tend to learn a little humility.

This has led to two things happening:

1. The Geeks have Won

Look around. This is it. This is what victory looks like. I know we're probably all still reeling from traumatic high-school careers, but that was before. This is after. While we were wrestling with our Ghosts of Wedgies Past, the world changed, and we're the ones in charge now.

New World Order
The richest men in the world are geeks. The biggest companies in the world sell the products we buy and love. "Geek chic" is a real thing. Comic book superhero movies are ruling the box office with an Iron gauntlet fist. The world's economies, governments and even militaries are utterly dependent on the technologies we invent, design, maintain and sell.

This is the age of the geek. It's time we stopped trying to convince everyone that we're cool, and started to see that the rest of the world already knows that we are.

And they're pretty intimidated by us, too. Every time the newspapers freak out over the privacy concerns of Facebook's new redesign or Google's new product, it's not really privacy they're worried about. They're scared that the geeks, who in their minds are indistiguishable from ninja-wizards, will use their mysterious sourcery to affect their lives in some nefarious way.

Want an example? Watch The Social Network - look at how Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed. He's an arrogant, selfish, power-hungry asshole with a super-villain-esque glint in his eye. That movie wasn't made by geeks - it's a muggle's-eye-view of what they fear about us: that we are secretly ambitious, capricious god-men, powered by science-magic and bent on world domination. Whether or not it depicts The Zuck accurately is really beside the point; It's not about him, it's about us.

Mark Zuckerberg: Ninja wizard

I certainly think there's room to celebrate the things we enjoy about "geek culture", but I think the "pride" part of the name is an anachronism. Pride of being the best may be rational, but throwing it in everyone else's face is uncool. It's what we used to hate about jocks. Do we really want to be that guy?

There's another problem though, and that brings me to my second point.

2. The Word "Geek" Is Now Meaningless

Now that geeks are cool, everyone wants to be one. As you might expect, people seem to think that if they can somehow find a way to apply the label "geek" to themselves, they get to usurp some of our awesomeness. And they're right... at least they have been.

Originally, "geek" (in this context - I'm not talking about the archaic definition) was used to describe a nerd, a dweeb or a dork. The terms were interchangeable. It was a person who was interested in technology, science-fiction, was socially awkward and unattractive. But about a decade or so ago that started to change.

Geeks, dorks, dweebs and nerds started drawing lines in the sand, and distinctions were made between the four. Here's probably the best depiction of it I've seen:

I think that's a good way of defining it. if only it had stayed there.

While the definitions of "nerd", "dweeb" and "dork" have remained somewhat static, "geek" (being the most glamourous of the four) has drifted. After a while, the obsessiveness component of it became the dominant one, and before we knew it, anyone with a passionate interest in something could call themselves a geek.

That meant that musicians, sportspeople (and their fans), wine enthusiasts and just about anyone with a hobby was now a geek of some description. And as Facebook (and it's entangled services) started filling the time of those who lacked a specific hobby, those people, too, started calling themselves geeks. In other words, the subset of the the world population now potentially identifiable as geeks was approaching 100%.

Pictured: just about everybody

So if everyone is a geek, what's there to be proud of? We're no longer a group apart. If we ever were an elite class (a matter for debate), we certainly aren't that anymore. Geeks are everybody, and everybody is a geek.

Geek Day

I'm all for celebrating the history of geekdom, and the ascendency of the geek lifestyle and culture. Let's have a Geek Day to remember our past struggles and our present triumph. To remind ourselves that today's downtrodden could be tomorrow's leaders. Let's celebrate society's progress.

But geek pride is an outdated notion, and I won't be celebrating that anymore. In fact, I'm probably going to stop self-applying the geek label, as it's now basically synonymous with "human".

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