Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Tribute to Geeks

Before we get to our tribute to geekdom, here's your daily dose of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin:

People who say "same-sex marriage makes me uncomfortable" should probably remind themselves that comfort has nothing to do with the issue and that, often as not, change is discomforting. I think those of us who are straight people really need to sit down quietly and compare our own discomfort with the discomfort of gays and lesbians who for years have been excluded, isolated, silenced, abused, and even killed.

Geek Wednesday: It's All Geek To Me

Deep Geek Thought of the Day, from ancient Chinese philosopher Txt Tzu: "In my opinion, the "H" in IMHO is unnecessary. Every opinion should be humble."

Better Geek Mousetraps: Ever get sick of trying to read those gray-scrawled "I'm not a robot" verification fields in an online form? Here's the best alternative I've seen so far (thanks to Dr. Vrai for the tip).

We have called this segment of the blog "Geek Wednesday," but not because I am myself a geek. I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, merit that designation.

A geek, after all, is a professional who writes code, administers systems, or manages complex architecture; a geek is a person who can speak and act with expertise on technology. To be a real geek means having a grasp of a technical specialization while also maintaining a broad perspective on the industry—an informed view of the vast landscape of technology.

But a fellow like me, who writes about tech as the news cycle determines and as my admittedly narrow personal experience allows—such a fellow can relate to geeks outside the sphere of zero and one. Guys like me will try to grasp the unique culture of technology and its seemingly infinite range of personalities and voices.

I've come to know geeks by making my living amid their company, and by revealing some enthusiasm and support for their work. I may have also detected a certain social potential of geekery; a potential that reaches past the pabulum of "we're all connected" and the obsession with gear and electronic toys from the Blackberry to the Wii.

I see the geek community as a new grassroots; a foundation upon which the social order at large can be regenerated, in a model that I call The Open Source Society. Whether or not I am right in this is not the point here; I may well be, as I have often been, completely off the mark on that. But one point can be confidently expressed here, and it relates to the overall quality of character among geeks.

The geeks I have known have revealed to me a modesty and light-hearted competence that I haven't seen so commonly among other professional classes such as marketers, managers, and certainly among executives. Where others might encounter a geek and see evidence of a skill or a specialization—a dba, an architect, or a developer—I see a life that also happens to exude talent. Where a corporate executive may perceive a tool whereby profit can be made or a project deadline met, I have seen a glowing orb of personality, a well of humility.

I can assure you, this comes from no special skill of judgment on my part: it comes from the heart of the geek's experience, the common culture that arises from their combined and nearly endlessly variant uniqueness. Geeks, for example, tend not to take themselves as seriously as members of other professional classes do. Maybe they know how quickly, easily, and inexplicably things can go all wrong. Maybe, as the WordPress developers assure us, "code is poetry"; and I know for a fact that any life lived poetically is deeper, richer, more essentially human.

The reasons and the causes matter less than the lived reality. In these little Wednesday columns, I have laughed at the geeks, and they have laughed back. We all know that, in an era of war, genocide, tyranny, and the undermining of democratic principles around the world and especially here in America, the latest Apple toy or Internet gamble is matter for mirth rather than fury—tech often provides a welcome note of comic relief to the unceasing flow of tragedy in all the news besides.

So before we shut down Geek Wednesday in this forum, here's my tip of the silicon to the geeks: you are the most vibrant, amusing, inquisitive, and warm-hearted group of people I've encountered in my quarter-century tour through corporate America. Perhaps, after all, code is poetry. In some future lifetime, I hope to find out for myself.

Thanks to Nearly Redmond Nick and the other geeks who have contributed to this forum. May your every randomly-accessed memory be clear, loving, and pure 64-bit light.


Nearly Redmond Nick said...

I am sad to see such a worthy weekly column retired. I wish I could have contributed more to the conversations started here. You got to the meat of the issues in a way most technologists can't - from the human point of view. If I had my sword, I'd dub you a Geek - you are truly worthy.

Brian Donohue said...

I always thought geek-dubbing was done with a 5.25" floppy or a circuit board from a C-64 (in my case, it would be a whack in the head with an apple one-button mouse). I definitely possess the requisite solar aversion and the predilection for caffeine.

However those things may be, I sense a broader future for GW, perhaps in another setting. What we need are catchy names for ourselves. Zonk and Cowboy Neal are taken, so we'll have to brainstorm this.