Links: The State of the Geek in May, 2008

All right, here are all the links that didn’t make it to one of the “themed” posts I did recently. Please pardon me if you suggested one of these links a long, long time ago and I forgot to give you credit—they’ve been sitting in my bookmarks folders for pretty much forever now.

Geek Speak: Perhaps you’ve heard rumblings that “nerdic” is the fastest growing language (from Wired, Gizmodo, the Telegraph, or Daily Mail). This “geek speak” includes terms coined specifically for conversation about internet and technology, like mash-up, rickroll, Wimax, and so on. Such terms are being added to the Oxford English Dictionary more rapidly than any other category of terms.

As far as I can tell, the newspaper stories on this essentially amount to regurgitating the press release, even including the part where it claims that this is a real language that can support entire conversations and that will unite Europe. The blogs recognize that this is not a real language (and Gizmodo even calls out the retailer behind the press release for this), which kind of provides a funny example of websites actually providing more critical and careful news coverage than print sources.

For another angle on geek lingo (which I have yet to check out fully myself), check out this article about leetspeak in the Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society. That link goes to the abstract, but it’s also available as a free PDF. (Thanks to Cabral for the tip!)

The Geek Defense: Perhaps you’ve read about Hans Reiser, the computer programmer who is being tried under suspicion that he murdered his wife. Wired had a big write-up about his story a short while back. Since reading that, I came across a Washington Post article which paints this in an unexpected light: The suspect’s seeming paranoia and bizarre activities—such as carrying around tons of cash and removing his cell phone battery—are geeky eccentricities, not evidence of guilt. The Post article suggests that Silicon Valley may be the only place where Reiser might find a jury of his peers, where his “actions appear fairly reasonable, at least to people who spend much more time with computer code than with other humans.”

I can imagine cases where this kind of defense might actually make some sense—not just for geeks, but the concept that some people have a quirky psychology that might be hard for your average person to interpret as anything but the slip-ups of a lunatic. Nevertheless, I wonder if it’s problematic for a court to attribute “quirky psychology” with “spend[ing] much more time with computer code”—as if being solitary is one thing, but being a solitary programmer makes you a cyborg or something. I’m no expert on criminal law, though, so I’ll leave the interpretation of this specific case to those who are.

Prom Night, Take 2: Church clued me in to Geek Prom. As the site explains, “For those who were too geeky to attend their high school prom, it’s a chance to finally be accepted. For those who were too cool to properly enjoy their high school prom, it’s an opportunity to finally let that inner-geek out.” Sounds potentially pretty inclusive—anyone been who can report what it’s like? The photos on the site and other sources indicate that lots of attendees really ham it up, dressing as unfashionably as possible.

Following Up on Black Nerds: You might remember Raafi Rivero’s post about black nerds from awhile back (which I discussed here). Well, Michael Hastings-Black clued me in to Raafi’s follow-up post, featuring a video of the SEO Rapper neatly illustrating a point that some readers originally struggled with:

The thrust of the piece remains vital — that because of our more democratized communication tools we are beginning to see a more accurate depiction of black america. Mainly because, you know, that media is actually being created by, ahem, black people. But all of these things are articulated more succinctly by the SEO Rapper above, whose seamless integration of the swagger required of an MC with the pedantry of the digerati is too smooth for hypertext.

The Flip Side: I refer here not to parallel dimensions within mirrors, but to what it must be like to be a non-geek in a geek-dominated environment. As one student newspaper writer explains, that’s what it’s like to not know anything about Star Trek at Case Western Reserve (the alma mater of two of my most lovably geeky friends here in Philly). “You’re not a real nerd!” others exclaim of this physics major, as she similarly admits no interest in Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, or other sci-fi staples.

It’s an amusing little piece, but reading between the lines a wee bit (as I am inexorably compelled to do), I am fascinated by the implication that “real nerds” can’t just be good at science; they have to watch the classics. Compare this to the “real geeks” who, every time there’s a geek typology printed up somewhere, exclaim that we must reclaim the days when being a geek meant building your own computers.

Drunken Vader vs. Jedi Congregants: I suppose this BBC article about a drunk guy in a makeshift Darth Vader costume assaulting self-identified Jedis is played pretty straight by the reporter—but I kind of get a sense that the implication is, “Which is weirder, a guy dressing like Vader and assaulting people, or the fact that there is actually a reasonably large and active religion of Jedi adherents?” Gizmodo seems to think that the latter is more deserving of punishment—further evidence, perhaps, that the most ruthless critics of geeks nowadays may just be other geeks.

Film Geeks and Geeky Films: Ethan Gilsdorf write an article for the Boston Globe about the Independent Film Festival of Boston, seen through the lens of geek culture. As the second paragraph proclaims, “if the Independent Film Festival of Boston has a cri de coeur this year, it’s ‘Geeks unite!’” And: “‘Geek culture is the thing that drives popular culture,’ said Nancy Campbell, an IFFBoston managing director. ‘Anyone who’s ever been a geek knows at some point the mainstream co-opts it.’”

Films at the festival touched upon topics such as Wizard rock, Bigfoot, virtual world and RPGs, nerdcore hip-hop, Harlan Ellison, and more. (Not mentioned in the article: Natural Causes may have had the first “naked Wii” scene outside of internet porn.) The article includes some behind-the-scenes notes for some films, like the comment that some gamers didn’t want to participate in Second Skin because of fear of stigma.

Incidentally, the end of the article notes that its writer, Ethan Gilsdorf, is writing a book titled Escape Artists: Travels Through the Worlds of Role Playing Freaks, Online Gaming Geeks, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.

Geek Ghetto vs. Nerd Power: And finally, Scott Brown offers a sort of rebuttal to Ben Nugent’s American Nerd in this month’s Wired. I have yet to read Ben’s book, but as Scott describes it, the conclusion is essentially that “nerd chic” is “just a fad,” while “‘real’ nerds are still out there […] furtive, defensive, […] all of them stubbornly unassimilated.” But no, Scott argues, nerds have made such a mark on our culture at large that we’re now the mainstream, and the mainstream is now us.

My take on this is that neither of these viewpoints is wrong, and they’re not really mutually exclusive. But, for many of us, one of these points can certainly feel more “right” than the other.

One thought on “Links: The State of the Geek in May, 2008

  1. Re: Flip Side

    I stole someone’s Star Wars virginity. He was a self-professed “Sci-fi freak”, and had not seen it. Ever. During 25 years of life. The look on his face when he found out that Luke and Leia were brother and sister was PRICELESS.

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