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Monday, December 10, 2007

Geek is the word....

I surprised some people in a conversation this weekend with a revelation about geeks. After self-identifying as a professional geek (aka computer nerd, programmer, etc.), I went on to prove my true geekiness by spewing little known facts about all sorts of topics, including the origin of the word "geek".

Having decided to write about this in my blog, I dutifully looked up the term "geek" in Wikipedia. (Do I really need to include a link to Wikipedia itself? I hope not, because I'm not going to.) I was surprised when I read the article, not because it proves me wrong -- it doesn't -- but because of how poorly written it is.

After the basic word-bite blurb that accompanies most Wikipedia article, designed to provide only the barest minimum of information for those too stupid, hurried, or uninterested to read more than a couple of sentences, there's a section titled "The definition of geek". The opening paragraph of this section is a lovely, and loving, treatise on the modern context of the word "geek". The passage tries to rationalize the modern geek lifestyle into an ideology of passion. Specifically, the description includes this definition of a geek: "one who is primarily motivated by passion".

Okay, now, let me make this clear. I work with geeks. I've worked with geeks ever since I got into this business. I went to college with a bunch of people who all wanted to be paid to do geeky things. I hung around with geeks in high school. I know geeks.

While a few of the geeks I've known might consider themselves passionate (mostly the ones who read Shakespeare), I'm pretty sure the majority have never had such a thought. Sure, geeks are "into things", usually in a very big way. All geeks, just like every other human being on the planet with a working endocrine system, are capable of being horny, even wild in bed. Plenty of geeks will get drunk, and dance themselves silly (although this is more likely to be at the company Christmas party than at a dance club). But "passionate"? I don't think so. "Passion" is for poetry and romance novels.

(And, quite frankly, I doubt there are many geeks who could even make their way through the first dozen pages of a romance novel, unless it was on a dare, or for a bet, where the payoff was a near-mint first printing of any issue of Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man.)

The thing is, the passage in this Wikipedia article is, itself, a work of geekly beauty. The author is clearly so into the concept of geekiness as a justification for his or her own socially inept existence that what has been crafted is a model of the geek paradigm. Not only does this paragraph describe and define geekiness, it is itself quite geeky. It's multi-layered (like an ogre). It's... meta-geeky.

Incidentally, I think the Wikipedia article on the work "geek" is symptomatic of the larger problem with Wikipedia (which is itself a microcosm of the World Wide Web): there's plenty of information there, but most of it is not directly usable, and most of it is biased. Of course, just about any writing is biased -- I imagine even the -pedia pinnacle, Britannica, has suffered from bias by times -- but still, I hope for better. (Why? No particular reason. Perhaps because I'm an optimist.)

Oh, and the original "geek" meaning with which I shocked the crowd? Back in the day (Which day is that, anyway?), the geek was a member of the circus sideshow. The geek's job was to put on a show, biting the heads off of live animals (most frequently chickens -- I wonder how Mike felt about that). Nice work if you can get it, I supposed, but I'd rather stare at a computer screen all day, thank you very much.



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