Geek Factor…


One thing I often hear when discussing technology related issues is that only geeks care about this, this is generally true, but it also very short-sighted. While geeks are generally considered a group that is pretty well separated from general society, they are still a part of it. In fact, while their direct influence on society is pretty limited, the long term impact is surprisingly deep.

A few years ago, I went to Rote Fabrik, the alternative place down to the lake, for a performance about the Commodore 64. I was expecting to see only old geeks, but to my surprise there were also young art students, trying to understand what this whole 8 bit thing is about. One of the most obscure aspect of my geek culture had suddenly become obscure art. That was certainly not something I had expected, as this was something only geek cared about, and not very strongly.

Internet is the obvious way geek culture has influenced everyday life, but the ramifications go beyond the network: jargon, piracy have become mainstream, the fact that the only real new political party to emerge in Europe those last ten years was the pirate party is pretty telling. Cinema and fashion are increasingly influenced by geek currents: cyberpunk, steampunk, manga. This summer’s blockbuster is a giant mecha story.

What I find fascinating is that geek influence seems to be underestimated within the geek circles. People like to think that Apple rose from its ashes by the grace of sleep designs and marketing. Before that, it embraced a core geek technology (Unix) and made sure that most geek students would have a laptop with their logos. Since then, Microsoft has seen its influence waning. Linux, once the confidential tool or hardcore geeks now powers a large proportion of all things that consume electrical power.

Why this discrepancy? My feeling is that is comes from the difference between saying and doing. During all those years, geeks have been doing stuff: building, fixing, configuring, coding, drawing, publishing, hacking. Meanwhile people on the public scene have been mostly talking. Unsurprisingly, they still say the same things… Good ideas are like machines, they need time to be built, broken-in and tuned properly so they actually work. We should keep an idea about things only geeks care about, in particular the young ones…

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