Sunday, February 08, 2009

Respect the Geek

Though I don't exactly consider myself a geek, I have to confess to certain tendencies in that direction.

I don't believe I could have spent the last 25 years of my life writing computer programs AND considered it fun for more than 50% of the time AND chosen to use this sort of language to register these facts, were it not for the likelihood that, when it comes to my place on the autistic spectrum, I turn out to be somewhere near the blue end.

All the same, when it comes to geeks, I'm nothing special. It's true, I enjoy mathematical puzzles, I have a small stamp collection and read tool catalogues but I also like paintings and other forms of art and have been known, at times, to hold strong political views. Being only a minor geek; being merely ... geekish, I think of myself as a kind of channel between the two worlds: the geek world - the world of knowledge, of delight in detail, discipline (in the monkish sense) and uncomplicated friendships and the other one, the world that most people seem to want to belong to - the world of flamboyance, fluffiness, studied-incompetence and clumsily-constructed explanations.

Of course, it's common knowledge that geeks score very highly when it comes to complicated technical matters. Such things could be said to constitute their principle source of pleasure - which is fortunate for the rest of us, as it should be clear by now that it's the geeks who are keeping the whole show on the road. You only have to think for a short while about what keeps the electricity on, your mobile phone working, about having at television AT ALL, to realise that neither you, nor anyone else you know has the faintest inkling about how it all fits together.

You might expect the geek to demand a very high level of reward for carrying out these critically important functions, but you'd be mistaken. A liberal dress-code, freedom from petty distractions and a plentiful supply of pizzas are generally sufficient to keep things ticking along. And while honours and public acclaim might seem entirely reasonable expectations - to the geek sensibility, simple acknowledgment of the true state of things would be recognition enough.

Sadly, even the most modest level of respect is rarely forthcoming. It's as if awareness of the fact that our daily existence rests in the hands of train-spotters and dungeon-quest experts is too much to take on board - with the consequence that geeks are all to often the object of derision; their harmless enthusiasms riculed, their awkwardness in social situations mercilessly mocked.

This would all be terribly sad were it not for the fact that geeks have a characteristically geekish way of getting their own back. It draws on a shared, esoteric knowledge of a geek sacred text - Douglas Adams: A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Amongst other tales, the book recounts how the inhabitants of the planet Golgafrincham, on resolving to rid themselves of a third of their population they consider completely useless, concoct a story that the planet is shortly to be destroyed in a great catastrophe. They persuade all the hairdressers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, management consultants, telephone sanitisers and hedge-fund managers to board the B-Ark - one of three giant Ark spaceships - and promise them that everyone else will follow shortly in the other two.

And so it was that in the various offices and research centres where I spent a good slice of my life engaged in geekish pursuits, the unwelcome interference of opinionated, self-important people would be met by a knowing exchange of glances and by the quiet intonation of the simple mantra ..... B-Ark.

1 comment:

  1. lunchbox6:21 pm

    I am reminded of the saying "beware of geeks bearing gifs". I have no problem with these people as long as they remain well hooded and concentrate on their mobile phones. Clearing up the pizza crusts after themselves is probably asking too much!!