Friday Rant #8: Who are we?

2006-10-27 00:00

There are a lot of names that get bandied about in the online, offline, and somewhat in-between worlds that encompass the modern technology fiend’s daily haunts. “Geek”, “Nerd”, “Hacker”, “Technophile”, “Maker”, etc. All of these have various shades of meaning, and all of them are nothing more than fancy subcultural labels. What’s difficult about this, is that it’s not a well-defined subculture, it’s an attempt to identify and label something that extends beyond the smaller, unique and creative cultures that developed and continue to develop both on- and off-line. “Geek” has been adopted broadly, and is the ‘new’ “Hacker”, so to speak. “Hacker” has been so vehemently despised by the media that it isn’t always a safe label, even for those who work in computer security. “Geek” is also a broader term, and can include people who have the same personality characteristics as the “Hacker”-type, but who aren’t as computer, or even technology focused. Even “Geek” has negative connotations to some people, though it’s usually an endearing term. The rather neutral “Technophile” has a limited scope, as it doesn’t really encompass the full range of people that the other two terms I’ve mentioned specifically (”Geek”, and “Hacker”) encompass. The very new term “Maker” is derived from the wonderful quarterly magazine Make. The term is good, but the current scope doesn’t fit everyone the term could cover. (And they know. They’re making more magazines. Craft, for one.)What we really need (us …geeks/nerds/hackers/technophiles/makers) is a word that doesn’t have the emotion associated with other meanings that characteristics identify the shared characteristics. Note: I haven’t defined these characteristics, because I don’t know them, and they aren’t exclusive. There’s a lot of ground to cover. We need a word that just conjures up the right images. We have plenty of words that conjure up the wrong images, as I’ve briefly covered above.“Geek” conjures up a little too obsessive and pathologically strange individuals. Not that we all aren’t, but not all of us are either.“Nerd”, even among our own kind is a big derogatory, and directly so. It’s not so endearing. People can cling to it as a badge of pride to be so ‘off the curve’, but it’s generally a word that’s associated with seriously deficient and dysfunctional people.“Hacker”, one of the great words of the modern era. It was originally coined in much the capacity as we seek a word for, but the adoption by the media of the term to be (almost exclusively) a malicious computer attacker has detracted from the ability of this word to serve as a broad representation, though the term “hacks” for clever feats and related terminology doesn’t have nearly the same negative connotations.“Technophile” doesn’t fall broadly enough, and conjures up images of audiophile-like computer setups. Not quite what we’re going for with the broad application thing.“Maker”, despite it’s promising potential, I think is almost inherently self-defeating as a general term because it is too closely tied to the community surrounding Make Magazine. Again, a great magazine, but not a good general term.So what is general enough, and conjures the right mindset into the listener? My opinion: Human.No, there’s nothing special about us geeks, or nerds, or whatever you want to call us. The same passion, drive, spirit, and verve exist in everyone. Perhaps we simply let it do more, or feel the drive a bit more strongly, but whatever makes us stand out is not unique, it is not even, perhaps, stand out qualities. We simply happen to do things that stand out.We’re different. So is everyone else. It’s hard to categorize, because there’s no mold that punches out geeks, as separate from businessmen, or intellectuals. The power to do what we do, it’s human.We’re all human. So exercise your power, and make something.(How about a novel?)

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