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The Rise and Fall of the Geek 358

chilled writes "Tom Steinberg has posted this guest editorial on The Register bemoaning the decline of the Geek. He suggests that geeks in their alignment against for example RIP and Microsoft are losing their voice. I think he's right but the emergence of a common set of goals should be recognised as a very good thing. The geeks amongst us should use this commonality to rise up and use our voice for progress and not petty squabbling."
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The Rise and Fall of the Geek

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  • Is it bad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by endrek ( 547737 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:03PM (#4388336) Homepage
    Is this really bad. Some of the examples he uses, like the geek inability to defend the DMCA. Maybe no one who knows what they are talking about can defend it because it really shouldn't be. I mean, couldn't you bemoan that most all people think murder is bad, and thusm they are all sheep of the same flock. OR, maybe murder really is bad.

    There are still plenty of issues to fight and flame and be different over, but there are now some points that we all share together. It makes us a closer knit community and will hold us together
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:07PM (#4388370)
    No more petty squabbling? But that's one of the quintessential features of a geek. If there weren't constant meaningless arguments about the same topics over and over, the internet as we know it would not exist.
  • evolution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raiford ( 599622 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:08PM (#4388377) Journal
    What a geek is today is very different from what a geek was 20 years ago. Geeks of old (I guess we were called nerds back then) focused strictly on technology and science and stayed as far away from politics of any kind as you could possible get. Geeks of today seem to love the political scene and enjoy engaging in the fray. This is a big distinction from the aboriginal geek (or geek derived from the nerd). I say stick with the science and engineering. Life is too short to get caught up in politics.

  • Re:A Counter Opinion (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:19PM (#4388475)
    And evidence of the truth of the argument right here on Slashdot... Microsoft banner advertisement.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:24PM (#4388518)
    Too often as Geeks we point out limitations and flaws within a technology plan, instead of pointing out the things that can be accomplished.

    By pointing out a limitation or flaw the ones who understand the most are deemed "too negative" by managers and marketeers.

    If you are too negative, too often, you will be pigeon-holed as a nay-sayer; even if you turn out to be right.

    Geeks aren't marketeers so we lack the euphemisms to use when speaking to marketeers. Instead of saying: "Technology doesn't permit." or "This system is inadequate" the words escape us to reword this into something that can be spun positively.

    In essence: Geeks are excluded because we know too much.

    This response probably pretty extreme, but it sure feels true.

    Quite a bit of the time I find myself not having the necessary time to get buy in to certain designs and architectures. It takes longer to get buy in, than to just implement the architecture.

    I dare any one of you to attempt to explain the following paragraph to a marketeer / managerial type who is still struggling with how to buy a book from Amazon:
    • In the modern times of XML, XSLT, JSP, ASP, .NET, Web Services, and other standardized technologies we are finally seeing a convergence that will allow true RAD to work on a Worldwide scale. Finally, due to underlying standards dictating infrastructure a developer can assemble the pieces to create a system and not worry about underlying implementation.

    I haven't found a manager friendly way to say that yet. Any suggestions?
  • by spiro_killglance ( 121572 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:26PM (#4388545) Homepage

    Unlike other groups, geeks (i still
    hate the term) are defined by
    intellegance, reason, and the scientific method.
    While other groups will always contain members
    that will hold mad, bad and obviously wrong
    beliefs not matter what, a geek will always
    change beliefs based on evidence and a solid
    reasoned argument based on axioms they share.
    If most geeks are in argeement in belief of something its probably because its (if
    not true) at least as close to true as we can
    get in the limit current knowledge.
  • They call them geeks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Patik ( 584959 ) <cpatik @ g m a i l . com> on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:28PM (#4388559) Homepage Journal
    I've never understood why people want to be referred to as a geek. It's not a pleasant title, rather it's an insult. Class bullies picks on the scrawny "four-eyed geek". If someone calls you a geek, it's your turn to stand up for yourself. "Geek" has such a negative conotation to it that I will never refer to myself as one, regardless of my involvement with computers and science.
  • Bullshit (Score:2, Interesting)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <> on Friday October 04, 2002 @02:43PM (#4388696) Homepage
    I'm sure this article will garner accolades around here but the author is no more in tune with the politics of high-tech activism than my grandma is. Turning the 'movement' into a belief system was the worst thing that ever happened to the 'movement' in the first place, because the only thing belief systems beget is intolerance.

    There's a significant difference between fighting for a cause and standing up for what's right, and attempting to force your beliefs on other people. We bemoan the strong-arm tactics employed by big business but we turn around and essentially declare "you're either eith us or against us". Not true? You haven't been reading Slashdot the past four years. We've been clapping in delight every time the house of one of our enemies collapses but we've been ignoring the termites gnawing away at our own basement.

    Simply stopping internal squabbling is not going to do it either. How can we expect to 'dominate the world' when Eugenia Loli has trouble configuring the premier commercial Linux distro? When the most visible end-user Linux company (Lindows) does nothing but stumble in their tracks every time they come up with a new strategy for stealing market share from Microsoft?

    No, what we need is more attention to the realities of the world. Stallman-esque idealism is nice but has gotten us exactly nothing. Radicalism is obviously not working, either. Let the technology stand on its own, and let it cater to the same type of people we attack and disparage for using 'an inferior OS', as if that was somehow indicative of terrible genetic deficiencies.

    We can either break out of this vicious cycle or continue to wallow in our own little pool of muck while we shake our fists at the nice rich beautiful people that walk by.

  • by tokki ( 604363 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @03:14PM (#4388975)
    An unfortunate result of the "Geek" culture is that squabbling is typically inherint to our very nature. The "know-it-all" attitude is incredibly pervasive, and arguing a technical or techno-philosophical issue with another geek is akin to slamming your dick in the door. It really doesn't accomplish much (geeks aren't apt to change their minds readily), and it's generally an unpleasent experience.

    Geeks are either afraid to admit any kind of ignorance to any subject, especially technical, or very quick to abmonish someone for asking a question and (how dare he/she) admit ignorance.

    This fear of showing any sign of weakness, as well as the know-it-all attitude, makes it difficult for open discussion and compromise to occur on even trivial issues, thus squabbling is rampant. This is the same in other realms as well of course, but it is an aspect to the geek regime.

    I'm not saying I'm not part of this -- I am a geek as well -- it's just one of our weaknesses.

  • by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <> on Friday October 04, 2002 @03:20PM (#4389022)
    I agree with alot of the ideals the common Slashdotter will but I am by no means Liberal. I am for smaller government. I am for people helping themselves and not taking a few bucks out of my wallet every paycheck which is what a government aid program is. I AM for free speech. I am against using P2P to steal (Napster) and using P2P for what it's meant (sharing files that are not copyrighted), but I am against the RIAA making it hard to exercise my fair use rights. I am against the MPAA telling me if I live in another country that I can't buy a DVD their and have it play in my player. I am against them telling me I can't make a fansite on the web celbrating and promoting my favorite TV show. I am FOR the constitution including the second amendment. I am against cameras in public places unless they are controlled by tourists. I am against using technology to ticket someone automagically because they were speeding because thier kid was hurt. I am against the idiot laws that are making clerks card (and possibly swiping a mag stripe on my license) everyone when they want to buy a beer (even though I am OBVIOUSLY over 21). I am FOR everything this country, as a whole, stands for. I am in AGREEMENT with Bush on the war on terrorism, but in disagreement with the need for these STUPID laws/rules regarding things like laptops being used during takeoff, GPS's not allowed at all, cellphones not allowed unless at gate, ILLEGAL search and seizures and other stupid stuff like that. I am FOR studying things LOGICALLY and using the results of that study to guide actions. Let's study the effects of these devices on a aircrafts Avionics. Have there ever been studies done or is this just so the airlines satisfy some stupid notion like that once you get on that plane THEY are your BOSS (instead of treating you like a human being when your not being an asshole). I am a geek. I use Windows, Linux, AIX, Solaris and whatever else I need to do to make a few bucks. Sue me because I don't agree that Microsoft is a monopoly, but I hate them because their os's are unstable and they assume that I don't know what I am doing (not because they are the most popular right now). So kiss my shiny metal ass if I don't fit your damn image for a geek. I am a GEEK and proud of it. Who's next?
  • Re:evolution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Raiford ( 599622 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @03:48PM (#4389279) Journal
    In those days it was more like being a prostitute than a politician. Most of us did work in the defense industry. Accepting the paycheck was not activism but I guess if you want to get bleeding edge technical about it, then it was prostitution by consent. Hey, you gotta eat. Also most of us were just there for the technology. I guess it was living in a state of denial about end use. My job was strictly in basic research and seemed so far from the end use that it wasn't too hard to sleep at night. I guess the business of holding a clearance should have been a dead giveaway huh

  • The Tron Metaphor (Score:2, Interesting)

    by condour75 ( 452029 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @03:51PM (#4389314) Homepage
    What follows is not necessarily true, but a fun way to think about things. Sweeping generalizations here we come!

    There's Alans and there's Flynns.

    The Alans of the world go to a nice, salaried job and have a professional background in Windows APIs, C#, .net. But many of them also share mp3s and might have some personal doubts about Microsoft's hegemony, the RIAA, et al. Most dislike AOL, and all tend to have to fix family and friends' computers. Some of them even run a linux box at home.

    Then there's the Flynns, the guys deeply devoted to the Gnustic mysteries. These guys have good weed, a prodigious mp3 collection, and know every nook and cranny of their /etc/ directory. They tend to be freelance, and find the idea of certification a bit silly. Most hate the notion of DRM, although some may secretly welcome the challenge of breaking new copy protection schemes.

    Many of us fall somewhere on this spectrum. But the future of the system depends on how they work together to fight Dillinger and the MCP. Some Alans will join the dark side. But not all by a long shot, because the limitations imposed on systems by things like the DMCA or (god forbid) palladium run counter to the needs of the Users. And we all believe in the Users, don't we?
  • by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @04:44PM (#4389750) Homepage Journal
    When I read the title to the parent in this thread, I thought to myself, "I can't believe this crap got modded up." Upon further reflection, there is something of a point to be made.

    > High school kids coming out with MCSE's, places
    > you can get a CCNA quick, or A+ certification
    > that just seems like a joke to any old-school
    > type. These people are the "new geek chic" and
    > they're anything but.

    After having RTFA, the Standard editorial giving rise to this item on /. can be reduced to the following, IMHO:

    "Geeks are now a special interest lobbying group, whereas before they were a cultural phenomenon."

    To me, this accounts for the coalescing of what had been a cultural phenomenon around a sort of common themes and political aspirations. There is an established culture. It is primarily anti-capitalist in economics and pro-libertarian vis-a-vis individual rights.

    Summarizing the geek culture in general terms of course does not sweep every individual into lockstep with those ideas, but the broad cultural trends are undeniably there. We all know which way the wind blows on /.

    As far as the geek chic thing goes, I don't see it as a cultural phenomenon. People look for opportunity and "e" anything seemed like the land of milk and honey for a while. That is going through a natural (and welcome) correction right now through typical economic feedback loops. Hopefully, the wheat will be separated from the chaff. Unfortunately, there are lots of human and political costs that result from the upheaval of a boom/bust cycle like we just had. Sorry if you got laid off, but many IT jobs just shouldn't have existed in the last several years.

    The prior poster bemoans certifications as diluting the geek culture that predated and gave rise to what he/she/it termed "geek chic." Let me Cliff Claven that for a minute, too:

    Certification is useful as a specialized population of knowledge workers grows -- personal contact no longer serves to differentiate dedication to a craft. Certification provides a rough proxy to the dedication aspect (i.e. "I am willing to spend beaucoup bucks on cram courses and tests") but it does not dictate that one with a certification is qualified for pouring piss out of boots.

    In many respects, even a four year college education falls into this category -- you need to have it, but it doesn't mean you can do anything after you get it. It is a exclusionary qualification -- if you don't have it, you're fucked. If you do have it, you have doors opened.

    In a general reply to your post, I think your underlying assumption is wrong: geek chic never existed. It was all about the money and trying to avoid looking like a poseur. On the bright side, the reversal of IT's economic fortunes may slow some of the changes you bemoan. Unfortunately, I don't see that genie ever going back into the bottle.

    As for myself, when I stopped seeing fat guys with beards, suspenders, and flannel shirts at trade shows, I knew the sharks were in the water and something more pure and carefree had been lost. I'll miss it.


  • Wow! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KlomDark ( 6370 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @04:59PM (#4389911) Homepage Journal
    Damn, where's my mod points when I need them - this is the best argument against DRM I've ever seen. When DRM takes hold - no more experimenting, no more progress. We are done.

    Imagine if DRM existing in the 1960s, or even the 1980s - the Internet would not exist. People would never have been able to build the little pieces needed to form the net (Almost every protocol was originally just a "hack". DNS was a shortcut so you didn't have to remember IPs, telnet was a shortcut so you could control a machine remotely, the web browser was a shortcut to locating information anywhere.)

    That's why there's no differing in arguing against this. We don't exist without it. It'd be like having different opinions about whether we should allow oxygen in our atmosphere. "Well gee, maybe if they give us a bunch of money, we can give in on that oxygen requirement."

    DRM turns us all into slaves.
  • Re:A Counter Opinion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dalcius ( 587481 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @05:18PM (#4390072)
    I really don't want to start a flame war here, but I'll risk it.

    I think this is the same with other issues. When it comes to disliking Microsoft, in my opinion, there is no middle ground here either. I'll explain why.

    Geeks, by my definition and that of the parent poster, are about doing what they want to with their own equipment. We like to play with technical gear in a fashion that suits us. This is why I agree that DRM is bad.

    Microsoft, to a lesser extent than DRM (for now?), has generally proven themselves to want to control your system, as opposed to an OS like Linux or *BSD. From EULA swapping, silently re-enabling auto-update, forcing IE to visit and report an id number (from what I'm told of early versions of 98), and restrictions on what you can and cannot do with their products, I think it's obvious. This is not as clean-cut of an argument as that of geeks vs. DRM, but I think it makes sense.

    In my experience, there are no technically-literate arguments for Microsoft (in its entirety) simply because to anyone who knows their history, what they've attempted to do and what they have done, it seems obvious that it's impossible to find Microsoft innocent.

    I would love any response to this so long as it isn't a troll. Respect my view, and prove me wrong by logic, or agree with me and state why.
  • by MisterSquid ( 231834 ) on Friday October 04, 2002 @05:35PM (#4390180)

    Here we go again, another /.'er who has no understanding of the complexity of capitalism as a system saying that the bad parts of capitalism aren't capitalism at all. Sort of like 1980's-era Soviet sympathizers complaining that the economic woes of the USSR was not a product of either socialism or communism.

    Wake up. Capitalism is global at this point, and the way in which it hooks up to the legal system, the loopholes and exceptions to the "free" market are the direct product of capitalism.

    It's not ideal, but it is exactly capitalism.

    Where the hell else do you think Microsoft is headquarted? On Mars?

    And spammers? They spam because of the globalization of capital, regardless of the economic organization of their country of origin.

    I don't think all problems are the side-effect of capitalism, but these two most definitely are.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker