I’ve always been a geek. This past week I’ve actually been thinking about geekiness and its acceptability (or lack thereof) in society, and how the every day person thinks about technology.
When I was a young lad, my owning "a computer" was seen as being the utmost in geekiness, an antisocial group of loners. Sure, I was too young at the time to be a black-clothed goth type of individual, and the computer – a Commodore Vic-20 – required the TV to actually be used so there was no hope of me hiding away in my room – but being a computer geek meant you were different and you got picked on.
I got picked on.
As time has progressed, computers became more mainstream and more accepted, and geeks were brought back into the fold – at least partially – of cool people. If you could handle yourself socially, you could fit in. Still, there were others out there who now felt threatened because they didn’t understand how to work with computers – and guess what? You got picked on.
I got picked on.
At some point there was a sweet spot for computing technology. Prior to this, it wasn’t mainstream and there were very few who understood the value and opportunity to be found in technology, let alone had a passion to make it really shine. After this sweet spot, it gets interesting.
First, the sweet spot. For a short period, computers were cool. People talked about them at parties. If you were a geek with the mystical powers of knowing how a computer worked, people asked you about it, they wanted you to show them your knowledge and skill. They wanted to "do" computers and media, movies and society all said "geeks are cool! Praise the geek!" It was a golden age where, when a threatened bully would try to pick on you, you had 90% of the room defending you. Yes, there was still "being picked on" but for this short time, you didn’t face it alone.
When I look at technology today, I see that it’s become a commodity, almost like the kettle or microwave. People use it because it’s there. It makes their lives easier but they don’t realise how much they rely on it or how much more they could get out of it if they only knew how. Enrolment numbers in IT-related courses continue to drop in universities, high school students are also following the trend and not opting for IT specific subjects.
Talking about technology to a typical group of people, gets you looks of "he’s a crazy man" and "let’s talk about the latest rugby game/TV show/weather" again. We’re now in a world that sees technology as just being part of life, and no more worth talking about (let alone getting excited about!) than doing the ironing. So, those people who do talk about it are seen as dorks or nerds (because geek is now a word belonging to the "cool" people) and, lo and behold, get picked on.
I get picked on.
Oh, and you also get picked on because, post-sweet spot, people come to you because you should know everything there is to know about every kind of technology that’s out there. If their brand new microwave doesn’t work the way they want it to – that’s your fault. If they can’t print – they’re gonna call you, and when you can’t help them because they bought some cheap, dodgy printer that you have no experience with, it’s your fault. You’ll get picked on.
I’ll get picked on.
But don’t get me wrong – getting picked on is nothing. When I was a kid, I was physically bullied, but what did I do? Kept living. And here I am a quarter of a decade later, still loving technology, still having "wow" moments on a weekly basis about what you can do with it.
I think people who pick on geeks/nerds/dorks need to look at what they use in their lives and realise just how cool stuff is. I mean, most people have a mobile phone in their pocket that can call anyone in the world! And some can do email and/or video communications on that same small device. People are losing their laptops (even the fact that they HAVE a laptop should be a revelation!) because they’re so small and light that they’re mistakenly being thrown out with piles of paper.
Here’s a real world example of the coolness of technology that almost everyone should be able to appreciate. Fifteen years ago, you probably used a camera with film. You would then take this film to get developed at a camera shop, wait a few days for it to be developed and then stick the photos in an album (or leave them in their folders!) which would see the light of day once a year or so as you felt nostalgic enough to dig them out. I can point to some of my favourite photos I took back in 1992 – that I haven’t looked at in at least 5 years! And these are photos that I loved taking and love the memories they invoke. You had little option in terms of editing them – the best you could do was a pair of scissors.
Today, you probably use a camera with digital storage. You take the camera or digital card and plug it directly into your computer and download the photos to your hard drive. You can choose the photos you want to print, do your own corrections to them – red eye removal, cropping unneeded edges, even do tricky stuff by fudging backgrounds to get rid of elements that are not required (see below).
Spot the difference
But not only can you print the ones you want and how you want them, but you have other options to keep them more at the forefront of your memories. Mobile phones, computer screensavers, even digital keyrings. And then there’s your TV – something that is in pretty much everyone’s house and in a position of extreme accessibility. Rather than having it as a black rectangle or square when not in use, why not use the space to remind you of the special times that warranted photography?
With the prevalence of media centre PCs and wireless networking (and don’t tell me it’s out of this world expensive, because you can pick up a used Xbox 1 console and get it refurbished to run some open source software for less than $150 total – but that’s a whole other blog post), this is easy. Basically, keep the photos you want to display on your computer’s hard drive, hook the media centre PR or other device such as an Xbox up to your network and point it to the location and it does the rest. We have a number of TVs in our house, all hooked up with Xbox consoles and then in turn to the network. Whenever a TV is on and not being used, it randomly cycles through our photo collection and we are all – even the kids – constantly reminded of different times in our lives, often provoking discussions or comments.
A very simple, every day, use of technology. The thing is, there is SO much stuff that goes on under the covers to make that happen that it would make your ears bleed and your eyes pop. For example, the open source software I use on the Xbox consoles is completely free and has been developed by people in their spare time. It plays more music and video formats than any media player I have on my PC and does so with more consistency. It can be configured in a myriad of ways and has multiple user experience interfaces defined so you can make it look how you want it to. It’s solid, quality software that people did because they wanted to. And by people, I mean geeks. I mean dorks. I mean nerds. People like me. People that probably get picked on.
And that’s just one example.
So, bring it on – pick on me. I don’t particularly care. Technology is cool, and I’m happy to admit that I’m passionate about it.
I was going to rant on a bit more, but I’m trying to exercise some non-geek restraint in the face of my passion. 🙂