kathy@thing.at (Kathy Rae Huffman) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Sun, 11 May 1997 18:38:28 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Geeks in Space

Geeks in Space by Kathy Rae Huffman

Geek: a look once  found only in research labs and think tank environments
has become the late-90’s fashion statement.  Total geekiness has been
commodified in the popular publications like Wired (http://www.wired.com),
idealized in books like Microserfs, and accessorized by Mondo 2000. The new
pro-geek image as a status look came to pass after the popularity of several
1980s wire-head, cyberpunk, intellectual science fiction books, including
the favorite Neuromancer by William Gibson.  But actually, the now popular
hacker look and attitude is the result of a decades-long promotion to
respect the studious disciplines of physics, computer science, and
mathematics.  Today’s  geek (like their predecessors, who were called
eggheads and braniacs) comes in many varieties.  Most important nowdays is
the connection to computers...the kind of programming, research and
investigation requires computer assisted number crunching.   A 2.1 version
of the geek code exists on the Internet.  Registered for the first time in
1994, it gives a complete coded classification on particular variations,
interests, and types of geekiness.  This code is often tagged to e-mail
correspondence, for a descriptive self analysis of the particular geek style
embraced by the sender (http://www.x.org/people/daniel/geek_code.html ).

Geeks love intellectual puzzles, solving problems, and they thrive on
challenges.  Geeks were once exclusively guys, but now the geek girl has
come out of the closet, and we can readily observe them in their own online
publication, found at the Australian based website
ht.//www.next.com.au/spyfood/geekgirl.  Whether one is a geek girl or a geed
dude, to be regarded „geek" no longer carries a negative stigma, nor
signifies an introverted, unsociable, or awkward personality.  Instead,
today’s geek unwittingly bears the aura of a tres chic attitude.   A good
definition of geek is someone who did not go to their senior prom (and would
be offended if thought they should want to go)

In the connected world of 1997, geeks uses the Internet as their social
arena.  According to the site „A Girl’s Guide to Geek Boys",
(http://www.pinncomp.com/brian/geeks.html),  Mikki Halpin and Victoria Maat
humorously describe the fact that each geek guy „...secretly thinks he will
meet the woman of his life via Internet." Because geeks made widespread use
of  computer technology before it became widely popular, their knowledge of
Internet is quite involved, and they tend to lurk in newsgroups, and
conversation areas that involve technical information, as well as sex chats.
If they are well known online, they might hide their true identity.  Because
geeks were among the first online communicators, they perceive Internet to
be a shared workspace, as it was intended for scientific researchers.  Many
„oldtimers" online are still under the age of 30, and deserve a great deal
of  respect for sharing their vast knowledge of access, communication links
and data resources.  Geeks form a strong technically capable power group
among the Internet society at large.
How can you recognize a geek?  Halpin and Maat say it is usually by their
T-shirt, the conference give-away that advertises computer products.  But,
what a geek really is, and how geek culture symbolizes our newly discovered
world of information is often characterized in fashion’s unconscienceness.
At the beginning of the century, the word referred to carnival freaks -
those one-of-a-kind..  Today, the look of unmatched colors and patterns,
rumpled clothes, and worn down (i.e.: comfortable) shoes has morphed into a
real-life fashion statement.  We often see good looking bronzed models
made-up to look like geeks by the addition of glasses, and slicked down
hair,  in magazine, TV and billboard advertising.  They  wear „the look" but
with specific brand names (to be really trendy, geek fashion must sport
identifiable brand labels).  Geeks can also be recognized by their high tech
electronic devices, which they carry around and use in restaurants, on
airplanes and while driving their cars.  

By default, geeks would prefer to be hardwired to their hard disk, or
plugged into their modems, rather than go home.  Geeks escape their
obsession for calculating data, programming, or inventing by watching TV
re-runs of Star Trek, eating microwaved or fluorescent food, or going to
rave parties, where they can usually be found standing under the speakers,
swaying to the bass beat.   Geeks are most comfortable in front of any
computer screen or working with (and especially figuring out) any kind of
technology.  Second to a personal interface with technology,  geeks are
interested in any discussion or reflection on technology.  Being a person
consumed by a specific interest, a geek is obsessed, and is relentlessly in
pursuit of answers to problems surrounding the topic they pursue.
Programmers are the quintessential geeks, but we have come to recognize (and
accept) all other obsessive as geeks, as well.   

Geeks have also gained status because they can earn money with their ability
to manipulate information and make it more available to the public at large.
Karel Dudesek, director of Van Gogh TV (http://www.vgtv.com), a group of
dedicated geek dudes who have developed numerous new artistic interfaces
that allow television and the Internet to converge, refered to the belief
that  working with computers today is „... like digging in gold.  Everyone
who knows a little html or C thinks he is the master of the universe...and
he is, maybe...".  Dudesek points out also that more and more understandable
is individual specificity of geekiness, creating the need to band together.
This kind of group power takes its model from the research think tanks, R&D
departments of start-up, and is a mainstay of educational institutes.  In
the case of Van Gogh TV, their projects seek technical solutions for new
artistic activity, and the creation of unique, 3D worlds for the online
environment has become thier specialization that requires intense

Because geeks are specific, information and ideas for them revolve around a
small constellation of interests.  The geek has a weird ability to focus all
conversations, social activities, and recreation towards  problem solving,
being always in search of solutions.  By using their unique power of
concentration, whenever outside activity is required (visiting family,
banking, shopping, or commuting) there is normally background computation
--of one sort or another-- going on in the mind of a geek that produces a
somewhat distracted demeanor.  This fashionable ability to focus so totally,
gives the impression of intelligence, of knowing things, and of possessing
information.  We  have been educated to accept the fact that knowledge is
power.  Having the means and opportunities to get information is by default
also a source of power.  Logically, geeks must be the most powerful.  

The „geek group" is not a carryover of college roommates, but as Douglas
Copeland’s Microserfs depicts (see review at
http://tcp.ca/Sept95/Geekdom.html) geeks often suffer from social contacts,
being so completely „into" their specific assignment.  The tragic cult
action in California was the result of their belief that the entire group
would be uploaded, like data, to a spaceship hovering behind the visible
Hale-Bopp comet. SUCK magazine (http://www.suck.com) described the Heavens
Gate group as „...a predictable collusion between imagination and
advertising .....people who want(ed) to test their bodies to the limit..."
A favorite website found bookmarked on many geek terminals, SUCK got to the
point in a few words  including a good overview of the „problem" of religion
+ advertising + geekdom = suicide.  Eric Davis, a California netculture
theoretician, states that „...computers satisfy mystical urges for total
awareness, and magical urges for total information control"
(http://www.levity.com/figment/space.html) and that „...cyberspace is more
than a map....it’s a cosmos."   If the Heavens Gate group was right, then we
now have a case of geeks who spaced out, or geeks-in-space.   Clearly, most
of us would rather take the opposite route, and explore data space in 3D
environments, which can be created to order, and offer communication
alternatives to a troubled reality, full of physical limitations.  How fun
to play in a space packed with like minded (albeit disembodied) real people
who eventually log out,  and re-connect to reality. 

FACE SETTINGS - Eva Wohlgemuth & Kathy Rae Huffman
An online communication project for women

Mobile: +43.(0)664.210.6511 

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