Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ascent to Geekdom

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Main Entry: geek
Pronunciation: \gēk\
Function: noun
Etymology: probably from English dial. geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German

Defined as below:

1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert

The definitions are telling. It starts out in the realm of carnival, and shock, and ends on a quite positive note. The enthusiast or expert entry was qualified with a ‘especially in computers and other technical fields’; but i took that out, because the word is commonly used in a wider sense than the restriction Merriam-Webster is placing on it.

I’ve always liked geeks, possibly because I’m quite clearly one myself. But i’m certainly not an example of the most evolved, or advanced form. I see myself located at roughly the halfway point on the ‘Not Geek to Uber-Geek’ spectrum, but have the pleasure of knowing people who are almost at the three-forth point, or beyond.

A geek, in my book, is an interesting person, because he or she has Interests.

Everybody has interests, you say, and possibly you are right. But the difference between geek and not-geek lies not as much in the fact of the interest, as in the kind, degree and intensity of that interest, and the distance the person is willing to go for it. That is why it is an Interest, and not a mere interest.

Generally, this interest is not something that is likely to bring concrete rewards, particularly in the short term. A geek will occasionally go professional with his or her geekery, and this may bring rewards; but the behaviour itself is relatively pure, particularly when it begins. The obsessive collecting of books, or music, or any other kind of information -- that constitutes the pattern of geek behaviour is a stand-alone pursuit, as it were. It has to be, because one of its defining features is that there are very few others in the geek’s usual environment who are, to an equal degree, interested in the same aspects of the same things.

Keats talks about ‘negative capability’, something he sees as ‘being capable of eliminating one's own personality, in order imaginatively to enter into that of another person, or, in extreme cases, an animal or an object'. I’m not really addressing the transmigratory aspects of this idea, but the relative elimination of the self in order to immerse entirely in another thing, act or behaviour seems to a quality common to geekery. It may manifest in hours spent over musical notations, camera manuals, baking arcana internet sites, or books of any kind, but those are only individual variations. The ability to immerse in something that is not for direct profit is the big commonality.

Thats why i said geeks have Interests.

Geeks rarely have small talk. They’re also not good at hiding their lack of small-talk skills, so the more courageous among them will almost always go directly to real conversation. This, in many cases, will be in the area in which he or she is most comfortable. To me, this is the best part.

So you have someone who has spent a lot of time and energy learning about, say, how the sound on LPs is reproduced and pressed, or why you can’t take certain kinds of shots with certain lenses, or the problematics of Chinese typesetting. They have culled out this information, located different points of views, assimilated all of this, and then formulated their own understanding of the question; including its concomitant issues, modifiers and opinions. And all of this they are happy to tell you, in detail, while answering any questions you may have. What could be a more fortunate outcome?

I guess it depends on your point of view:)

I have mostly met already-formed geeks, or lower-grade geeks, who, while i have known them, have become higher-grade geeks. Very few times in my life have i had the pleasure of watching someone geekify right before my eyes.

In this particular case, its the mountains. The Himalaya, to be specific. It started with a visit to a relatively popular hill town, progressed through volumes of books and documentaries, Google Earth, binoculars, and now stands at huge detailed trekking maps from the Survey of India, a compass to direction-read those maps, and other topographical maps from 1955 downloaded from the online resources of an international library.

And so, to mark my pleasure at watching this process, I write this blog.


Toy Chat said...

Isn't that just perfect? I agree, wholeheartedly! Delightful to read too. Perfect! (:

R said...

ha ha ha ha - fabulous post! Love the pictures as well. D, you are just SURROUNDED by geeks, aren't you? This is geek central!

Ilovethesmellofnepalinthemorning said...

uh, geek question. why do you need a compass to direction-read a map when you are not on the trail?

Sue said...


But he was always a geek from the very beginning. No?

RBC said...

Indeed he was. But then the true geek acquires new geekdoms as he progresses along the Path.

Beq said...

um, heh, thanks. Beautifully written