Geek Pride in Boston:
The Start of the Revolution
or, What the A-V Boys Did For Love
The Big To Do sent Special Correspondent and avowed technophobe Rosalie
Rippey to the Geek Pride Festival in Boston, Mass. Can love bloom when geeks
rule the earth? The answer may surprise you.
a watershed moment in America: geeks have become sexy. Somehow, "Revenge of
the Nerds" has morphed into Keanu
Reeves' leather-clad hacker-superstud in "The Matrix"; David
Duchovny (who has a graduate
degree from Yale himself) is a hunky, ghost-busting bookworm who packs heat
and carries a badge; Nicolas
Cage's scientist in "The Rock" is brilliant, chiseled, and nervously charming.
I went to the Geek Pride Festival to
learn about geek culture, to find where this image meets reality. The festival
took place at the Castle, Boston's aptly named stone fortress and convention
center. The exterior has a sort of medieval mystique, while the interior has
all the charm of a high school gym. Behold, the perfect setting for Geek Pride.
Perhaps in homage to the origin of the
word "geek," the room was set up like a circus, complete with three rings
of activity, sideshows, and a carnival atmosphere. A stage dominated one end
of the room. In the center, a ring of computer terminals for live chats with
people who couldn't be there. And at the far end, a circle of old-school arcade
games, spanning the Pac
Man to Street
Fighter years. Around the outside edge, software and Internet company reps
stood ready to pounce with business cards. Sideshows included a
simulation of Keanu's "Matrix" shootout, a Quake
tournament, and a big blue inflatable gymnasium, in which a solitary geek jumped
around like a five-year-old.
There were two basic types attending Geek Pride: cool geeks, and just plain
geeks. The cool geeks were younger, wore a lot of black, and displayed piercings,
dyed hair, or some variation on Goth bondage chic; they even had a few women
among their ranks. The just plain geeks -- most of the crowd -- had that shy
manner and palpable lack of interest in their appearance that have marked geekdom
since the invention of the slide rule.
No Sleep Til... Bedtime!
I wouldn't call Geek Pride the social event of the geek season; whatever that
would be, it most likely took place online. The mood wasn't social so much as
collegial. Geeks weren't reaching out to each other, they were reaching out
to hand a resume to a recruiter from Slashdot,
or to get a slice of pizza and scurry back to their chess game and inflatable
plastic chairs. Even in a room full of other geeks, the only evidence I saw
of new friendships being formed took place at the computers, via chats and instant
There was a minor Geek uprising, however, during the final round of "Stump-the-Geek,"
a trivia game featuring questions ranging from famous
inventors to Magic cards
to the Simpsons. When the
host asked, "Who won the 1999 World Series?" the eventual winner responded,
"Who cares?" The room broke into laughter, and people nodded their heads, faces
bright with happy recognition.
The Castle was set to rock until midnight, but the crowd had already begun
to thin at 8:30, when the final geek-icon speakers took the stage. By 9:30,
there seemed to be little promise that the chess matches would blossom into
anything worth staying for, and even the band looked a bit depressed. By ten,
I was forced to concede that the party was pretty much over and followed a couple
of just plain geeks out the door.
Stalking the Geek in his Natural Habitat
Unlike ethnic identity, there's no such thing as being "a little bit geek."
Being a geek is something deeper, requiring genuine faith in the power of technology
to light the path towards some brighter tomorrow. In this context, meeting people
is almost beside the point. The point is the technology itself, and the ideas
it can inspire. And yet, as you'll see, this gives rise to an unexpected evolutionary
benefit for the rest of us.
I asked a representative of festival co-sponsor SwitcHouse,
Katrina Ling, whether she thought of Geek Pride 2000 as a social event, and
she said it really wasn't. People might introduce themselves to a recruiter,
but that was about it. All the plastic couches and Nerf shoot-outs were enjoyed
mostly by people who already knew each other.
She suggested that the best way to meet a geek is online. As a marketing professional,
Katrina was happy to point out the social potential of switchouse.com -- a virtual
swap meet where you can trade something you have, like a Wham! CD, for something
you want - like "Clue: The Movie." In the process, you can meet people who share
your taste in movies and music. This could even be the start of something deeper;
I mean, if someone has five copies of my all-time favorite comedy
based on a childhood board game, they must be cool, right?
Founding Fathers of the Digital Revolution
In other words, in the hour of the geek, you might as well stay home. Five
years ago, I would have said that finding friends online is only for geeks.
But now, the geeks have inherited the earth - or at least, the World Wide Web.
And at some point, pioneering
geeks realized that the Internet would be better -- and more profitable
-- if they made room for the rest of us.
I know of at least four successful relationships that started on the Internet,
and only one of them is at all creepy. Through my own online diary at Diaryland.com,
I've shared e-mails with other diarylanders who I would gladly invite to lunch.
I even have a friend who has received presents from total strangers because
he includes a link to his CDNow.com wish
list on his Web site. Because of geeks -- the socially awkward smart guys who
avoid eye contact except at Star Trek conventions -- people like me have e-mail
and the Internet. Why shouldn't they be proud?
the end of John Hughes' archetypical teen movie, "The Breakfast Club," when
the characters pair off, but the
geek stands alone? That early image suggested that while geeks will succeed
in life, being a geek will have to serve as its own lonely reward. Geek Pride
challenged that idea, positing instead that being a geek is... well, not cool...
but definitely something to feel good about.
And even if their parties end early, these geeks have made a contribution to
the social lives of anyone with access to a computer. Even a technophobe like
me can see why such an accomplishment would make a person proud.
Rosalie Rippey is a freelance writer in Boston. There was a little emotional
scarring from this assignment, but she's fine, really.
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