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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

I recently read an article in Wired magazine written by some guy named Patton Oswalt. He's apparently a comedian or actor or author or something. And he's really irritated about something. In Wake Up, Geek Culture, Time to Die, Oswalt informs us that the internet is going to be the death of geekdom.

I've heard the internet blamed for a lot of things -- falling productivity at work, divorces inspired by internet porn, addiction to online video games, the destruction of the written word by Instant Message shortcuts, to name a few. But I never thought I'd hear the crowning achievement of geek culture blamed for destroying that same culture.

It appears that the internet has made it too easy to become a geek. Oswalt laments the loss of the hunt, when you or one of your geek friends would be the first to find out about something -- Japanese manga or a new, unknown comic book writer or comic book artist or something new on the gaming front -- and gain prestige by introducing everyone else to the discovery. Of course, his idea of "the hunt" is based on the 1980s when it was already getting much easier to be a geek.

When I got into comic books, we didn't have any of those fancy comic book stores around. You had haunt the comic book racks at the local Quickie Mart and hope you managed to find each new issue of the books you followed. When I got interested in role playing games, only major cities had actual game stores. I had to subscribe to magazines to find out about other magazines to subscribe to so I could find the advertisements from the obscure mail order places that sold such things as Dungeons & Dragons and the odd dice used in the game.

Yeah, that's when geeks were true geeks! Oswalt's "good old days" involved going to actual comic book stores and game stores, places that specialized in exactly the stuff he was interested in. Sure, you might still be the first guy in your group to decide to buy a particular comic or game, but it simply as easy as going to the store and spending the money. That was luxury to us older geeks, us true geeks! (Queue a Monty Python sketch, here. Oh, and there's another thing we older geeks had to diligently hunt for. None of that Monty Python's Flying Circus on cable because we didn't have cable!)

So what is Oswalt's problem, anyway? Apparently, simply having access to the internet means that anybody -- anybody -- can learn all there is to know about some obscure, geeky subject in just one weekend. Gosh, that might mean even girls will be able to become masters of geek fu and shame us with their vast knowledge; knowledge gained through the internet rather than earned in the comic book store.

To which I say, "So what?"

Oswalt suffers from the delusion that the true measure of geek is in how much you know about some obscure subject. Despite all his ranting, Oswalt hasn't managed to notice that there is still a distinct subculture that is geekdom. He thinks that information will be sought out by every Tom, Dick, and Harriet simply because the information is out on the internet, just a few keystrokes away.

What sets a geek apart isn't so much what he (or she -- I rather like the idea of having girls in the geek club) knows as it is how deeply he's willing to immerse himself in the subject. When a geek finds something that interests him, he dives headlong into the subject, learning as much as he can about it. A "normal" person, even one who likes role playing games or Japanese manga, simply won't have the level of dedication to spend the time and effort necessary to learn everything they can about their interests. It just wouldn't cross their minds.

In geek terms, Oswalt is a moron. He has confused availability with interest. I hereby cast him from the ranks of the geeks. Let none give him comfort until he learns the error of his ways.

Though I will admit he managed to blame the internet for something I never would have believed it would be blamed.
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