Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Geek: The Origin of the Species

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As a self admitted Geek, I felt it was my job -- no, my responsibility -- to document the origins of my subspecies. Since Geeks have had historical difficulties meeting and mating with the opposite sex, there is the distinct possibility of the collapse of the species. Therefore, it needs to be written down in history for the ages. As I researched this complex piece, I found there to be distinct Eras in Geek History, each iconified by society. I also found that we have recently entered a new Era in Geek History. But before we reach my chilling conclusion, let us study the Eras that lead up to it.


It can be said that Geek History really starts with the availability of the average man to have access to computers. I say man, not in the general sense of the word but, in fact, the literal sense. I don't in any way, shape or form mean "mankind". No -- I mean man. For to be a Geek is almost essentially a male trait. Just as you look at a calico kitten and proudly proclaim it "female" -- you can look at a Geek and proudly say "male."

This is not to say there were not Geeks before the home computer. I am sure there were caveman Geeks. Thag was probably some geeky caveman -- out chiseling the first wheel with a pointy rock. But I am sure he got no credit for his precious wheel. A much larger and much burlier cavebubba clonked him on the head with a much larger and much pointier rock and stole his beloved invention. I cannot prove this, mind you, but I am pretty sure it is true. But for the purposes of this report, prehistory is only theory and conjecture. The prehistoric period is lost to us.

The Dark Ages

As I mentioned: before the computer, there is no good record of the Geek. I suspect Geek history could not be put on paper. It required a relational database or a wiki... or a wiki built on top of a relational database. Paper was so mainstream and has a poor search interface. The true history began in the mid '70s and ran through the '80s as the computer became accessible and available. And this was a dark, dark time. Geeks were reviled, spat upon, wedgied. Everyone knew they were smart. But they were to be utilized for their intelligence much like a domesticated animal -- the world's mental oxen yoked by their own total lack of social skills.

The iconified Geek of the day was a cartoonish character found in fiction: Spaz from the movie Meatballs, Stork from Animal House, Louis from Revenge of the Nerds, Bill Gates from the sitcom "Microsoft" or Urkel from "Family Matters."

The real working Geek heroes of this time were otherwise unknown: Larry Wall, Paul Vixie, Eric Allman (who was not one of the Allman Brothers). It was this geeky group and many others like them that built the flimsy foundations of the internet. Think of them as the plumbers that pieced together the original tubes we use today. It was their great service in a time of nerd torture that gave us the great gifts we have today. Just think what your life might be in a dark and twisted world without lolcats.

The Golden Years

As the mid 90's rolled around, suddenly real life humans (i.e. non-Geeks) became exposed to computing. Prior to this time the most difficult computing issues humans had encountered was figuring out how to make their VCRs stop flashing 12:00 all the time. Suddenly they were thrust unto a world that required actual computing experience. As the internet was born and began its adolescence it became obvious: Geek was chic.

Instead of being shunned or dunked head first in a toilet, Geeks now had a purpose. "Hey, Larry, can you replace my hard drive?" Or "Hey Poindexter. Can you show me again how to download that pornography?" It became common place in the work environment to assign bribe makers to bake brownies for the IT nerds, assuring preferred treatment for their boss.

Geek icons were no longer fictional characters, but were real life Hollywood-like stars: Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin. These Super Geeks were now cool. They are allowed to drive their autos around town with no license plate requirements -- as long as the car they were driving costs as much as-a house. They own sports franchises. They own their own customized Boeing 767's. One day they were sucking on their asthma inhalers... and the next day they were sex symbols. In 1975, there was no documented case of anyone named Sergey ever getting laid. And by 2005 a Sergey pwnes the interwebs. No greater example could be found of the Dark Ages vs the Golden Years than the Mac ads -- where the slick cool Geek always one-ups the maligned pudgy Geek of yesteryear.

The New Economy

The sudden turn in the economy is quietly bringing an end to the Golden Age of the Geek. Baked goods no longer are a bribe for an IT economy that has been outsourced to India. And this new Era is still unknown... untested. And yet, as I examine the evidence I find it painstakingly obvious: I am the iconic Geek of this new economy. And I have been that Geek all along. The new Geek is the Geek that is also a cheap ass bastard -- in a sense a CABOFH. In true Geek fashion, the comparison can be seen on the following chart:

Golden Years New Economy
It was cool to fill your pockets with expensive gadgetry: Blackberries, iPods, iPhones, iTunes, iGadgets iQuit - Gimme the freebie phone
a house the size of an Ikea live in a metal tool shed
450 horsepower Mercedes AMG 1981 truck named Sally for which I traded a large pizza (with everything)
forget content: your web app needs spinny Macromedia flash applications that consume nothing but CPU and bandwidth a snarky blog page on freebie site that shows how to fix your defective Ford A/C using plumbing parts from ACE hardware gets 20% of your traffic
Monster home theater with stadium seating, drop down projector and a movie popcorn machine 10 year old dusty FrankenTivo... but I can tell you what the internal temperature was on almost any given day
In an effort to make a computer system move from 99.9999% uptime to 99.99999% uptime, you put in duplicate systems in duplicate computer rooms with duplicate power grid connections and wildly diverse routing. There is a realization that 9/100,000th of a percentage costs $3 million dollars and the additional complication of the configuration is actually the cause of most downtime and only one person in the entire universe understands it enough to fix it if it breaks
Geek Chic Geek Cheap
The latest in computer hardware: water cooled, quad cpu (with the OS probably only using one of them), gigabit connected, TCP stack tweaked for quicker gaming, all in a custom neon case that looks like the Millenium Falcon broken 10 year old computers built of stuff your old company was throwing away... with a server/client ratio of 1:1


Og Make Blog said...

No, no, no, no... it's right in front of your eyes and painfully apparent. After reading your timeline (yes, I could see it was the DOW before I got to the right side) it was apparent that every crash of significance beginning in '87 was immediately preceded by a release of Windoze. You even commented on the latest... but look back. I can't believe you missed it.

Oh, it looks like the iPhone3G is what really killed everything.

Spork In the Eye said...

I wonder if it's possible that the current recession is just some Windows box in the corner of the trading floor with a blue screen. Maybe someone just needs to reboot it and everything will be fine.

...oh, and your argument would be more convincing if you weren't running Windows XP when you made it.

Enos Straitt said...

I am proud to say I have been in the "New Economy" category most of my geek life. Growing up poor will do that to you :)

Og Make Blog said...

Hey! I could get really mean and point out that the 12,000 DOW barrier was only broken immediately following iQuit.

I must admit that XP has been cranking along on this box almost flawlessly since Oct. 2005. 2000 on the multi-boot is madder than a March hare.

Anonymous said...

My logizomechanophobia evolved from my awareness that only a very few people know how to create, operate, and repair the computers that control everything in the world. Why don't you guys organize and take charge of it all? Come to think of it, I'd much sooner trust you than the politicians/ clowns who obviously don't understand the basic ABCs of how anything works!

Spork In the Eye said...

A geek coup? I like the idea. The only problem is that we're all too socially phobic to take the spotlight. We'd need some sort of puppet government. No, I mean real puppets.

Og Make Blog said...

Long live Jim Henson!! Awwwww, crap! He's dead.