Date sent: Mon, 12 May 1997 20:03:00
From: Kathy Rae Huffman

Geeks in Space

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 (, 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 of respect for 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 ( ).

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 Whether one is a geek girl or a geek dude, to be regarded as a 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", (, 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 (, 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 development.

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 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 ( 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 =3D suicide. Eric Davis, a California netculture theoretician, states that "...computers satisfy mystical urges for total awareness, and magical urges for total information control" ( and that "...cyberspace is more than a’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
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