TT/FF; or, finding your inner Geek and knowing that he/she is AWESOME.

angelico1_awesomeThe Geek Power within. Can you stand it?

For a self-professed observer of human interaction, standing in the center of the convergence of several often-dueling social groups was a rather peculiar and curious event.

Last month, downtown San Diego became a sort of temporary internationally recognized base camp for the biggest names and companies in pop culture. Overrunning the streets, shops and restaurants were a veritable cornucopia of vibrant personalities hailing from all corners of the globe all partaking in the commercialism that has recently found its latest exploitable market in the culture that was once dejected by those who deemed themselves “cooler.”

It wasn’t too long ago, a somewhat skamp of kid with a knack for social interaction and inquiry dressed in second-hand graphic tees, slim jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, and shaggily frizzy hair roamed around with a steno pad, a pen, and a genuinely old messenger bag stolen from his father’s closet. He took notes about what made certain people cool, and others not. His idols were Mariah Carey, Buffy Summers, Fox Mulder, Ed Boon & John Tobias, and Ally McBeal (yeah, well, okay, they still are). And while he acknowledged that others probably noted his devotion to these people were the source of mockery when his back was turned, he brushed off such insults as misunderstandings and carried on with his journey. A journey not just of self-discovery, but of discovery of self with regards to society. Where did he fit in?

You see, it started in high school (don’t most things?). I fluttered about writing for the school paper and yearbook which gave me an opportunity to talk to pretty much everyone, from fellow students to school employees. I watched as people bullied, dated, volunteered, competed, studied, gossiped, and all the other typical goings-on that encompasses the traditional high school experience. I wasn’t socially awkward, I got along well with most of my classmates, save for the one or two bicker matches I found myself in. The problem it took years for me to figure out was that while there were various “in” crowds that took their place in the lunchroom (or journalism room in my case) I wasn’t actually in any of them. It sort of works for someone who can get lost just watching people and their interactions, curious as to what the motivations are behind them. The problem is that it seems to have followed me well into adulthood. I don’t mind as it’s a rather advantageous vantage point to observe the social changes in American society. But what I do mind is the desire to want to feel accepted, which is a natural human desire.

Luckily for me, the last decade has seen a dramatic shift in social acceptance for us observers. Not just observers, but all groups of people who were likely mocked in early years as social rejects for their love of science fiction, their oversized frames (which, back in the day people had not because they were cool, but because they were cheap), fantasy, and anything not as bright and bubbly as the pastels that dominated late 90s fashion. What? I read my Cosmo and Vogue like err’y other gay boy.

It should be known as I write this, I’m watching Full House and I’m drinking Bud Light from a white wine glass. #sryboutit

There are a few factors contributing to geek culture’s growth and acceptance. But before analyzing them, one must understand the term.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of GEEK:

1:
a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake

Definition the first: So uh, I’ll turn to the great and powerful wisdom of one my heroes, Buffy Summers:

I think it goes without saying that geek culture has certainly come a long way from its Osborne-ly origins of yestercentury.

2:
a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked

Definition the second: Getting warmer.
In fact if this were ten years ago, this would entirely be the case; and this is where I found myself in school. Urban Dictionary’s top playful definition seems to fall in line with this as well: “the people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult,” i.e. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Granted, I’m no Zuckerberg, but a guy can dream.

3:
an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>

And there you have it. Technology. The key factor in today’s geek culture that links all subgroups together. From the video game geeks, to the mobile app developers, to the engineers behind the hardware released by Apple (etc. etc.), society’s ever-increasing dependency on technology has enabled those once shunned for their technological brilliance to step up as the architects of our future.

But wait: what’s the difference between a ‘nerd’ and a ‘geek’?

Before continuing with our program, let us quickly differentiate between these two social groups since they are often used synonymously.

In mathematics, it is said that a square can be a rectangle, but a rectangle can never be a square. In our society, a geek can be a nerd, but a nerd can never be a geek. While both usually contain the technologically savvy capabilities to program their way through a labyrinth by developing an iOS app that will give turn-by-turn directions and bring you pizza, the geek, unlike the nerd, will have the social ability of being able to communicate with others, and thus, is able to market the app on a global scale. The nerd will happily exit the labyrinth, eat his pizza and go home to watch a Doctor Who marathon on BBC America while chatting about it in some series-related forum or twitch.tv cast.

We know return to our regularly scheduled program already in progress…

In 2010, Chris Metzen, vice president of franchise development for Blizzard Entertainment, gave a rather empowering speech during the opening Blizzcon 2010 ceremony detailing characteristics of what a “Geek Is…” He gave rather awe-inspiring examples featuring a barrage of geek iconography that left me feeling nostalgic.

Take a moment to review…

#SMH: Metzen Metzen Metzen…you forgot The X-Files man; the geek ever in search of Truth because, you know, the truth is out there. See what I did there?

Essentially, Metzen did for me what I could have done with this blog entry and outline all the cool things that geeks love. Now I don’t have to. Instead, I’d like to think about why we have seen such a dramatic turn in our coolness factor.

Making the Geek: Starting with what you know…

yourfather

There are two things that most kids, enjoyed growing up: music and video games. With the right kind of nurturing (and proper ignoring of many homework assignments), video games presented an opportunity for fun, challenge, and if you were me, a babysitter for two working parents who couldn’t afford proper day care. Most adults today remember fondly their forays into Bowser’s deep castles or their sharpshooting skills with that bright orange laser-popping gun.

Now, couple that with their second love of music. As kids it’s easy to say that our tastes were pretty simple, whatever bright and bubbly popstar looked hot on MTV (back when the network USED to play music – the subject of an entire blog in itself), or whatever our biggest influencers (cool dad, older sibling, etc.) listened to. We sat heartily at the radio with our cassettes (well, those of us old enough to know what those are) and pressed record to make our own mix tapes. And then we walked around and listened to music with our Walkmans in tow giving us our first shackles of what has become an unending enslavement (to that of our constant need of battery juice).

As we fast-forward a few years to the early 2000s, Internet was becoming more and more accessible, so our desire to have things instantly available became mostly insatiable as dial-up and early DSL pretty much limited our reach and capability. Imagine, as my buddy Gil would say, a V6 Mustang, all beauty and looks, but no meat or power behind the wheel that one would have in a V8.  Point of fact, he’d track me down and hit me hard upside the head if ever caught me in a V6, but I digress. With Internet came digital media. Music first, then the videos…but we’ll focus mostly on the music. With digital media came the need for devices to not only store such media, but to play them at will. While it certainly wasn’t the first, or cheapest for that matter, Apple’s iPod revolutionized how we obtained and enjoyed our music – this the company that was led by a man who with the help of his Silicon Valley colleagues (one I could mention in particular) helped make home computing a reality to begin with. I remember chucking out $350 for an early generation three iPod and have probably spent about $170 every other year on a new one since.

Video games progressed over the years as well, with the 2000s being split between the X-Box flagship and the follow-up 360 console, and the Playstations 2 and 3 respectively. Mixing internet with music and video games resulted in one giant eraser that blurred the divisive lines between social groups that normally found themselves happily hating each other. Suddenly everyone was a Guitar Hero and that shy and quiet kid who kept to himself was a superstar who could bust out “Through the Fire and Flames” on expert (because fuck you if you could do that, just saying…I hate that damn song #notbitter).

Social Media & Tech on the Go

Further exacerbating the tech explosion was the mainstream surge of cellular and mobile devices. What started off as an overpriced brick commonly associated by my generation with Zack Morris’ dad became a palm-sized handheld more powerful than even the most advanced Tricorders ever seen on ANY iteration of Star Trek.

Once again, while not the first or the cheapest, Apple pushed forward the smartphone industry bringing us the pretty and powerful iPhone. As a proud owner from day one of the first iPhone, what I remember most beside the Mississippi humidity I stood hours upon hours in to get my phone, was feeling like I literally had the world in the palm of my hands. It was only a few months later when I was walking around the mall I saw everyone on his or her smartphone texting, talking, and wouldn’t you know it, playing games! Because who doesn’t have a phone nowadays and NOT have candy crush. Who?

thisguy_me
‘Nuff said.

Yeah, screw that. That game has taken over my ship, and thankfully, I remain immune. Again, I digress.

Cellular commercialism seemed to be intertwined with the growth of social media. The way we connected to each other grew beyond simple texting. Suddenly, through MySpace and Facebook, Flickr and Instagram, and a countless number of networking Web services some of which have come and gone (RIP MySpace), people are not only talking to each other and expressing themselves, but expanding that expression to millions of other people across the globe.

So what does this all mean?

Well, with gaming, mobile tech, and social and digital media on demand, once nerd-envisioned technology now has a deathgrip on the spotlight once dominated by previous granddaddies of tech, the radio and the TV. And with that the architects behind this technology have become men and women of legend. Community Managers for popular games achieve demigod status, nerds no longer have to hide in their garage to revolutionize mainstream consumer technology, average Joes (or Janes) with a webcam become international YouTube superstars, and even a marine biologist can shift gears, move into the gaming industry and become one of the most beloved (or hated, depending on who you talk to during a development cycle) gaming designers.

It’s no wonder that ‘Con events that were once reserved for the strangest of personalities are now a harbor for all people across various social groups to share in anything made possible through technology.

Film, games, music, comics, all are celebrated, mostly out of a desire to entertain that part of us that never seems to want to grow up. That part that wants to remember that despite whatever we grow through growing up (a hard school test, abuse, social rejection, bullying, and so forth), there were worlds in which we could escape. And those worlds are now more believable and within our reach than ever before.

My world changes day to day. Sometimes it’s on the USS Anchorage. Sometimes it’s in Azeroth. Sometimes it’s chatting up with all my squirrelfriends on the Twitter. I’m not ashamed to admit that I can be a big kid. And you know what….

There is nothing wrong with that.

So to end this, enjoy the awesomeness of the trailer for the forthcoming 5.4 patch of World of Warcraft: Siege of Orgrimmar.

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