Of course people who know about computers or other technology are helping others, and trying to help others to understand what they know — you’ve only got to pop along to a social media surgery in Birmingham to find that out. And now Manchester people are doing a similar sort of thing too (great!) — but (as I hear from Nick Booth) they’re calling it “Speak to a Geek“.

The sessions will no doubt be really worthwhile, and there’s no end of talent available — but the word “geek” isn’t helping. I see it as creating more barriers, making the helping process more difficult. I’m not having a knock at this particular event, it’s just reminded me to write about what I’ve considered a problem for some time.

It sets up a division between people who do/can and those who don’t – even if one doesn’t already exist. It implies that this is difficult stuff that you need a mathematical or obsessive bent to “get”. That you need to form alliances with people who are different from you —  to do that Cyrano de Bergerac thing where people can only be attractive or witty. Or in Hollywood all those films (10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, etc etc) where a “geek” helps a “jock”  to pass an exam in return for cool help “and they all learn a little about life in the process”.

I’ve been to too many talks/conferences/places where people were trying to help explain something really exciting useful or even game-changing and they started by saying “this is a bit geeky, but”.

In truth the thing to be emphasising is that it’s really exciting/useful/important — if you take a few minutes to enthuse about how it can meet a need or solve a problem then it suddenly becomes a worthwhile tool to use. Something that people are happy to try and test (and learn to use).

There will be people who will talk about “reclaiming the language” and “geek chic” — maybe, but not at the same time as trying to help others understand the technology you’re using (if it’s “geeky” they’re not going to want to know).

There are enough barriers to people making the most of of technology and its associated concepts, without people causing confusion at the same time.

4 thoughts on “Why “geeks” aren’t helping

  1. Hi Jon,

    I’m responsible for the term – I thought it was ‘bouncy’ and captured the essence of the idea fairly well – it came about from a discussion on the self-describing http://geekup.org community mailing list.

    I just thought ‘speak to a professional internet consultant’ didn’t have the same ring to it 🙂

    I think you raise an interesting point about the potential for language reinforcing barriers for using techl, I’m just not sure I agree that it causes any problems.

    The idea for the event came about because we thought there was potentially a lack of knowledge about how to tackle issues such as setting up an effective search engine marketing strategy, using ‘social media’ effectively etc. – if we’re able to share our experiences, and yes, skills into helping those people who regard this stuff as complex, or an non-core activity, then I think the nomenclature is fine.

    The ‘Geeks’ are all professional consultants – professional in that they charge for their time and expertise as ‘geeks’; I think this does create a natural division of skills and labour – basic societal exchange, really 🙂

    It’s a marketing issue, really – we want people to know that a lot of this stuff is easy, cheap and accessible to their organisation…

    I know you’re not having a go at the event (quite the opposite), but thought I’d wade in 🙂

    Maybe this whole issue is analogous to professional chefs sharing their skills and knowledge?

  2. >It’s a marketing issue, really – we want people to know that a lot of this stuff is easy, cheap and accessible to their organisation…

    It’s easy and cheap, and can be done by anyone who cares to try – so it’s not geeky.

    >Maybe this whole issue is analogous to professional chefs sharing their skills and knowledge?

    Um, no don’t see that – the word chef doesn’t have negative connotations. I can’t think of another area of work that degenerates itself so readily.

  3. Speaking as someone who aspires to geekdom, I think the term “geek” is helpful. It makes people who are comfortable and canny with technology seem less intimidating to technophobes. This is a good thing.

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