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.