Typing Monkey, Geek Culture

A Wednesday dispatch from The Typing Monkey, on socialization, the internet, geeks, girls, and dialectical materialism.  Clever monkey.

There is currently a conversation on the internet about whether “girls” are excluded unfairly from “geek” culture. I came across this fascinating post from a young woman named Serenity Caldwell, who took up the conversation as an opportunity to talk about her constant fear that members of the “geek” community might mistake her for Sarah Palin. By which she means “stupid” and not worthy to be a “geek.” She calls these gatekeepers the “fraud police,” and they apparently have a tendency to make “girls” unwelcome in “geek” society.

Her name is Serenity, she’s 24 years old, went to Hampshire and lives in Boston, so I guess the confusion with Sarah Palin is natural.

Anyway, I feel compelled to comment, and she posted this on Tumblr, where you are only permitted to “like,” and then only if you’re a member of the club. I don’t think they allow monkeys, and my feelings are a little more nuanced. So here, for whatever it’s worth, a few things:

1. I was at a wretched party recently. Lawyers and doctors trying to force their business cards on each other. Food was good. Anyway, I was talking to someone in the corner and said, “Maybe in the next life I’ll be good at this.” He said, “The secret is not to care.”

I could write a book about the wisdom hidden in this, but instead I will just point out that any social group is composed of a large number of actual people with diverse and complicated motives for wanting to interact with other people in the group. Making newcomers feel welcome is usually surprisingly high on the list of things that people in these room (any rooms) want, sometimes even too high. Humans are like that. But they want other things, too — food, shelter, procreation, good verdicts. This is also human nature. I am not saying this to imply that people should put up with jerks. I just mean you have to learn to route around people who aren’t paying the kind of attention to you that you’d like. That’s what the internet is for, after all. Networking.

2. It’s possible that the members of what Caldwell calls the “fraud police” know more about fear than she credits them for, and that insight might suggest to her some strategies for dealing with them. Just putting that out there. Maybe I am saying you should (sometimes) put up with jerks. People have hidden depths.

3. Okay, Sarah Palin. I’m not going to belabor the obvious point that some people consider Sarah Palin to be a victim of the same dynamic that Caldwell is talking about. That would look too much like literary criticism. But I would ask Caldwell to think about the fact that there might be a statistically significant fraction of the population who (a) are geeks and (b) actually, honestly like Sarah Palin. Is an unfunny joke and the approbation that might come from broadcasting tedious and shopworn political opinions in a forum where those tedious and shopworn political opinions aren’t exactly novel worth alienating that person?

Answer? Sure, maybe. Am I telling her to like Sarah Palin, or at least shut up about it? No. Seriously. This is the internet, she can say what she likes. My advice is for the young conservative geek who might otherwise have found what she has to say compelling or at least interesting. Or just might want to talk to people like this at parties.

“The secret is not to care.”

4. I think there should be a law that requires the word “geek” to be set off in ironic quotation marks and hyperlinked to the Urban Dictionary definition of “humble brag”.   See also the “Status” chapter in Keith Johnstone’s Impro.

5. Okay, literary criticism. Can’t help myself. The author is a graduate of one of the most expensive colleges in the country, lives in one of the most expensive cities in the country, and has a real job as a writer in a world where that is not a small accomplishment. She clearly is being brought along and mentored by a variety of successful people in her chosen field. And yet she’s trying to associate herself with this discussion about women who are afraid to be heard in the public sphere.

Note that I’m not saying I doubt that she, like all women, experiences sexism. I just find it interesting that she begins the discussion of sexism in her life by denigrating Sarah Palin and ends it with a denunciation of “boisterous braggarts who come into a situation ignorant to the facts and who want to be the center of the discussion—even if they have no idea what the discussion is.”

Her conclusion about the “braggarts” is: “there’s a certain sort of smug satisfaction that comes with taking them down—it’s clear they don’t respect your subject, so why should you respect them?” Kinda ugly when you take it out of context.

Anyway — maybe her status anxiety has more to do with class then gender?


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