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Return of the Geeks

If you were intrigued by our last post, which touched on a TPM Café discussion between Clay Shirky and danah boyd concerning the nature, essentially, of geekdom, you might enjoy Chapter 1 of Christopher M. Kelty’s Two Bits. As Kelty described at this week’s Berkman Luncheon, the book’s opener is an anthropological essay on geeks. Now, Kelty’s definition focuses on geeks as the technologically innovative tour de force responsible for the Internet (and not on Digital Native geeks), but he does acknowledge the origins of geek subculture:

Until the mid-1990s, hacker, geek, and computer nerd designated a very specific type: programmers and lurkers on relatively underground networks, usually college students, computer scientists, and “amateurs” or “hobbyists.” A classic mock self-diagnostic called the Geek Code, by Robert Hayden, accurately and humorously detailed the various ways in which one could be a geek in 1996—UNIX/ Linux skills, love/hate of Star Trek, particular eating and clothing habits—but as Hayden himself points out, the geeks of the early 1990s exist no longer. The elite subcultural, relatively homogenous group it once was has been overrun: “The Internet of 1996 was still a wild untamed virgin paradise of geeks and eggheads unpopulated by script kiddies, and the denizens of AOL. When things changed, I seriously lost my way. I mean, all the ‘geek’ that was the Internet was gone and replaced by Xfiles buzzwords and politicians passing laws about a technology they refused to comprehend.”

Check out the rest of the book, which is under a CC Non-Commercial, Attribution, ShareAlike license so you can mix and mash it.

Nikki Leon