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Letter to the Undead of Geekdom

January 5, 2012

Remember when geeking out over something meant giving a damn unashamedly? Remember scrunching up our brows and trying to find the part of our brain that would make the paper move? We didn’t want to be Jedi because it would be cool, we wanted to be Jedi because we wanted to be capable of things that mattered. Caring about stuff just came easier to us. Every kid watches cartoons, but we were the ones who obsessed. We memorized fact upon fact because it just might matter, because our caring was overflowing our little hearts and it needed to go somewhere. Back when we sunk into books and computer games to storm castles and flood cities we weren’t numbing ourselves, we were straining at the bounds of our childhood realities, looking for adventure and relevance. We were geeks, outcasts, misfits because embedded in our character, constantly reemerging at the seams of our lives, was a penchant for passion.

Do you remember in the second grade when we spent weeks learning cryptography and trying to invent our own algorithms after we read that book on the Beale ciphers?  And I got beat up standing up for a friend and the principal fainted at the sight of all the blood puddling in the hallway and I was certain I was going to die so I made some school administrator solemnly promise to tell one of my code-breakers I loved her. That audacious awkwardness–that refusal to temper oneself for propriety–was the essence of geeky.

So, yes, these days I’m bored to death with the stale social dynamics of game night and can’t conjure any interest in your latest pastime, whether its expensive Warhammer 50K miniatures or foodie excursions where you cosplay at being hipsters. Over the years I’ve gradually stopped collecting, stopped watching, stopped memorizing, stopped playing, stopped lining up, stopped participating and then stopped coming altogether. You look at me like I’ve turned into some kind of alien, but frankly it’s you I can’t recognize anymore.

Do these things really still fill you with passion? Do you turn to them because there isn’t enough in the rest of the world to satiate you or did you give up the spirit somewhere along the way? Because it looks like you’re just going through the motions. Collecting new injokes and references isomorphic to the old ones. Stocking your shelves with the best this and the latest that. I hate this new self-proclaimed ‘geekdom’, one of sterile upper-middle-class lives defined by esoteric consumerist habits, of aloof cynicism and self-conscious inanity. What happened to the hackers? What happened to the boundary pushers, the screaming rage and starry-eyes? What happened to all the give-a-damn that used to define us?

Do you just save it to hand out as haughty bite-sized opinions at dinner parties?

I mean, I get it. I understand. In the end you were poisoned. You were handed this abstract ‘thing’ called adulthood and while you hugged your hard-won badges of identity close you ended up losing track of the forest for the trees. You applied our usual technique; you obsessed over the rules. But in the framework in which they were presented to you. And now you’re trapped in a world at that resolution. Choked off from almost anything deeper or greater.

Debate was such an amazing shortcut to intimacy. All you had to do was pick a fight and suddenly people would be honest, would care! But alienation gave rise to elitism and combativeness developed callouses. And now you’re wrapped in both. With pet opinions and pet specialties, tagged and stored on a shelf to thrust in the faces of guests, but no meaningful motivation. No drive save retreat and distraction.

You’re alone, nobody understands you, so might as well prove it to them by beating them all at the game. At memorizing feminist buzzwords; at clearing the top raid content; at networking with other programmers; at being the queen bee of your little circle; at never being surprised by electoral developments; at ruling the rope-suspension scene; at knowing b-movie trivia; at keeping a upper-tier house and an upper-tier job. It’s all a long fading scream. The impotent after-image of real passion.

We graduated, we got our real life Jedi mind tricks, and the entire world is before us on such epic scale, with stakes to be found in every day as to put any fiction to pale. But it’s never been cool to truly give a damn. And with hardly any turbulence you’ve swung round to embrace that. You’ve built a new life out of the artifacts of a childhood spent pushing in the opposite direction entirely.

You deride me as ‘too cool’ because I’d rather quest to slay neoliberalism than polygon dragons, but those words come out sounding precisely the opposite. I’m not interested in the same things you are. That happens sometimes. But it’s sad to hear that tone from you.  It’s sad to watch you recoil at any unabashed sincerity, seriousness or meaning. To flinch away not from the content of a voice but from its radicalism or ungainly passion. Can you really be said to ‘geek out’ about anything anymore?

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