It has been prevalent among many cultures to laugh at geeks. But this is a shortsighted approach to this special breed.
Geeks have been with us for a long time. Back in our cave dwelling days, while most of the tribe were running around with pointed sticks trying to catch some dinner, there was a geek back at camp fiddling with an interesting bit of rock that could be sharpened into a better tool for catching dinner.
Great geeks of history have included doctors, scientists and engineers, and today this category also includes software developers, hardware designers, network engineers, etc.
Geeks are the people in our society who ask ‘why’, and this question is often followed by ‘why not?’ They are the people who pull things apart, and who try to put them back together better than before. Who see what another geek just did and think ‘if that is possible then my idea might just work too’. They are the ones who work on their projects, often unpaid, through genuine passion for the work itself. And sometimes this effort leads to significant advances in technology or in thought.
Until recent times it was often lonely being the only geek in town. Other people were intolerant of the constant questions or the abstraction while thinking about a new idea. Geeks getting so focused on their new idea that they forget to eat, sleep or (sometimes) wash has caused relationship stress for many.
But the internet (which was built by geeks) has empowered geeks to reach out and meet others like them. Hyperconnective tools (things like Slashdot, Twitter and Friendfeed) mean that our geeks are no longer isolated from each other.
With the myriad of challenges facing our world we need to harness this natural predilection of geeks to question, to debate, to come up with new and different technologies, and new ways of thinking.
A sensible society would be looking at its geeks and trying to work out how best to nurture their ingenuity and passion, how to support their endeavours and to channel them into addressing the great problems of the day.
[Image source: my favourite online store for t-shirts ThinkGeek – we have no commercial relationship but if they want to send me a t-shirt it would be most welcome.]