Geek

My working definition of "geek" is: a person who collects functionality. I've had this in the back of my mind for years, and accepted it without knowing what else it might mean, but recently I made a connection. In the comments section of an earlier post I wrote:
I think people get wrapped up in the latest toy/tool, and they forget about the older, subtler stuff [like talking face to face]. Solving problems (like figuring out how to work a machine) is so ingrained in us, and has such immediate rewards, that it's kind of addictive.
Collecting functionality gives us problems to solve - simple, rational ones - that give us an opportunity to get that rush of accomplishment. I now think it's related to consumerism, where the problem is deciding what to buy, the effort is the research, and the reward is the belief that you bought something superior or cheaper. The difference is that most geekisms involve some kind of DIY element where the geek adds value, maybe by assembling or repairing or modifying what they acquire. Consumerism is passive; it just collects.

To collect functionality, though, is to run the risk of forgetting why the technology exists in the first place. Most of the Internet, for example, exists to assist communication. But it defeats the purpose to sit there fiddling with your computer or your phone when you should be having a conversation with someone who's actually in the room.

Here's an example: I heard of a technology conference where Twitter was being used to liveblog various presentations. The idea was to help attendees decide if they wanted to step into presentations already in progress. It can really help make conferencegoing more efficient and this application is a solid win for Twitter. But in a couple cases, the twitter feedback was negative: the audience panned the speaker. The thing is, they didn't do it out loud; the speaker didn't know about their objections until it was all over, if at all. As far as I'm concerned, this is the height of hipster selfishness. I'll save you my righteous indignation, but I've made plenty of technical presentations to anonymous audiences, and I regard feedback as a professional obligation.

I try not to go over the edge. Sometimes it's hard to keep the map of the forest in mind when I'm picking my way through the trees. I'm a geek too, after all.