In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
by Brian Dunning
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In high school, the geeks had to take a back seat. In fact, they
had to take the back bumper. The qualities that were prized by
members of the opposite sex involved athletic prowess, bullying
skills, and ability to consume domestically produced alcohol. This
left the geeks, whose interests and aptitudes lay elsewhere, without
characteristics likely to attract dates.
Times eventually evolved, and as everyone who has attended a 10,
20, or 30 year high school reunion knows, the high school jocks
are now insurance agents at best, and the geeks are on the cover
of Wired, and drinking Czech alcohol. The losers in this equation,
the insurance agents and their cheerleader-turned-Botox-patient
counterparts, still can't manage to notice the geeks. But other
geeks, and the more intelligent of those who were on the fence
in high school, are now smelling the pheromone of the 21st
century: Geek Magnetism.
Gates, when he still had a shot
Lanier: A legitimate player
Wozniak: The real deal
Jobs: Trying too hard
Not that all geeks are millionaires now. No, that's jock/Botox
thinking. Those under the spell of Geek Magnetism don't care whether
their quarry is rich or successful. They are drawn to a different
quality, one that is as undeniable as it is irresistible. It is
the power of mind over matter. It is Geek Magnetism, and it is
the power that has vaulted mankind over every hurdle in history.
It is the power that chipped the first obsidian spearhead, and
it is the power of the sliderule in the shirt pocket of the Apollo
mission controllers. Geek Magnetism has come to be a real factor
in the world of romance.
Anderson: Something's going to pop, and it's not an idea
Fabio, because no article on who's cool and who's not could be complete
Barger: Hot, in a geeky kind of way
Farmer: Showing how it's done
Those who attend What
the Hack in the Netherlands have Geek Magnetism.
Longhaired dudes in hammocks, ripping through command line OpenBSD
on their laptops, attending sessions like "Politics
of Psychedelic Research" and "Fun and Mayhem with RFID,"
are undeniably cool. Poseurs at the more commercialized, not-in-the-Netherlands
conferences like Def Con rank at least one solid ladder rung
lower. Las Vegas? Come on, junior, frat boys go to Vegas. Going
to hit the tables? Going to slap some high fives at the strip club?
Do some shooters, maybe? Hooyah.
Bill Gates could have had Geek Magnetism, and perhaps did long
ago; but since he "sold out to The Man" and became all
corporate, he's just another unhip stiff. Take one of the guys
who really did start it all, like Jaron Lanier, who never left
his hippie roots. Now, granted he's a white guy with dreadlocks,
which is over the top of Mount Cliché; but at least they're
not extensions like those found on the kids beating drums at White
House protests. Jaron does play rare Asian musical instruments
and has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival on his own
merits. Which of these two guys will a tech chick go for: Bill
Gates or Jaron Lanier? No, Bill, no need for you to look over your
shoulder and see if Melinda is nearby. Unless you're worried that
she's Googling for Jaron's email address.
Woz is another guy with Geek Magnetism. He goes
by Woz, and needs no other name, and puts on rock concerts. Woz
could spray paint machine language on the side of his VW Transporter
and be even cooler for it. Could a young lawyer from Nantucket?
I don't think so. Woz probably doesn't own a tie. His old partner,
Steve Jobs, doesn't look quite natural in his jeans
and black turtleneck every day. It seems a little forced, and is
a turnoff. But Woz can fall asleep at his desk with a shrimp stuck
in his beard, and to the tech chicks, it's hot.
Male geeks don't necessarily gawk at Pamela Anderson. She's held
together with Super Glue, and if you rattled her head, a few pieces
would be sure to fall off. Male geeks' detectors go off when they
thumb past an article about black hole research hottie Amy Barger,
or mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani. These are some chicks who could
appreciate a good Belgian ale, and talk about Star Trek. If a male
geek was on a date with Pamela Anderson, what would there be to
talk about? Clinique, or XQuery?
Now, it's important to understand that Geek Magnetism does not
simply result from a possession of technical prowess, but rather
from its application. A cracker who plays Doom 3 all day may well
know Unix better than most, but few would consider that Mountain
Dew slurping, expensive video card possessing loser to be cool.
And there are two ways to crack encryption: one is to write fraudulent
affiliate marketing cookies onto the PC's of everyone in the world,
and the other is to post the algo to a blog for the benefit of
the bankers. One is cool, the other is not. Maybe the affiliate
clown gets away with it and makes a ton of cash, but the other
guy, like mid-90's SATAN author Dan Farmer, gets publicly crucified
and then martyred as an Uber Geek with Magnetism galore. He had
tattoos and long hair, too, and probably owned a VW at some point.
His was a disruption that forced mankind into yet another small
step upward. Bram Cohen, creator of BitTorrent, used the intimidation of his cool first name to leverage the Hollywood studios into acquiescing to a deal with his disruptive file sharing technology.
So the message to geeks is to keep it up. If someone tells you
to be less of a dork, crank it up to 11 instead. It's better
for you, and it might just be better for the world too. Be true
to your geekhood, and your geekhood will be true to you. You will
ooze Geek Magnetism (or induct it, if you're really a geek).