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October 2005

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 without him

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).

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye