This is something that's been bubbling inside me for quite a while now, and something which still irritates me: The idea that geeks are 'bad', or that they should be ashamed of who they are. This notion was recently pushed in my face while I was in the middle of a frustrating search for a new flat-share, here in unrelenting London.
Having noticed the only adornment in a potential home's living room was an old Robocop poster, and having made amiable chit-chat about the 1987 Paul Verhoven classic, and then spotting a crudely hidden collection of consoles under an old table cloth, I felt I was on pretty solid ground: The two 23 year old men who lived in this flat were, like me, geeks. Geeks without any talent for interior design, yes, but geeks non-the-less.
Learning that one of them worked at Microsoft, only backed up my initial reaction. Here was a pair from the same ilk as me, with the same interests and passions. Here was common ground, and the promise of enjoyable conversations and sharing of mutually relished past-times. In other words, bonding material.
"So", I later ventured cheerfully to the girl who was showing me around, and whose room was being vacated, "I take it there are some geeks here?". Her face, suddenly serious, took me off guard. "We don't like that word in this household", she fake-niced to me.
I faltered. What could be wrong with being a geek in this day and age? Are we not fully integrated members of society? Have we not earned the right to be who we are?
To be who are are.
I was quickly ushered out of the house, knowing I hadn't got the room. Polite goodbyes. A geek and geek-sympathiser, banished.
What's going on?
Those two men were geeks. They were geeks before I noticed the crudely blu-tacked sci-fi movie poster on their, otherwise bare, living-room wall. Before I noticed the gaming consoles. Before I learned one of them worked for Microsoft. Before I called them geeks. They were so geeky that their housemate was aware that they were sensitive to the word. Sensitive to it.
Why is this something to be ashamed of? Those that want to be seen as cool; why don't they realise that being a geek is cool?
The generally accepted idea of 'cool' is, I believe, someone who likes the 'right' things, does the 'right' activities and wears the 'right' clothes. In other words, someone who fits in with other people's shallow ideals. Someone who follows fashion. Someone who, unless they're genuinely being themselves, is controlled by the opinions of others, and if they are genuinely being themselves, enthralled by the shallow.
Is this really something to aspire to?
I'm sure most of you are already aware of what I'm getting at, but it surprises me how many people, even those much older than me, haven't learned this yet. Cool is subjective. Cool is temporary. Cool is in the minds of others. Why let other people control what you do with your limited time on Earth, and how come you haven't realised that everything worthwhile ever created was created by a geek?
That sounds like a bold statement, but it's true. So why do folks like my two (previously) potential flatmates feel so bad at being thought of being one?
Well, for one thing, it takes guts to be who you are in a society that bombards us with advertising telling us we're not good enough as we are, not pretty enough, not well-dressed enough, not popular enough.
Another problem is that sometimes we forget how transient 'cool' is. For example, if, dear reader, you're young, and you're part of a music scene you consider to be 'cool'. You probably think that the music that people who are older than you listen to is 'uncool'. If so, brace yourself for a bit of a shock: In ten years, that music you love will be considered old fashioned. Dated. 'Uncool', by the little tykes younger than you, who need to reject what came before them and find their own voice.
Not only that, but geeks created that music you love. You don't become and accomplished musician or song-writer by going to parties, getting wasted and nearly drowning in your own vomit. You do it by staying in, night after night, practising, learning, honing. Then, when you think you're good enough to display your skills in public, you spend the rest of your time organising and scheduling. You don't get to be a fuck-head rockstar until your record company is reaming your money off of you, you've been touring your ass off, you're fed up and, all of a sudden, the world wants to make you happy.
Some people get this backwards. They are not cool.
The people you see on TV, in magazines, in films, have all been dressed, lit, framed and, usually in the case of magazines, airbrushed, in order to sell you things. Talk about aspiring to shallowness.
If what you're aspiring to be is only going to age, be considered 'uncool' and ultimately be discarded, should you forever keep progressing and trying to keep up?
If that's naturally what you love doing and it makes you happy, then fair enough, of course, that's great. If you're following fashion because you feel that others won't like you any more if you don't, then that's not so cool. If you judge others on their ability to follow fashions as well as you, then, well, you're scum.
The truth is that the only thing you've got that will last and that will genuinely make you happy, is you're own opinion. It's the only thing that will not date, will not go out of fashion and can, if you're brave enough to listen to it, genuinely make you happy.
It's also what leads people to become obsessed with things and create. Every writer, musician, artist, inventor, scientist, and generally anyone who is truly successful at something they enjoy, is a geek. They are driven and controlled by the things they love, not what others love.
This the message behind the common cliché "be yourself".
If you can be yourself, ignoring what others consider to be 'uncool' or 'cool', then you've got my respect, because those that can remain themselves in face of those who tell them they're 'uncool' have a difficult path.
It's one thing to be affable and attempt to ingratiate yourself to people, that's great, but it's another thing entirely to be afraid or ashamed of your passions.
It takes a lot of courage to be yourself, especially if you're surrounded by people telling you that you're 'wrong'. It takes even more bravery to know that this is the reaction you're going to get, but to still decide to stay true to yourself and keep going.
The people that succeed at his are the real rebels and innovators, and they inspire others to do the same.
Provided you are mindful of the thoughts and feelings of those around you. Provided what you love causes no harm to others (and you know within yourself whether that's true or not). Then why not jump right in and splash around? Enjoy yourself. I know I'll certainly salute and admire you for it, and you'll undoubtedly find yourself having a good time, too.
In a perfect world our character, not our clothes or chosen past-times, would be what we're judged on. If you're a great, supportive friend, if you're a loving spouse, parent or sibling. If you're wonderful person to those around you, why should it matter that you catalogue and collect local fungi on the weekend? That you stand for hours on platform waiting for that train to arrive? That you get excited when you see certain postage stamps?
Be honest with yourself. If you're a geek, embrace it. Don't be afraid of losing face with those people you consider to be 'cool'. Those that stick around you will be better friends than those you have to impress.
Embrace yourself and your idiosyncrasies, learn to love what you are. This is the only life you've got, and it's closer to ending every single minute.
So don't grab hold of life, grab hold of yourself and don't let go. It's the only thing that you can truly trust to make you happy.
Now if only I could find a bloody flat to live in.