Category Archives: glocalisation

The Geek Niche (Draft)

As explained before, I am not a “visual” thinker. Unlike some other people, I don’t draw witty charts all the time. However, I do occasionally think visually. In this case, I do “see” Venn diagrams and other cutesy graphics. What I’m seeing is the proportion of “geeks” in the world. And, to be honest, it’s relatively clear for me. I may be completely off, but I still see it clearly.

Of course, much of it is about specifying what we mean by “geek.” Which isn’t easy for someone used to looking at culture’s near-chaotic intricacy and intricacies. At this point, I’m reluctant to define too clearly what I mean by “geek” because some people (self-professed geeks, especially) are such quick nitpickers that anything I say about the term is countered by more authorized definitions. I even expect comments to this blog entry to focus on how inaccurate my perception of geeks is, regardless of any other point I make.

Ah, well…

My intention isn’t to stereotype a group of people. And I don’t want to generalize. I just try to describe a specific situation which I find very interesting. In and of itself, the term “geek” carries a lot of baggage, much of which is problematic for anyone who is trying to understand an important part of the world in which we all live. But the term is remarkably useful as a way to package an ethos, a style, a perspective, an approach, a worldview, a personality type. Among those who could be called “geeks” are very diverse people. There might not even a single set of criteria to define who should legitimately be called a “geek.” But “geekness” is now a reference for some actions, behaviors, markets, and even language varieties. Describing “geeks” as a group makes some sense, even if some people get very sensitive about the ways geeks are described.

For the record, I don’t really consider myself a geek. At the same time, I do enjoy geekness and I consider myself geek-friendly. It’s just that I’m not an actual insider to the geek coterie.

Thinking demographically has some advantages in terms of simplification. Simple is reassuring, especially in geek culture. So, looking at geek demographics on a broad scale…

First, the upper demographic limit for geekery. At the extreme, the Whole Wide World. What’s geeky about The World?

Number of things, actually. Especially in terms of some key technologies. Those technologies some people call “the tech world.” Consumer electronics, digital gadgets, computers…

An obvious tech factor for the upper limit of geekness is the ‘Net. The Internet is now mainstream. Not that everyone, everywhere truly lives online but the ‘Net is having a tremendous impact on the world as a whole. And Internet penetration is shaping up, in diverse parts of the world. This type of effect goes well with a certain type of “low-level geekness.” Along with widespread online communication, a certain approach to the world has become more prominent. A techno-enthusiastic and troubleshooting approach I often associate with engineering. Not that all engineers uses this type of approach or that everyone who uses this type of approach is an engineer. But, in my mind, it’s an “engineering worldview” similar to an updated set of mechanistic metaphors.

Another obvious example of widespread geek-friendly technology is the cellphone. Obvious because extremely widespread (apparently, close to half of the human population of the planet is cellphoned). Yet, cellphones are the geekiest technology item available. What makes them geeky, in my eyes, is the way they’re embedded in a specific social dynamic emphasizing efficiency, mobility, and “always-on connectivity” along with work/life, group/individual, and public/private dichotomies.

The world’s geekiness can also be observed through other lenses, more concerned with the politic and the social drive of human behavior. Meritocracies, relatively non-judgemental ethics, post-national democracies, neo-liberal libertarianism, neo-Darwinian progress-mindedness, networked identities… Figures on populations “affected” by these geeky dimensions of socio-political life are hard to come by and it’s difficult to tell apart these elements from simple “Westernization.” But it’s easy to conceive of a geeky version of the world in which all of these elements are linked. In a way, it’s as if the world were dominated by geekdom.

Which brings me to the lower demographic limit for geekiness: How many “true geeks” are there? What’ are the figures for the “alpha geek” population?

My honest guesstimate? Five to ten million worldwide, concentrated in a relatively small number of urban areas in North America and Eurasia. I base this range on a number of hunches I got throughout the years. In fact, my impression is that there are about two million people in (or “oriented toward”) the United States who come close enough to the geek stereotype to qualify as “alpha geeks.” Haven’t looked at academic literature on the subject but judging from numbers of early adopters in “geeky tech,” looking at FLOSS movements, thinking about desktop Linux, listening to the “tech news” I don’t think this figure is so far off. On top of these U.S. geeks are “worldwide geeks” who are much harder to count. Especially since geekness itself is a culture-specific concept. But, for some reason, I get the impression that those outside the United States who would be prototypical geeks number something like five million people, plus or minus two million.

All this surely sounds specious. In fact, I’m so not a quant dude, I really don’t care about the exact figure. But my feeling, here, is that this ultra-geeky population is probably comparable to a large metropolitan area.

Of course, geeks are dispersed throughout the world. Though there are “geek meccas” like Bangalore and the San Francisco Bay Area, geeks are often modern cosmopolitans. They are typically not “of a place” and they navigate through technology institutions rather than through native locales. Thanks to telecommuting, some geeks adopt a glocal lifestyle making connections outside of their local spheres yet constructing local realities, at least in their minds. In some cases, übergeeks are resolute loners who consciously try to avoid being tied to local circles.

Thanks in part to the “tech industry” connections of geek society, geek-friendly regions compete with one another on the world stage.

Scattered geeks have an impact on local communities and this impact can be disproportionately large in comparison to the size of the geek population.

Started this post last week, after listening to Leo Laporte’s  TWiT “netcast.” 

The TWiT Netcast Network with Leo Laporte

 …

I wanted to finish this post but never got a round tuit. I wanted to connect this post with a few things about the connection between “geek culture” in the computer/tech industry and the “craft beer” and “coffee geek” movements. There was also the obvious personal connection to the subject. I’m now a decent ethnographic insider-outsider to geek culture. Despite (thanks to) the fact that, as a comment-spammer was just saying, I’m such a n00b.

Not to mention that I wanted to expand upon JoCo‘s career, attitude, and character (discussed during the TWiT podcast). And that was before I learned that JoCo himself was coming to Austin during but not through the expensive South by Southwest film/music/interactive festivals.

If I don’t stop myself, I even get the urge to talk about the politics of geek groups, especially in terms of idealism

This thoughtful blogpost questioning the usefulness of the TED conference makes me want to push the “publish” button, even though this post isn’t ready. My comments about TED aren’t too dissimilar to many of the things which have appeared in the past couple of days. But I was going to focus on the groupthink, post-Weberian neo-liberalism, Well/Wired/GBN links, techy humanitarianism, etc.

 

Ah, well… 

Guess I should just RERO it and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll be able to leave those topics behind. RSN

TBC


Jeunes francophones au Canada

En réponse à mon billet sur l’émission Les pieds dans la marge (de Radio-Canada), un lien sur l’émission VOLT de TFO-TVOntario. Cette émission ontarienne semble avoir été le lieu de rencontre du trio marginal de RadCan. Les deux émissions se ressemblent dans une certaine mesure mais Volt me fait l’effet d’une émission dirigée vers un public légèrement plus jeune et, surtout, [après avoir regardé On se French, mais est-ce qu’on se connaît?, il me semble clair que le public cible a le même âge que pour Les pieds dans la marge] spécifiquement franco-ontarien. Puisque les Québécois connaissent généralement très peu de choses des francophones canadiens hors-Québec, les liens entre les deux émissions sont plutôt intéressants.

Là où Volt a l’avantage, c’est que plusieurs portions de l’émission sont disponibles en balado-diffusion. Idéal pour un «Canadien errant mais non banni de ses foyers». Ça veut donc dire qu’il me sera possible de voir certains bouts de Volt depuis le Texas, à partir de la fin de l’année.

Si au moins Radio-Canada pouvait faire la même chose avec Les pieds dans la marge et Infoman, rendant ces émissions disponibles en-ligne. Et si Télé-Québec pouvait suivre la tendance en diffusant, en-ligne, des épisodes complets de Pure laine, Méchant contraste et les séries du Rebut Global. À tout bien penser, ce sont les seules émissions que je regarde, à l’occasion.

Dans une certaine mesure, la mission de TFO ressemble à celle de Télé-Québec. Dans les deux cas, l’aspect régionaliste et décentralisateur semble important. Pour le reste, il y a toute la portion éducative, la question de la diversité culturelle, etc. Historiquement, ces deux réseaux de télévision me semblent avoir été fondés dans des contextes socio-politiques assez semblables mais désormais distincts.

Évidemment, à moi qui ne regarde que très peu la télévision, il m’est facile de me méprendre sur le sens de certaines politiques de programmation.


Little Guy Winning

Gotta love it when normal people who were being bullied by large corporations maintain their ground until the big corporation gives up. Regardless of tort reform and any such country-specific issue, the fact that artisan David can win against corporate Goliath is reassuring to those of us who aren’t way up in the corporate ladder. Even those who are, in fact, CEOs of global corporations should take notice as smaller businesses adapt more quickly than the corporate equivalent of dinosaurs do.

Case in point: artisan roaster and Tulsa café DoubleShot Coffee Company in marketing/legal conflict with corporate giant Starbucks (*$, among CoffeeGeeks).

Result: DoubleShot Coffee Company won

Starbucks was using intimidation tactics (threat of a lawsuit) to get DoubleShot Coffee Company to change their name (because Starbucks has a coffee-based canned drink trademarked “Starbucks DoubleShot(tm)”). IMHO, that was a bad move for Starbucks, in terms of good will from the wide world of quality coffee. But now that Starbucks has backed down from the potentially suing DoubleShot, they definitely have some egg on their (corporate) face.

Whether or not anyone agrees with anything Starbucks does, whether or not you think that Starbucks had a leg to stand on, in a court of law, you might agree that local cafés and coffee roasters serve an important purpose on the global stage.