It was like a slo-mo, modern-day Revenge of the Nerds, but 1999 was real, and it belonged to the geeks. Some, like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine fame, got their due respect by violent means, but most reclaimed their territory in society via technological ventures. The age of the Internet, and the increased dependency on computers and the people who run them, argues Jon Katz, has created a geek ascension—a world where a formerly despised and outcast group of people has become its most valuable and its most indispensable.
The genesis for Geeks came after Katz wrote a column in Wired titled “The Rise of the Geeks” and received an unexpected flood of e-mails. Among them was one from Jesse Dailey, a computer-savvy 19-year-old whose letter describing his high school Geek Club resonated with Katz. Katz’s initial visit to Jesse’s home in Idaho tested a few hypotheses, eventually forming the themes of his book: Geeks can’t get fired (because who would run the office’s network, fix the computers, and retrieve lost, valuable documents?), and they have unlimited job opportunities at their fingertips.
Throughout Geeks, Katz follows Jesse and his pal Eric from Idaho to Chicago, tracking their mishaps, triumphs, and failures. About midway through, Geeks takes a turn and becomes a giant advertisement for a college education. Geeks without college have endless jobs in offices where there are endless cubicles, maintaining the network and helping the non-nerds navigate simple tasks. Educated geeks can be programmers, Web designers, and, most important, millionaires. The two boys represent the two different roads a geek might follow: Jesse, the one with collegiate dreams, may be a millionaire in the making, and Eric, sans degree, will likely become an office drone.
Geeks is a sharp cultural assessment of the way the word geek has been flip-flopped from a source of pain to one of pride. It has been redefined, Katz argues, the same way that some African Americans and gays and lesbians have reclaimed their respective slurs. As such, many self-identified geeks write Katz of their “coming out” and their empowerment through this self-realization. A snapshot of modern life that could not have existed 10 years ago or 10 years from now, Geeks resonates in what nerds like to call RL—real life.
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