Geek As Citizen: To Advocate

In my ongoing analysis of the role of a “geek as citizen”, I determined geeks were experts at knowing (indeed it’s instinct), driven to apply their knowledge (which is part of our enthusiasm), and thus good at experimenting (as in inclined). Indeed my term “Applied Geek” is a bit like Sahara Desert as all geeks to some case are about “application.”

We know, we use, and in a few cases we go crazy in a (possibly) productive way.

So really my take is that Geeks are a kind of “middleman/middlewoman” in a culture, mixing both academic and hands-on approaches together to get things done and to innovate. I’m not saying geeks are superior, I’m merely noting where they fit into the great scheme of civilization – and being a geek I’m all too aware of my limitations (like the faffing about, occasional obsessiveness, odd perspectives, etc.)

However, as I noted we are kind of “people in the middle” and that provides some further guidance on the social roles we can and indeed should take as geeks. We’ve got information coming in on all sides, we get our hands dirty, we kind of see and do a lot.

Sure we may not be as “face to face” on some things, or as academic, or our hands may not be as dirty as some (which is a terrible metaphor but you get the idea). We may also be limited by our own obsessions to being “in the middle” of a pretty limited area of expertise. But in the middle we are.

That leads to one of our important roles, as advocates and evangelizers for important causes and information. It may be the value of education, or knowing a given programming language, or climate change, or Applied Geek careers like yours truly. But because we’re in the middle of so much, we can in turn advocate for what is important.

  • First, we know our subject matter. Because we know it – and indeed are passionate about it – we can speak on it. If anything, one of our dangers is that we’re a bit too obsessive and specialized.
  • Secondly, we know our subject matter “in action.” We do not have to speak in purely academic terms and some of us are informal enough we don’t want to. We get how things apply, from the issues of self-publishing to the chemistry of the changing environment, probably because we’ve done stuff with it.
  • Third, we know the “hands on” issues of our subject matter since we’re about applied knowledge. We’ve done the chemistry, written the book, seen the economic fallout. We’ve been there. It’s the old “dirty hands” metaphor I’m really getting tired of using – but it fits.
  • Because of this perspective of knowledge and involvement, we can speak from a unique viewpoint of being “in the middle.”
  • Because of our perspective we can, if we use it, reach a broad audience.
  • In many cases, being plugged into our own culture, we have quite an audience there (with the limitation of course that it can be a choir we’re preaching to).

Ever met a technical or product evangelist who knows a subject frighteningly well, can demo a product, and speak your language? Yeah, that’s what some of us geeks can do for important causes.

I just want to encourage us to do it.

In many ways, I consider this an ethical issues for geeks, and where we enter some interesting ethical territory. Our natural inclinations and social positions put us in a spot where I think we are uniquely suited to do some good. We may not always be aware of it or appreciate it, but when you give it some thought, you can see how the “person in the middle” can on many levels do a great deal.

It’s who we are anyway.

So next time you wonder what good you can do realize you’re in a position all your own to do it.

If you’ve wanted to do some good but aren’t sure how – you have more resources than you realize.

Besides, just ask yourself how many people out there changing the world were geeks or used their skills . . .

– Steven “Advocate For Advocacy” Savage