Geek As Citizen: Ties To The Community

Saint Nicholas Charity

I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues of “techies” in San Francisco and the surrounding area. They’re supposedly obnoxious, driving up home prices, Google buses are getting a free pass and blocking traffic, the startup ideas are stupid, etc. If you haven’t heard about it . . . well I live in Silicon Valley and I hear a lot about it.

Though admittedly being south of San Francisco, some of it is probably a sort of bias – there seems to be a kind of SF/San Jose area split here.

Now there are issues of changes in San Francisco and the surrounding areas, but in reality none are as simple, clean cut, or frankly tech related as many people may think.  A lot of attempts to cover it are sadly over simplified and over generalized.  I myself have my own issues with some of what’s going on in San Francisco, but feel a lot of it is blown out of proportion – and population shifts, economic changes, and the like are part and parcel of big cities.

That being said, there’s concerns – and when you get a lot of people moving into an area there is going to be a sense of distance and alimentation. The new population could be totally great people, but they’re still outsiders – and that’s not helped when money and expense is a major issue, and even more so in this economy.

(Actually the issues of the larger economy, income inequality, and more are indeed larger issues that should be addressed)

Anil Dash, always a gentleman I follow, gave an example of how the technical community could build goodwill – and as an example it’s literally stuff he brainstormed off the top of his head. I don’t agree with some of his thesis, some of what he says rings true.

A lot of his writing was about things that people could do that would not only help people, but involve them in the local community. In fact, if I were to sum up his advice it’s not so much this or that, but be involved in the place you live and work.

This is a great message for Geek Citizens.  I’ll be focusing on that.

The Outsider Issue

When you move somewhere (or get moved somewhere) you’re an outsider, face it. You’re the person from elsewhere. Even if you live among a community “like” you, you’re part of a larger community, town, city, and even state.

You can even be an outsider in your larger community depending on upbringing, social separation, etc.

Humans naturally are careful about outsiders; it’s a survival trait. I’m not going to disrespect that because unsurety and caution is part of life. Culture and civilization help us develop larger senses of associations that mitigate some of our issues, after all.

So, part of what Mr. Dash was covering is a very simple lesson – don’t be an outsider.

This is a bit of a problem with geeks, techs, otaku, and more. We’re used to being outsiders. Even for the “younger generation” there’s still some division. We are in an age of geek, but really, you can see the walls there (when “techie” is an insult, you’ve got something going on). In fact I’d go as far as to suggest theres a bit of anti-geek in some of this, echoes of the past.

I’d suggest a lot of us are not used to building community connections with the larger community. Humans are naturally social, but community is something we’re so used to being part of we can miss when someone’s got to go damn well build it.

And, for the SF scene or any geek, maybe we need to think more about how we get involved.  We’re awful good at building things . . .

Big Connections

I’m not saying you have to go on some kind of local crusade – or maybe you do. I’m not sure – part of why I write on Geek Citizenship is not just to give advice but to help me think, consolidate my thoughts, and get feedback. But what I am saying is that you should get involved in your local community somehow.

It’s not just about bridging gaps and keeping people from hating us (though hey, great benefit since I don’t want us to trade wedgies for public condemnation).  It’s more:

  • It bridges gaps and prevents hate from forming. If you go donate to a charity, get involved with a homeless shelter, support your local library, each act is an act that bridges any geek-community gap. When enough people do this then there is no gap.
  • It sets an example. Look, people need to be more involved in communities period – and we’ve already got great examples in cons and geek charities.  Go do it, set an example.
  • It opens up our mind. The more you help and get involve the more ways you find to do it. Trust me, the entire Geek Job Guru thing I do is responsible for this column series because it exposed me to so many people who needed help.
  • It makes you aware of what others experience. Odds are you, me, and the other readers do not entirely get how some people even a few blocks or few miles of us suffer. Community involvement makes you aware.
  • It makes you aware of your community as a whole, and all it’s issues. Trust me, you probably don’t really understand all the issues in your community; I know I don’t always.
  • It builds a more stable world. Look we can help, so go do it.
  • It’s the right thing to do. We can use more of that.

Yeah, some are obvious. Helps to list them however.  I do like my lists.

So Where Do You Start?

So where do you start? You start by giving it a shot and getting involved.  Just try something.

  • Your company may do a lot of community things. It may help to join up with them (and maybe promote those things because people may not be aware of them)
  • Your city probably has some ways to sign up to help out – the city I live in actually has a kind of “free job board” where you can sign up to help with city services. Local city and county facilities may also have volunteering options – our local  library has been very vocal and active (especially after a funding cut).
  • There are probably a bunch of charities, causes, events, spaces, and so forth you could join up with. Again it depends on your area, but go do it.
  • You yourself may have a particular cause you can do solo – my geek job guru thing is one of those (though I have to say I’m not sure it connects me to the larger community as much as I’d like). What can you do to make a difference – and then team up with others.
  • Many conventions and fan events have charity involvements. Help with those. If they’re selecting charities, you may want to encourage local ones.
  • Conventions and clubs can do charity events outside of their normal timeframe -maybe you can get the gang to get together every few months to tutor or help at a shelter or something. One Meetup I attend had someone turn her housewarming party into a charity drive for a children’s hospital, taking video game donations.
  • Any professional association is likely to have charities, causes, and community involvement you can help with.
  • Go donate money or something. Maybe you’re insanely busy, but at least you’re helping and aware. Every bit counts, though I think face-to-face involvement is best.

It’s one step at a time to be community involved. But remember Mr. Dash came up with a bunch of ideas sitting on his bus – I’m sure you can out brainstorm him. Or for that matter, me.

How Much Is Enough?

So what’s the appropriate level of community involvement? Well frankly . . I don’t know if I have an answer.

Nope, no answer. Not sure. I’m still figuring out geek citizenship myself, as noted. But I figure if we jump in, we’ll learn.

But I think it is needed. Sure it’d be great for the SF tech scene, but in general as we geeks get more prominent and influential, we need this involvement in community. We need the real, solid connections. We need to get our hands a bit dirty, if only metaphorically.

It makes us better citizens.  But I admit holding off the being hated thing is a nice benefit.

– Steven Savage