Geek As Citizen: A Statement Of Hope


So, as I’ve been writing on Geek Citizenry, I’ve been focusing on areas we can be good citizens, and areas that we as geeks (both in general and as that ephemeral mass of geek culture) can improve in as citizens. It’s been awhile, and I’d like to make a statement.

I have hope, great hope really, that we Geeks, we technophiles and makers and cosplayers, can be really great citizens of our cities and countries and indeed the world. Many of us are already pretty good at it, and it seems that we’re trying to improve who we are. I catch that improvement in geek charities, in discussions of our culture and its problems, in reflections on the importance of technology.

I guess I believe in us on a gut level.

We’re Not Perfect

Now we geeks are not perfect. I don’t consider us so, and in fact I don’t consider us “above” anyone in society – we’re applied intellectuals, and we have our place like everyone else. We’re who we are, doing what we do.

I do think, in fact, we have our own set of problems. Let me go and note them:

  • Geekery, for all it’s tolerance or supposed tolerance, has some pretty deep pits of intolerance that get awful foul. It seems as of late that every week yields some new story of sexism, racism, homophobia, or general awfulness.
  • Geekery still has some insularity issues. As I watch San Francisco gentrify and see techno-utopians spout off impractical solutions to problems, I find myself craving a better response than “WTF?”  Not quite finding one because, dude, there is not an app for that.
  • Geekery has some angst problems. There’s still a strain of anger over rejection in our culture, and having come from a time when we weren’t cool, I understand. But it’s not helpful – and I’m kind of sick of what is there being used as an excuse to judge us.
  • I think we’ve got some age demographic issues. As the older geek who hangs out with geeks of all ages, it seems there’s occasionally surprise I get along with anyone half my age. As a person that goes to cons, for the last decade I’ve heard mumblings of how some conventions are aging with no new blood, or people “just don’t understand.”

No, we’re not perfect. I think we have to fully admit this.

But what gives me hope, to put it simply, is that I find geek culture can grow and evolve and be more tolerant, forward looking, and open. In fact, I think we are – but, and this is an important caveat, the cultural faults we have run just as deep as they do in any other cultures or the larger culture. I find, for instance, that geeks in general are less racist, but you will stumble into racism in geek culture just as virulent as you’ll find anywhere else.

In fact, it’s stumbling into these pits that, at times, give me hope.

We’re Talking About Geeks, All Right

The last few years, now that Geek Is Chic, I’ve seen much more attention paid to, well, the flaws in geek culture. Sexism, racism, homophobia, social distance, arrogance, senses of cultural entitlement, etc. We’re in the spotlight and the spotlight has found some ugly areas – even if, on reflection, those ugly areas really aren’t that distinct from other problems in the larger culture.


Yes, good. I’m glad we’re talking about it. I’m glad that there’s talk about sexism and racism, about weird politics and stupid bigotries, and so on. Bring it on, I say, let’s get some sunlight in here.

It’s good to me because, being a geek, I want us to confront our problems. I want to know what’s wrong. I want to see what’s out there so people can address it.

That’s why it good. See we’re good at doing things.

Fix It And Show It

If we confront the flaws in our culture, both in the general and in the large, then we can fix them. We can make things better. We can defuse biases, ask about our place in society, face hard questions, and come up with damned good answers.

This is where I get positive.

Because we’ve also come so far so fast, because we’ve gone from “Revenge Of The Nerds” to people getting angry at us for gentrifying neighborhoods, it shows that there’s something in Geek culture that can change pretty damn fast.  That’s heartening

Geeks embrace opportunity and challenge and technology, and I think if we embrace the fact that we’re suddenly in a lot more power and that we’ve got some problems to fix, we can do it. I’ve frankly been thrilled to see issues come up about geek culture so much the last few years because it comes fast and no small amount comes internally. Sure it’s often ugly as hell, but it keeps going.

I think that if we address our issues as a culture, as citizens, we can do it with notable speed. I think in turn if we do it fast, it’ll let us do more good, be more part of the world and our communities.

Most of all, I think we’ve got a good shot at doing it. I’m an old geek, decades old, as of this writing, and I’ve seen a lot of amazing changes. I’ve seen history.

That’s why I’m positive.

Rant Mode Ends

So yes, that’s why I write this. Because I want my culture to get better and improve, to grow and seek citizenship and being part of the world. Also because I believe we can do a damn good job of it.

It may seem tough. We’e got many flame wars ahead, terrible arguments, and more. The sunlight is going to burn. Hell, we may see people anxious to label us with our flaws (while ignoring, frankly, many of our flaws are those of the culture at large).

But we can do this. I’m just doing my part here by providing some ideas, pointers, analysis, and encouragement.  If I’m guy with a column who drudges away at that, how many more people out there are doing there part?

– Steven Savage