Geek As Citizen: The Marketing Only Life, Culture, And General Annoyance

Tired Cute Pug
This little guy is tired of everyone overmarketing themselves.

Earlier this week I discussed how we have to accept the fact that marketing is part of our lives as geeks, careerists, and people living in the 21st century. Marketing is not an anomaly of the human condition, it is necessary, and frankly you have to learn how to do it avoid being overwhelmed. However there’s three sides to every story (if you get the reference), and there’s a flip side to our need to market ourselves and our businesses that enters into the whole ethical/citizen sphere I talk about.

I’d like to put this in an academically appropriate manner, but I can’t.

Don’t let your life and career become a (bleeping) pile of Marketing and Marketing only. Pick your own favorite obscenity or set of obscenities to use there, I couldn’t find an appropriate one. Also of course, my own discretion keeps me from swearing on this too much.

But seriously, don’t become a 100%-all-the-time-Marketer.

Yes, We Hate This

You know exactly what I’m talking about, even if you’re still selecting choice obscenities. You know that some people just become marketing and that’s all they do. They may be enormously popular stars who just exist to move merch and apply their names to things. They may be the would-be authors we know who have become hustle, not writers, and their writing reflects this pandering. They’re at times even us when we look at our next round of Personal Branding for that career move and realize how much of our time has been promoting ourselves and how much time hasn’t been spent being ourselves.

That nodding sensation you have? It’s something a lot of people experience. We all know someone famous like this, we’ve known a friend like this, and/or we’ve become it before.

We hate it, of course. We may understand, at least intellectually, the value of marketing. We know some of it is unavoidable. We can laugh it off. But when someone is just marketing, it engenders a kind of contempt because at some point you stop selling yourself and only become the selling of yourself – and less and less time is dedicated to actually being you.

Such a person is literally a lie.  They aren’t anything but a sale of an image.  We despise it . . . and we’re kind of afraid of this.

Yes, We Fear This

I’ve encountered people who fear this in my geek career work, and in general my thought is “good thing to be afraid of.” The idea of waking up one day and being only an image is enough to make you want to start preemptively developing the drinking problem you’d probably have if your life got that far down the hole of self-promotion. We can think of many a star or famous person who is just marketing, and we really don’t want to be that – though let’s face it, we’d kind of like the money.

Of course thinking that only fuels the fear.

The fear is understandable as mega-marketing and over marketing is a hallmark of our time. We’re used to bizarre publicity stunts, pandering reality shows that have anything but reality, star-worship, entitled musicians strutting around, and would-be Next Famous Authors pimping their latest questionable works. We seem to be in an age of marketing beyond the wildest dystopian fantasies of parody writers, coupled with clueless celebrities that don’t seem to know or care how shallow they seem.

(This is another chance for me to mention Twilight of the Elites, which will help you understand this).

The fear is understandable, and as citizens of our countries, communities, and subculture we know how dangerous this is.  We despite it because it is damaging, because it is shallow, and also because it annoys the hell out of us.  It’s a perfect storm of despisability.  It’s something I’m sure most of us would like to see addressed.

But when it comes to the geek community there’s a few specific issues we face.

Welcome To The Popular Place

The first issue, is now Geek Culture is in. Videogames are everywhere, Marvel is piloting a juggernaut of movie success, tech is hip, geeks are cool, Silicon Valley is filled with rock stars. Best of all our culture is both popular and part of it is actually doing stuff, from cool programs to making films, it’s the kind of popularity that feels – and in many ways I would say is – validated.

Except we also know it can be taken too far. We can witness the pundits of Valleywag waiting for the next Silicon Valley guru to say something stupid and entitled. There’s the arrogance of the I’ll-be-the-next-big-thing authors we encounter (and, yes, I’ve had people share personal horror stories). There’s an air of entitled sellout around geekery, not a prominent and widespread stench by any means, but that hint that it could get worse.

We are popular now. It provides temptations. It provides role models that aren’t a good idea to emulate as all they are is popular/controversial/person of the hour. That popularity puts us at risk of falling into the Marketing Trap because we ride the popularity wave and start selling ourselves . . . and then we fall into what always happens.

(I used to note if someone told me “Why don’t we do what X-Popular-Company-Of-The-Moment does” I was not going to be responsible for my actions. Though for me that usually means “extra snarky comments.”)

Rightful Revenge Of The Nerds

As part of the fact that it’s so fun that we’re popular is the fact that we may over enjoy it. I know I do, though I keep it to moderation.  Or I try.

It’s awesome that technology and geekery is validated, and it’s a nice partial antidote to anti-intellectualism in culture (even if we’ve got a serious problem with it still). It’s neat to see geek things being cool like we knew they were. If anything, I think the members of geek culture have been amazingly restrained in their critiques of mainstream culture as our ideas and images and works have been adopted, accepted, and lionized.

Thus it may be tempted to take a run and really promote your work.  It may be fun to strut a bit.

Videogames and vampires, paranormal romance and card games, all these things are so hip now and it feels so right that they’re popular, you might want to run with it because “now is the time.” This is in a way true, but you can run too far end end up with a Marketing Only Life (or Marketing only Hobby and then your one thing that gave you A Life is gone).

This is not a major concern of mine, but it’s there, echoing around the edge of my conversations and discussions and examinations. Enough I bring it up to be appropriately paranoid.

Technophile Paradise

The third issue geek culture faces is that we’ve kind of created and definitely are intimate with the tools that let people promote themselves. We use them, we make them, we get them. Technophile is part of Geek culture, and a good chunk of Geek in general.

This makes it easy to market ourselves and sell ourselves. In fact it can be fun and heady to have all this power, to use these tools, to run these numbers. It’s like a game, and there’s a definite high to it that’s seductive and frankly just a lot of fun.

It’s easy for us to fall into the All Marketing All The Time Trap because of that – because we make it and because it is Really Freaking Cool. You can so easily get lost in marketing your book or your indie game or your web magazine because the technology and the power is just awesome.  I can acknowledge this from personal experience as well, because even a few simple tools give you this massive rush.

But when it’s so fun, and engrossing, and neat, and something you know it can end up being all you do.

The technology also can abstract us from human concerns and understanding. When it’s numbers and hits and neat toys we can forget about people. When we forget about people, we may not realize when we’ve become All And Only About Marketing.  We forget how we look to people, and we may not have the kind of contact we need for them to tell us to stop doing it.

All Things In Moderation

As noted, I am all for Marketing ourselves, our works, our fan works, and so forth. It’s part of human culture, part of industry, and is not a bad thing at all.  I am all for good marketing. But it can be overdone as we’ve all seen in the media or encountered in people personally turning their lives into Pimping That Thing (which would be a good reality show name).

For we geeks, there are specific concerns I have, and bring up as a warning to make sure our specific temptations and inclinations don’t lead us into this trap. I’d hate to see us, now that it is “our time” end up having too many of our community fall into the Marketing Only Life, and have that potentially damage our subculture and what we can do.  Sure it can happen in any community, but I’m addressing mine.

The Overmarketed life is toxic to community. Everything becomes about moving and selling. Everything has a price, everything is sales, yet nothing is important. The enthusiasm we have for what we love shouldn’t be worn away by these things. If anything good marketing just helps us to more and spread our works.

But taken too far? Well, I’d rather not see a geek equivalent of the Kardashians or have us be associated with Yet Another Harry Twipotter ripoff. We can do more.  We do.

– Steven Savage

Way With Worlds: Intelligent Life

Intelligent Life

[Way With Worlds appears at Seventh Sanctum and at MuseHack]

I’m going to start by assuming the setting of your story has intelligent life in it. If not, well that sounds like a challenging write, and feel free to skip this part until you need it.  Or don’t because hey, you never know.

Now first, allow me to define intelligent life, so we’re on the same sheet of virtual paper here. Intelligent life is that form of life that can process information, adapt and retain this information, pass this information on to others, and possesses a level of self-consciousness or self-awareness. Intelligent life is essentially a kind of conscious computing, even if I personally dislike that simplistic terminology.

I would especially argue that intelligence contains a level of self-awareness as intelligence life as we think of itis self-modifying and self-directing. You can’t separate intelligence from consciousness, because someone has to “be in there” to be intelligent. “I think therefore I am” is also “I know I am as I think.”

With that all-to brief (and doubtlessly incomplete) journey into the philosophy of intelligence, let’s continue a to why it’s important. I’ll also try not to overdo the words “intelligent life,” but no promises here.

Read more

Geek Job Guru: The Danger of Hobby Burnout

We always hear about burnout. People are burnt out. They’re burnt out on the jobs. Burnout is a concern as we work in a meandering economy during a time of technological and social transition. You could get burnt out just studying burnt out, and there’s probably some poor soul out there who’s experienced that.  Said poor soul is also probably writing a paper on that and is very tired by now.

Now we geeks are considered to be inclined to burnout. We’re usually pretty obsessive and hard working. We throw ourselves into things. Having been surrounded by, well, “our people” for decades I’ve certainly seen any amount of burnout among my fellow geeks. Frankly, I think it’s a good thing for us to be wary of reaching that point because in my experience, we do it really well . . . or badly depending on your point of view.

We know burnout is bad for us for obvious reason. We get exhausted. It’s hard to care about things. Nothing seems to be getting done and yet we’re so busy. It just tires you out and can harm your career, your life, and your relations.

So we try to relax, to prevent, alleviate, or at least stave off the burnout. We turn to our hobbies.

There’s just one problem – we can get burnt out on our hobbies too and have nowhere to turn.  We get Hobby Burnout.

In fact, we’re uniquely equipped to do just that.

Hobby Burnout

I’ll be straight up – I’ve experienced Hobby Burnout a few times. I’ve known people who’ve experienced it before. I never really had the words for it until I saw the author of Manga Therapy discuss it and name it, and it struck me “this is a thing.”

When I look back on my experiences and those of others, what hobby burnout is actually pretty clear:

  • A person shows all the signs of burnout – the lack of interest, purpose, tiredness, etc
  • The burnout comes from their hobbyist activities. Usually this burnout occurs either from intense activity or from intense social commitments – or both.
  • Usually this burnout occurs as the person actually has a “hobbyist” job they’re doing and they burnt out on that.
  • We don’t really notice it because “it’s fun.”

THe latter is one of the things that keeps us from noticing Hobby Burnout – we think we’re having fun. We don’t notice the fun has become a job, and it’s a job we’ve become burnt out on. We’ve camouflaged our own chance to burn ourselves out.

The social aspect is also another issue of Hobby Burnout that concerns me. The social pressures we face can be compelling and daunting, ad we may not notice how much they push us. You don’t want to let your friends down after all so you work on that site, that fanfic, or that costume.  I’ve seen it before, plenty of times.

Hobby Burnout is an insidious thing, sneaking up on us because we can’t see how we pressure ourselves.

I think the geek crowd is in specific danger of Hobby Burnout.

The Challenge Of The Geek

We’re in exceptional danger because of our nature as enthusiasts. We get into things deeply, passionately, and actively. We dive on in, and don’t always think of the repercussions. Our idea of fun is working hard on things.

We can be as passionate about our hobbies as we are about our jobs. This is a prime opportunity for Hobby Burnout.

Those cases of Hobby Burnout I saw? Also all from the geek community (which isn’t surprising when you consider that’s my demographic). Hell, the term I adapted came from a post at a Manga site which kind of tells you something

We geeks need to be aware not just of our chance to burnout on the jobs, but on our hobbies – because what inclines us to overdoing it can affect us in all spheres of our lives. In fact, I think this is a prime Career concern for we geeks.

The Dangers of Dual Burnout

My big concern is that our inclinations can lead us to becoming “doubly burnt out” – something I’m sure you’ve probably seen before. You meet someone who is tired of their hobbies and their career, and that great purposelessness has engulfed them.

I see this double burnout happening in several ways:

  1. Stress on our job further drives us to our hobbies, and we go so far into our hobbies we burnt out there too.
  2. Burnout in one sphere makes us distractible enough that we burn out in the other sphere and thus have no refuge or reliable sphere of life.
  3.  One sphere of our life burns us out, and we try and cut it off and isolate it, and thus make our life less whole.  In turn we suffer as it’s like juggling two or more lives.

Come to think of it those burnout cases I saw? I saw all these cases too.

Career Focus

Ultimately I think we geeks need to remember Hobby Burnout happens as well as regular burnout. In fact, it’s a core part of being good at our careers.

Our careers, unless we own our own business, have a lot of external factors. We cannot control them, and some of them may end up leading us toward burnout. But our hobbies?

Hour hobbies are areas we should take control of. They can refresh us and excite us, and indeed spawn new careers (maybe getting us out of the one that’s burning us out). When we burn out on these, we are more at the mercy of career burnout – or can be so vulnerable we can end up causing it, as noted.

So if you’re a professional geek (and you’re reading this, so enough said), keep an eye out on regular burnout, but keep extra vigilance for Hobby Burnout. Its hard to see, we’re vulnerable to it, and it can take away the resources we need to cope with our careers.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at