Tag Archives: geek

Civic Diary 5/13/2016

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

And welcome to my weekly examination of how I’m doing in being a better citizen.

For those of you just joining, I was inspired by Anil Dash to find a way to be more regularly civicly engaged.  This is the result – a weekly diary to keep myself accountable and inspire people.

My big focus initially had been A) Following my assorted representatives, B) Following and joining relevant organizations, and C) Making efforts to at least write my representatives on issues, and of course D) Voting.  That was a start.

I’ve been thinking over how there’s two kinds of civic engagement – Strong (highly organized, vertical organizations like political parties, PACs, and political orgs), and Weak (more local, distributed, casual efforts that, like the power of weak links in networking, having profound effects by accumulation).  I did a lot more Weak work but not enough Strong work.

The simple fact of the matter is if you want to be civicly engaged, really make a difference, you have to get involved in some of the organizations out there.  So now I’m wrestling with what’s appropriate for me.  I’m waiting until June or so before I really try to answer this – but i’m leaning towards voter registration drives.

Now my latest findings:

  • First people are awful at talking about politics, and our media doesn’t help – we argue, we snipe, but we don’t engage.  I’d heard about The Little Book of Revolution by David Akadjian and Maiez Mehdi, a guide to talking to people about politics.  I’m reading it now and it’s really thought provoking – I’ll share more later.  Short form is it’s got great advice on engaging people and getting them involved – and it’s very goal-oriented.
  • I’ve started following my local political party (Democrats, natch) and plan to attend a local meeting to get a feel for getting involved politically.  Again just following a group on Twitter reveals a wealth of information.  My default interest, as you may guess, is GOTV.
  • Your local political parties provide a ton of ways to get involved.  Ever sat on a board?  Raised funds?  There’s a lot you can do – though how local (or national) you want to get may affect your options.
  • My local Democratic club had contact info for both Clinton and Sanders supporters, which was pretty cool.
  • I’m seeing the importance of “Weak Links” as well.  Just running events for a club really makes a difference for people.  Organizing people matters perhaps as much as anything else.

So that’s it for now.  Any insights on your end?

Started your civic diary yet?

– Steve

Who Owns Geek Culture? Not The Gatekeepers

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

The trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One dropped while ago.  Much to my surprise it intrigued me – a Star Wars heist movie.  Just as I felt TFA was flawed and cautious, but had a fantastic cast and amazing heart, this film had something that hit me just right.  Seriously sign me up.

Of course this was also a time for various people to complain about the female lead online. The word Mary Sue was tossed around by people who ignore the legion of male power fantasy characters.  Of course there was talk about Women Invading Geek Space as if women can’t be geeks and aren’t as opposed you, you know, history.

There’s a peculiar thing that’s popped up on and off over the years of who “owns” geek culture.  To an Elder Geek like me, that seems kind of weird.  Geek Culture to me sort of “is,” and the idea of people raging about owning it seems odd at best, pathological at worst.  I know this clearly means I missed a quite a lot of stupidity, but I’m probably lucky for it.

And usually it’s that geekdom is owned by people of a specific gender and at times race – which is ridiculous.  The idea of a culture that’s often been freewheeling, weird, experimental, and pro-intellectual (at least on the surfacee) being afraid of cooties seems . . . bizarre.  As an Elder Geek it seems even weirder – geekdom has not been free of racism or sexism or bigotry or stupid gatekeeping, it has often been worse than we want to admit, but I don’t recall this bizarre and outright whiny territoriality when I was younger, or for that matter older.

But this made me wonder – who does “own” geek culture?  Can we discuss it as something anyone can own?  Maybe this is a discussion worth having, if only to hopefully turn down the volume on the whining.

Who Owns A Culture?

I began speculating on cultures and how people experience them.  First up, there’s the question of ownership in an enforceable sense.

Legally, people can own part of a culture.  Disney owns the hell out of Star Wars.  Someone can own a copy of a book.  People can have legal rights to certain things.  These laws and policies may be stupid or immoral or dysfunctional, but we do recognize some sense of ownership of media.  Geeks are often about media.

However, this ownership is, let us be frank, tenuous and only a small part of the culture.  Culture is something that people participate in – and Geek Culture with its tendency to self-creation the “culture” is embodied far less in owned artifacts than it would seem.  These owned artifacts are important, as rallying points, triggers, and bases – but what goes on with them far outstrips them.  The ownership of culture is not in the artifacts.

There are fans of things in the public domain or that might as well be.  Harry Potter could vanish tomorrow, and Potter fans would go on, and carry many of their values with them.  Hell, I still think someday someone will make a fandom where it and the property are the same thing, owned by none/all – some My Little Pony spinoff fan works approach that now.

So, ownership of the legal variety isn’t ownership of a culture.  You can witness fan culture rebel against the “powers that be” quite a bit.  They rebel against the owners – in a legal sense.

That’s when I hit upon it.  To discuss who “owns” a culture, let’s explore an organization with a shared culture.  I choose a church.

Church Time

So let’s imagine a church.  Where does the culture reside?  The minister in a way relays it.  But the culture is in the attendees, and the people who raise money and maintain the grounds, and do the charities.  Though a church is quite a hierarchical organization, there’s a lot of people in it maintaining it, and you know they have a say (especially if you’ve been involved in local church politics).

Geekdom is often the same way.  It’s even more distributed than your average religious organization, and also can involve elaborate costumes.  There’s major voices, some useful, some annoying as hell, but geekdom is distributed “among” people.

Geekdom has persisted through changes, new media and old, history and tragedy.  A church can swap in parishioners and out, get a new minister and endure.  So who owns the culture of something?  Who can say “this is mine?” when the organization (and its culture) endures.  Something passes around and through people however to keep that culture going.

These people are not owners, not necessarily authorities.  They are people who embody the culture and carry it on and make sure it continues.  They are Custodians, not so much owners, but maintainers and supporters and even improvers.

The Custodians put things into practice and keep going.  They ensure the culture goes on.  They care about it and for it, often nurturing it or fixing it or innovating in it.  They might not even know they’re custodians because they’re too busy or don’t notice people look to them for advice or help.  However they’re the ones to respect, and the more you’re a Custodian, the more you keep things going, the more you really have a say in the culture.

Custodians don’t “own” a culture, but they’re to be listened to.  Which is what the whiners seem to want to be.

In a church a Custodian can be a minister – or an elder.  It can be the person who manages the finances and keeps it running.  It could be distributed, it could be concentrated.  No one owns a church, but the church exists because some people (at times unwittingly) keep it going.

The Custodians also, often, have skin in the game.  They’re there in the thick of it.  They’re “authorities” to many because they know it and they do stuff.

You’ll notice “rampant complaining” really isn’t a Custodial duty.  Custodians may complain, but they’ve got skin in the game, they keep stuff running, they do things.

The people to respect in geekdom are the participants.  Those who run cons and make costumes, those who maintain sites and write.  The people that make stuff happen are the ones to respect and listen to.  The people who ensure there’s something thre – and there is a tomorrow.

The Custodians.  They don’t own it, but they are people who should be respected and listened to.

My late grandmother maintained her Church’s flowers.  You can bet she got listened to.

Participation Matters

So the people who think that Star Wars is ruined by a female cast, the people interrogating someone to be a true fan, true gamer, true comics reader are gatekeepers but not Custodians.  They’re People throwing out a meaningless trivia in order to keep people out as opposed to being Custodians for what’s important – and finding common ground that helps maintain and grow their culture.  They are the church equivalent of the person who quizzes you on theological minute just to assert themselves, but won’t even put money in the collection plate or help with the church lawn.

They aren’t participating, they’re at best annoying as hell and at worse actively harming the culture by driving people out while not doing anything to maintain what they supposedly care about.

But they have no credibility.  They are not Custodians.

How many comic geeks complaining about Squirrel Girl or whatever actually live the values of the heroes they value?  Few.  Why listen to them?

How many sci-fi geeks ho are supposedly all pro-science actually act with any scientific analysis before they decide Daisy Ridley destroyed western civilization?  They violate what they say they stand for?

How many people complain about how video games must be X or Y don’t do anything but complain, wasting the time of forum mods?

The complainers aren’t Custodians.  They’re what the Custodians have to deal with.

The Gatekeepers Aren’t The Keepers Of The Flame

Right now there’s a little girl loving Star Wars because of Rey and she’s playing with a toy lightsaber.  She is more of a geek right now than some guy bitterly complaining about Rogue One having a female lead.  Because she got this vague idea to be a hero and is having fun and setting a foundation for geekdom, whereas someone else is just complaining.

Right now there’s a cosplayer making outfits and possibly launching a career out of it.  She’s more of a geek than the person complaining that  A) she’s too sexy, and B) she won’t sleep with him.  She’s doing something and giving panels.

Right now there’s someone running a website in a thankless job that is doing more than the people complaining about the latest column on anime.

Right now there’s a comics geek who should be a hell of a lot more like the heroes/heroines and less randomly interrogating people on Twitter.

People do not truly own geekdom – geekdom is a culture, and thus this amorphous thing of information.

However there are people who are experts, who are credible, who are authorities – and these are the people that actually run the culture, embody the values, and do shit.  The Custodians.

The complainers are at best minor participants – and at worse, toxic, going against the values of their culture and sullying their communities.

Hopefully they can realize it’s a lot more interesting to get your hands dirty, a lot more fulfilling to connect, then to just complain.

– Steve

Geek Culture: Action, Reaction, And Return

I’ve previously talked about geek evangelism – namely I missed it. It seems that the internet had given us a chance to seal ourselves off in echo chambers, and that has affected geek culture and culture in general. People we’re more “building up” than “reaching out,” and many now built walls.

The internet also guaranteed conflict. We could build an infinite amount of new communities – and find an infinite amount of things to fight about. People need people to interact with, but we’re not always equipped to deal with their differences. The internet guarantees differences between people will emerge and collide quickly – infinite space means infinite conflict.

Kind of makes you see how wall-building might even see rational at times. When someone starts a flame war over gum flavor, an echo chamber sounds like a better idea. We geeks, who like to engage with others, who use technology, probably face this even more than most.

Of course most of us don’t want conflict. Why do people end up fighting so often on the Internet? Sure, the internet ensures enough diversity that we can find new ways to fight. But honestly does anyone like this? If we’re going to go form our communities why do we have to keep fighting?

Because the internet doesn’t just give us leeway to leave and do our own thing, it ensures that the communities can produce their own opposites. These opposites are not always forming their own identity – they’re sharing one with the very people they don’t like. Those opposites return, or may even by their own existence redefine the culture

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

I remember the truly early days of the Internet going “big.” I remember Geocities and anyone being able to put up a page. I was active on LiveJournal. I helped out with websites. Even “back then” (Defined as the mid to late 90’s) anyone could create any kind of community they wanted.

(OK, again people that could afford it.)

I recall fan wars and battles and geek fallouts and obscure communities popping up. And why not? The tools were there.

Also if you didn’t like something, you could just leave and do something else. Surfing obscure, hyper-specific themed fandom sites was something my friends and I id on occasion, often amused or horrified at what we see. If you wanted it, and someone didn’t like it, you could just go do your thing.

(And I repeat, Harry Potter fandom, wow, nothing quite like that . . .)

It was often like a version of Conway’s “Life.” The organism of a fandom or a club or a geekdom could split off into parts if needed. A community might be eating itself, a kind of cultural autoimmune disorder, and then everyone could go their own way to hate each other on their terms.

At times they might get back together.

There were even groups that existed only in response to others. From MST3K communities that parodied fanfic (often with the permission of authors, leading to a peculiar synergy) to communities rebelling against adult fanfic, to groups that just mocked internet culture. Some sites and groups existed only because others did.

Fast forward to today.

Today it seems worse, and it’s not just people who argue Ed Elric and Roy Mustang are a couple years later. Some parts of geekdom just explode in battles as bad as any conspiracy news-link flame war – many, as noted, being gaming related and comics relating. Apparently fun is serious business.

it seems a lot of the battles seem to involve echo chambers. The fights make sense to those in the communities, but outside are a lot of people going “seriously?”

Because when you can go your own way and can do so in reaction to other things, you’ve got a conflict-producing machine. Leaving doesn’t mean the conflict ends, and people who are sick of something (or just mock it) can build their own community against something or for something.

Perhaps they return with a vengeance, or try to reform their culture, or they make it a goal to improve things. Or they can also be pretentious jerks.

The opposites don’t mean separation. Communities are often formed in response to something.   Those that created the response might be a bit surprised when the response comes back to them – but shouldn’t.

After all, people may exist in the same identity-space as others. Just because they left may not mean they’re going to share the identity with others. They might not be able to. They might have good reason not to.

I’m Leaving, I’ll Be In Touch

So when we put all the parts I discussed earlier together we see this:

  • The flaws in a geek cultures mean people want to leave or separate themselves from some parts of the culture. This is any culture, really.
  • The internet, the chosen Geek Tool (Blessed be Lovelace and Babbage), lets us go form communities and causes.
  • Despite “being separate” we often exist in the same identity-space as people we have a conflict with. We don’t truly get away – or want to.
  • Some communities and their conflicts spawn their own opposite.
  • The the internet lets us return to change things. Hell, we can’t really get away – when so much social involvement is routed through a few services like Twitter or Facebook the infinite division of the internet feels more like a cube farm.

The common social tools of the internet, plus wider awareness, mean that some people who form a community in reaction can then change the culture as a whole. They can change what they left, redefine it, or hunker down and be a kind of center point to alter the culture.

Take a look at the internet now and how it’s used in reaction to all sorts of things.  Ferguson and awareness of violence against PoC.  Gay rights issues tracked to the hour.  Corporate slip-ups.

If you’re an ass, if your community is pathological, if your company is discriminating against older geeks, people can organized against and about that issue quickly. The internet is not just about spawning communities, it’s spawning communities about something – and against something.

These communities “leave” but not totally. Not for long.

Guess where we are now?

Inevitable.  Only Forward, This Thing Doesn’t Go In Reverse

Geekdom doesn’t just spawn counter-communites. Many exist to change or redefine the culture itself, or to maintain it in a kind of activist-wall-building.  Again you see this everywhere, we’re just more wired.

It’s not really surprising. The internet let us reach out and develop but also amplified contact – and chance for conflict. Now that more and more is connected and public, there’s going to be more effort to fix it. It also means communities that left one area can come back rather loudly – they may not be able to conceive of a total separation.

This may also spawn reactions to the . . . reactions. A cultural breakdown in a community can spawn a responding community and then a response to the response. It can get a bit Inception-like as you try and figure out where this all started. Who’s battling for the soul of what?

In various parts of geekdom I’ve seen “reactions” get pretty deep. I could (and may) do entire essays on this. Just as example the “hate of the fake geek girl” BS seems to be about four reactions deep (reactions to women in geekdom, counter reaction stating they belong, minor bigoted counter reaction, larger community building reaction).

This is also important for areas of geekdom that are or have gotten insular. Their insularity, their pushing people out, is going to cause a reaction – possibly a severe one. It’s not going away. It’s going to mean people can form their own groups, communities, and all this happens in a very, very public way.

And people come back.

Lately I’ve seen several points where conventions have had unpleasant issues. These came up – yes – on the internet. Things, in the words of Ron Burgandy, Escalated Quickly.  In real time.

It won’t slow down.

If You’re Going To Ride The Horse, Have A Direction

So the truth of geekdom now is that we’re in a phase of reaction and action (again, any culture has this, I think it’s just amplified). We’re changing rapidly and facing rapid exposure of our problems. We also face a chance to rapidly address them – we have the tools and the inclination. We also can’t stop this – it will not stop.

(Indeed this is true of all culture; again, I’m a geek and we’re the ones that embrace the technology that lets us change so fast.)

So the real choice is, how are we going to handle this?

All the action and reaction mean we are moving rapidly. We might as well pick a damn direction.

I see this emerging as of late – indeed a lot of my work on Civic Geek opened my eyes to how people in our community are asking “what can we do and be?” People are directing their work and focus as geeks.  They’re asking what they should do.

Because if we have no direction, the ability to spawn endless conflict is going to continue to plague us. And if we don’t understand the walls come down fast, that our actions create their opposites, we’ll always be in battles far more than we need to be.

Closing

I started this series just exploring “what happened” and I know – geekdom too quickly developed echo-chamber communities that amplified marketing and pathological voices. The internet also produced infinite chance for conflict.

But also it seems we’re in a phase where everything is so public that some parts of geekdom (or any culture) spawn their own counterforce. At times an overwhelming counterforce.

It’s not done yet.

I do think it’s inevitable. I’ve said many a time that we geeks need to own our culture and take responsibility. Someone is going to anyway.

Because action has reaction, here in the internet, the biggest tiny room in history.

Respectfully,

– Steven Savage
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