Friday, September 23, 2011

geek happens

I never intended to become a geek. At university, I was an English major. I had had some early exposure to computers in high school—I remember teletypes and paper tape (yikes!)—but I was totally about liberal arts at uni. The only computer course I signed up for, which I did because I thought I should, was deathly dull. It's the only course I ever withdrew from, not just because it was boring but because in those days you had to line up at obscene hours of the night to get computer time. The motivation just wasn't there.

And yet here I am with 17 years of software development and six years of technical writing on my CV. How did that happen?

Like this: With my shiny new English degree in hand, I sent unsolicited resumes to every publishing company in the Boston area. Out of dozens of publishers, the only company that contacted me was a publisher of technical trade magazines. First came production, then a leap to editorial, then a kind of sideways hop into software development (when such a hop was still possible), and before I knew it, a few decades had passed. My geek card is a bit crumpled, but I still have it.

I spend far too much time on Facebook (and not just complaining about the changes). I send and receive lots of email. Sometimes I chat with friends via Skype or Yahoo Messenger or Google Talk—yes, I'm on all three. I used to have a very active Second Life. I show off my skills and experience on LinkedIn, log my music plays on, download new material from eMusic, and write a blog—make that two blogs now. I even joined Google+ during the invitation-only beta test period.

That all sounds sufficiently geeky, right? But I am often a reluctant geek. I tried Twitter years ago but deleted my account and have never been back. I don't put my bookmarks on Delicious, and I'm not connected to a cloud. I can't remember where my Flickr account is. I actually go to Facebook rather than posting from some mobile device. My mobile phone is as dumb as a post! When I hop on transit, that's time for me to unplug and read a book--an actual book. And when Mashable tells me that Facebook is going to revolutionize my life, I raise one skeptical eyebrow (metaphorically, since sadly I can't actually raise only one eyebrow).

Sometimes I like technology for its own sake, but most often I like it if it serves my needs. And my needs are not themselves technological. I work alone in my home office, but I'm a very social creature, so that's why I hopped onto social networking fairly early on. I don't think it's likely that Facebook will ever revolutionize my life, but it does help me keep in touch with a lot of people. I have reconnected with family and friends far away. I stay on top of events that don't show up in the weekly arts paper. I follow links that look interesting.

One of my new favourite services is Meetup is a service that allows people to set up groups based around some shared interest and to arrange events at which group members can meet. According to the founders of Meetup, the idea was to use technology to get people off their chairs, out from behind their computers, and into the real world. It was perfect for someone like me who was somewhat isolated and wanted to meet new people. I am active in five groups and the organizer of a sixth. Meetup hasn't revolutionized my life, but it has certainly enhanced it.

I'm not the kind of geek who stays on top of every latest trend. I don't latch onto every new toy that comes along. But I do like to find out about new geeky things that might be useful to me, or just fun.

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