Jon Katz writes extensively in the field of computer technology, for both print and Web-based publications. He is familiar with the rise of the Internet culture and how it affects the life of both the average consumer and the highly involved lover of all things digital. He writes with great empathy and understanding of the new choices and responsibilities of the computer developers and programmers, as well as their struggle in earlier years, up to and especially including high school, a traumatic experience for most of them. Among Katz’s previous books are Running to the Mountain (1999) and Virtuous Reality (1997).
As Katz noticed the power that young computer technologists increasingly wielded in the business world (including major networks), he began to ponder the essence of “geekhood.” He posed the question “What is a geek?” in a series of columns and was flooded with responses. The geeks were leaving the negative connotations of the name behind, embracing it, and defusing it as other marginalized groups (such as gays) had in the past. Although still considered odd and different, now the computer geeks were in high demand to build and run the highly sophisticated systems that kept the modern world turning. Still, what was it like to be a geek, especially a young one in today’s world? The barrage of voices overwhelmingly told a tale of misery and persecution, a sense of being “the other” that Katz explores in the introduction toGeeks. Alienation is the center of his idea of what makes a geek: life lived outside the mainstream, not by particular choice, but by the rejection of peers. Katz interviews an older geek, Louis Rossetto, the founder of Wired magazine, who invited Katz into the world of writing for computer publications several years earlier. Rossetto agreed that resentment and pain were part of the geek identity but dismissed it as hardly interesting, merely “the ticket” for entry into their world. Instead, Rossetto was highly passionate about the technology, certainly another trait shared by the geek nation.
Although the author maintains that there is no true, tidy definition of a geek, he states that it is much broader and deeper than the stereotypical image of a loner who is obsessed with technology and shuns social contact. He points out that one cannot even be a geek all by oneself; the Internet has vastly contributed to geek culture by providing an on-line world of like-minded individuals who work together and communicate with passion and intensity about the subjects they have in common. Their interests do not end with computers, however. The easy accessibility to information that the Internet makes possible translates into passionate debate and conversation on numerous subjects. Yet that knowledge may still be filtered through a certain mindset that is factually oriented, rather prosaic in many ways, and willing to argue against, but not to consider, opposing viewpoints.
The columns on geekhood led Katz to an on-line correspondence with Jesse Dailey and, to a lesser extent, his best friend Eric Twilegar. Inspired to write a book extending the columns on geekhood, Katz had planned to travel the country to speak to many of his on-line respondents. Instead, he was struck by the intelligence and articulateness of Jesse and decided that profiling this fiercely independent young man and describing his world would be a better way to tell the story. What began as a journey of research and discovery turned into a highly personal involvement with two “lost boys” whose promise was being wasted in a small, dusty Idaho town.
Caldwell, Idaho, seemed backward and forbidding to Katz on his first visit to meet the boys. He could not imagine how difficult it must be to be at all rebellious and nonconforming in such a town, dominated as it is by the Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and a tendency toward sameness among its inhabitants. Caldwell is also a physically unappealing town, bleakly denying any signs of prosperity. After cruising the streets to get a feel for Jesse’s external environment, Katz called Jesse at his place of employment, Emco Computers, where Jesse repaired computers for close to minimum wage, and asked him to lunch. Katz met a pale, skinny kid with black-rimmed glasses, hunched and wary, not given to social pleasantries. Although it took a while for Jesse to open up, when he began to talk, he was...
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