The Road to Geekdom


Ask a room of computer geeks how they came to deserve this appellation and you’ll likely hear many similar stories. “I got my first computer when I was very young. By the time I was a teenager, I’d logged thousands of hours at the keyboard doing everything imaginable with my computer: gaming, programming, networking, upgrades, the works.”

That’s certainly my story. I was lucky enough to get a Macintosh in 1984, and it changed my life. I spent so many hours in front of that computer, I often look back in wonder at how I found so much to do with so little. This was years before I had an Internet connection. I had very little software and no convenient way to get more. My dollar-a-week allowance didn’t go very far. The only other person I knew with a Mac was my grandfather who lived two hours away. Nevertheless, I put in the hours—willingly, joyfully—and became the seasoned Mac geek you see before you today.

My Macintosh origin story is part of who I am. Being there from the beginning (and staying with the Mac, even through the dark times) gives me a useful historical perspective on the platform. But this is not the only road to geekdom.

The Mac is actually one of the few things I’m a geek about that I’ve been in on since the start. Geekdom is not defined by historical entry points or even shared experiences. A geek must possess just two things: knowledge and enthusiasm.

A Man Makes a Car

I became interested in remote control cars in high school after seeing a friend drive one in his backyard. He’d been building and racing RC cars since he was in elementary school. I was fascinated by these machines, but I worried I’d never be a “real” RC car geek like my friend.

I saved my money, bought a car, built it (badly) myself—and then crashed it. Undaunted, I bought replacement parts, fixed it, learned to drive it with far less crashing, and eventually bought a better car. Most importantly, I subscribed to Radio Control Car Action magazine and read every issue from cover to cover as soon as they arrived at my house.

A year or so later, I found myself in my local hobby shop answering another customer’s questions about his car. It started to dawn on me that I now knew more about RC cars than the average hobby shop patron. I was no longer an outsider looking in.

Around the same time, I was engaged in one of those cheap-music-for-membership marketing schemes that led to me having to select some CDs on a whim. I ended up getting Achtung Baby, and it knocked my socks off. I’d been aware of U2 for years and had probably heard the hits from The Joshua Tree on the radio dozens of times, but I’d never really been into the band—or any band, for that matter. Achtung changed that.

I started to work my way backwards through U2’s catalog, buying as many CD long boxes as I could get my hands on. I bought and read biographies of the band. At my local library, I devoured reviews of all their past albums in Rolling Stone and Spin. I found every magazine with a cover story about U2. When I couldn’t find anything else in the stacks of back issues, I turned to the library’s microfiche collection.

In college, I finally had easy access to singles, b-sides, and bootlegs, allowing me to complete my collection. I also had a fast, reliable Internet connection for the first time. This was beyond the local hobby shop; I was communicating with other U2 fans across the entire planet.

I learned to play the guitar (badly) and downloaded tab for my favorite U2 songs. Dissatisfied with the state of lyrics websites (some things haven’t changed), I transcribed every U2 album, single, b-side, and rarity, leading to the creation of my first public website, The U2 Lyrics Archive. This was my first claim to fame on the net. (The site is gone now, but when the official u2.com website launched a few years after mine, it contained lyrics copied from my site, typos and all.)

A Sort of Homecoming

Remote control cars existed for decades before I got my first kit. Achtung Baby was U2’s seventh album. Yet I was once a serious RC car geek and an unassailable U2 geek. It started with enthusiasm. Given the opportunity, I channeled that energy into a dogged pursuit of knowledge.

You don’t have to be a geek about everything in your life—or anything, for that matter. But if geekdom is your goal, don’t let anyone tell you it’s unattainable. You don’t have to be there “from the beginning” (whatever that means). You don’t have to start when you’re a kid. You don’t need to be a member of a particular social class, race, sex, or gender.

Geekdom is not a club; it’s a destination, open to anyone who wants to put in the time and effort to travel there. And if someone lacks the opportunity to get there, we geeks should help in any way we can. Take a new friend to a meetup or convention. Donate your old games, movies, comics, and toys. Be welcoming. Sharing your enthusiasm is part of being a geek.

Anyone trying to purposely erect border fences or demanding to see ID upon entry to the land of Geekdom is missing the point. They have no power over you. Ignore them and dive headfirst into the things that interest you. Soak up every experience. Lose yourself in the pursuit of knowledge. When you finally come up for air, you’ll find that the long road to geekdom no longer stretches out before you. No one can deny you entry. You’re already home.