Do you know a geek? Are you yourself a geek? The common image of geeks is of an intelligent and technically competent, though socially backward, often serious backward, individual. I been thinking about geeks and I think I have hit upon the source of the geek problem. Since I am somewhat a geek (really a nerd, which is a geek with a semblance of a life) I offer this insight to other geeks (and nerds) out there.
I think the problem stems from the uncontrollability and irrationality of most social situations, especially when related to family, or in the case of male-female relationships, potential family. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French and Christian philosopher, once said, “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” I would like to add that families also have their reasons and sometimes reason has nothing to do with it. There you have it. Geeks need reasons for everything. It is their raison d’être, their reason to be.
You see geeks (and nerds to a lesser degree) flower in technological arenas where they can extend a sense of control over the environment around them. Those environments are reasonable. Early geeks waxed poetic about their first computer program that got the big hulking mainframe to do what they told it to do and not only that but to do it EXACTLY as instructed. If for some reason it didn’t work, there was a logical reason, either because of a mistake by the geek (fixable) or due to a bug in the system (something not your fault but a problem you could work around). Everything was reducible to an understandable set of parameters. However, people and social relationships are not.
People and relationships don’t respond consistently or reliably from a programmable or reasonable frame of reference. As living systems, they exhibit serious chaotic tendencies that surpass even the most complex chaos theories imaginable. They have severely limited predictability and as result, what worked last time might not work this time or may even produce a completely opposite result. People and relationships require one to be comfortable with chaos, to accept an extremely large standard deviation. They demand that you give up a great deal of your control over the situation. It is so much easer for geeks to retreat back to the worlds they understand and, more importantly, can manage, the worlds of technology.
Part of the growth in my own life and what keeps me from real geekdom, is my growing acceptance of an almost manageable level of chaos in my life. Notice I said almost manageable. Recent brain studies have noted that men and women’s brains are radically different. Men have a much more difficult time processing multiple simultaneous inputs and being comfortable with apparent informational chaos. So, part of some men’s tendency to geekdom is biological, and to some extent all men have some geeky characteristics. Hey, tools of all sorts, which most men love, are at their root means of exerting control, of reducing variables, of helping us to focus on the solvable or controllable within the chaos before us.
This growth in my life was brought home to me this weekend by a family problem (don’t we all have them?). Like the man that I am I attempted to exert a little control over the chaos. Notice I said “a little”. Gone are the days when I try to absolutely control the situations around me. I am now leaving that to God, since it is way beyond, light millennia beyond, my meager abilities. Now I just try to bring a little order into my small area of chaos and I do it with a much larger tolerance for failure, or to state it positively and somewhat geekily, with an acceptance of a larger standard deviation than I previously allowed.
That brings me to America, which in some ways is the land of geeks. How much of the disconnect between us and the rest of the world, both Europe and Asia, can be traced to our incipient geekiness? I wonder.