December 23, 2002

Geek Week 2002

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 1:27 am

This has to have been on of the most geeky (and diversely so) weeks of my research. It started off with the Creative Commons license kick off party, morphed into the EFF holiday party where we watched the new Lord of the Rings movie, led into finishing my interview with John Gillmore. And then on Friday night when I thought I had a break, my IRC conversations with friends turned into this trip down memory lane about the love, the life, the “holistic world” that was the BBS scene, bled the next day into a fascinating interview with Danny of NTK, Quinn and Gilbert, then it was off to celebrate the Elcomsoft acquittal organized by Don Marti and majestically ended today with a tour de force of ytalk.

Nearing the end of the interview, Danny mentioned that he thinks a lot about the necessary conditions for the existence of culture. (he really would be one kick-butt anthropologist imho thinking in these terms). This led to a smattering of opinions in which he noted that the cultural of geekdom has been more solidly constituted over the last 5 years through the continual building of a rich history and especially a much wider consciousness and use of this history, while Quinn considered the maturity of the community (being that there is now a critical mass of geeks over thirty) as an important facet, while I chimed in that perhaps the growing connections between different nodes or facets of hacking (like the kinda hardware hackers, free software folks, tech-activists, cypherpunks forged through the net and conferences) also plays a role. So all our comments point to this interesting sort of “thickening” in which there is this strong sense of past, in which a deepening of the present occurs through the interconnections of different communities of geeks, while geeks individually mature into the future, temporal processes which help to get us closer to the “cultural” in hacking.

The Elcomsoft party though small, was a visual and practical embodiment of those very things we had just been talking about during the interview. The celebratory commemoration of legal events important to the hacker community literally make the history of which Danny spoke of earlier. And this party was one among others (like to celebrate the freeing of Dmitry), that brought together people from slightly different nodes of hacking and of different generations and ages whether it be the young high school duo of debian developers, Misha and Aaron; the free software advocates and users like Rick Moen; and the contingent of cypherpunks along with a smattering of other hackers and activists at the party.

I feel sorry for people who don’t like fieldwork becaue well, mine tends to be pretty fun. What I love about these geek gatherings is that I meet the most interesting folks , like Howard Besser who was wearing a very rad tee-shirt, one among the many which can be seen in his most amazing database of shirts, shirts that he loves like children! :-)

He brought the question of geek culture to the floor when he asked me what I thought about Cyberselfish by Paulina Borsook, which happens to be my least favorite books on hackers, ever. We both hold a pretty unfavorable take on the book as it over generalizes about the “culture” of geeks taking one element, that of techno-libetarianism, and making that to be a coherent blanket of culture, that kind just came from no where to cover the entire culture of geeks in the Bay Area and beyond. She also presents a very timeless, rough notion of culture that is so very annoying especially since it is popular texts like these that propagate a certain notion of culture, one that makes me internally cringe. In her preface, she writes that despite the subjective elements of culture, it “is real, hardy, and enduring..” And then she says that “Regimes change, culture preserves.” To treat culture as this “thing” that rests above history and that is not formed is terribly naive and never lets you get into the interesting questions which have to do with the formation of and processes around cultural creation and expression.

So, the conversation was a great way to end my “geek week” because it reminded me that instead of positing the total existence of this “hardness” and “oneness” of culture as Borsook does, Danny’s question about what even allows us to posit the existence of the cultural is a much better starting point. A good starting point for me, as this year comes to a close…

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