Don't tweak the geeks!

By Eric Raymond


Salon Staff
July 5, 2000 11:42PM (UTC)

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Having read both of the works to which Eric Raymond is responding, I find that the fundamental flaw in both is that the authors utterly confuse "geeks" with "digital technology businesspeople" (i.e., dot-com suits).

Speaking as a geek, I despise the rapacious, greed-centered, shortsighted, venture-capital-driven and quarterly-report-driven dot-commerce culture as much as or more than any media commentator watching from the sidelines ever could: They are ruining my toys. I have little interest in making large amounts of money -- that would distract from my primary goal of creating ever-cooler solutions to an ever-widening pool of interesting, challenging problems. The "suits" and their megamillions are only tolerated by us geeks because they serve as a source of new and sometimes interesting problems. Other than that, I wish that they would all go back to checking their stock valuations and viewing their endless pornography, and leave their caustic, fetishistic hypercapitalism out of my life.

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-- James Kelly

Eric Raymond is in good company when his writing is attacked by Michiko Kakutani. She wrote a negative review of Cormac McCarthy's third novel in his Border Trilogy -- which was so blatantly wrongheaded, the New York Times Book Review editor, Sara Mosle, wrote a more favorable review of her own in the same issue of the Sunday New York Times.

The ironic thing about Kakutani's attack on Raymond's work is that she apparently relies entirely on secondary and tertiary written sources -- rather than the less "chilly" and "inhumane" method of speaking directly with, say, a few actual programmers. She has accused both McCarthy and us "snide" geeks of being both "chilly" and "inhumane" and her attack on McCarthy was based on his being a "highly derivative writer" akin to a "ham-handed Faulkner." I'm sure she didn't mean that to be snide.

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Perhaps her next bit of bedtime reading should be Bobby Burns' "Ode to a Louse," where he concludes: "Lord to us the giftie gie us/to see oursels as others see us." Kakutani's attacks reflect on nobody but herself.

-- Cheryl Fillekes

Eric Raymond is absolutely right. The Times, of course, is notoriously clueless on computer-related matters, but to call geeks cold and selfish is ridiculous. How many geeks have fixed other people's computers -- doing a difficult job that few New York Times essayists would do for a stranger for free -- simply in order to be helpful? I know many personally who have. (Sometimes it was my computer being fixed; sometimes I was the geek fixing someone else's.) The Web is full of usually helpful free advice. And, as Raymond points out, countless thousands of programmers worldwide are working for free on open-source software right now. What comparable old-economy phenomenon can you name? Frankly, it's the old-media types who seem to be money hungry -- even as they proclaim the crassness of others. Some things never change.

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-- Glenn H. Reynolds

After reading Michiko Kakutani's article "When the Geeks Get Snide," I became very upset. I am a relatively young developer, only 19 years old, and still in college. My computer-savvy friends, college faculty, co-workers and I certainly use computer jargon, but I never considered us to be a cold subculture so far below normal standards of human interaction. In fact, the computer science department faculty and my co-workers in GE Capital Corporate Systems are among the most friendly and open people I have encountered. Our subculture's jargon is used more for humor and for creating a sense of community than anything else -- much as financial analysts, chemists, artists and even writers such as Kakutani herself have their own occupational lingoes.

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Now, I have never, not once, heard any computer geek say anything such as what we were accused of in the article. We don't sit around in basements contemplating our inevitable digital world conquest. We don't sit in front of our computers all night having cybersex (which, by the way, has never been referred to as "client-server action"). We actually live normal lives. Many of us are top athletes, musicians or artists. Others simply enjoy the light and humorous subculture and otherwise live a "normal" life with their families. What continues to confound me is the public's steadfast view of us as a group of scheming, cold, antisocial nerds.

I would like to thank Eric Raymond for sticking up for us all with his rebuttal to this inflammatory article. Something definitely had to be said.

-- Rob Gonzalez

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Eric Raymond almost convinced me that people involved in developing technology actually look, and occasionally live, outside of their own little world. However, when Raymond begins to argue about "libertarianism and what's behind that, the liberating power of technology and free markets," I realized that here stands another myopic dipshit who hasn't spent very much time looking outside of his own gilded cage. It's unfortunate that Eric Raymond's tech savvy has given him such a valuable soapbox. Perhaps Salon should start soliciting essays by the victims of "free market" economics. Heaven knows they won't find any shortage!

-- Stephen S. Burzio


Salon Staff

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