Didn’t God say “...and the geeks shall inherit the earth”?

Okay kids, gather ’round, I’m going to reminisce. When I was about six, I had what is classed as well developed literacy skills—I could write some words, I could read books about Jenny and Jack on the swing, that sort of thing. My parents bought a mac and we thought we were the height of sophistication. (That was in 1986, BTW.) But to me, it was like a magic box that was used on special occasions, and it was a grownup thing. I mean, I only used the phone on special occasions! If I had something important to say to Grandma I wrote her a letter on some hideous floral stationary that she had given me for Christmas. That was me at six.

Why read Jenny and Jack when you can email more interesting people?

Fast forward twenty years, to a literacy case study [1] I read recently about a little girl who at age six has what is classed as poorly developed literacy skills (writing not so great, doesn’t interact well with books), however she communicates with her absent mother every day via email and shows exceptional skill in this form of literacy. The author of the case study was pointing out that it is becoming increasingly important to focus on multi-literacy—there are lots of kids out there who, unlike the kids of twenty years ago, are growing up with a daily exposure to computers as a frequent form of communication, and this is the most real kind of literacy to them. The point of me telling this story isn’t to give a sermon about expanding the definition of literacy from Jenny and Jack on the slide to encompass more than “just reading” (although on the topic, Jenny and Jack are boring, boring kids and I wouldn’t have been friends with them). It’s about how in a mere twenty years, the face of communication has changed for us. What was normal for us then would now be like living in communication purgatory. And maybe kids today are smarter than us, because they realise that Jenny and Jack are two dimensional and don’t do anything fun at all.

It’s us versus them... and I can’t hit very hard...

So I’m telling you the world has changed and you’re saying to me “Yes? And? Any REAL news this week?” Well now you’re going to be really annoyed because I might be about to launch into a geek-is-good tirade. Some guy called Martin Girard had an article published in OS news cheekily entitled Why Desktop Linux Will Not Take off, and Why You Don’t Want It to. Initially I was mildly alarmed by the erratic capitalisation in the title... but then I can be a bit anal about such things. Did I mention I had excellent literacy skills? Anyway, Girard reckons that the reason desktop Linux is doomed to failure is that geeks think it’s cool, so it is automatically doomed because people who aren’t geeks just aren’t into geek stuff. While the article was pretty light-hearted, I would just like to virtually sit Mr Girard down for a moment and have a little talk with him, because it’s not only a bit inflammatory, it’s a bit derisive of geeks. And we all know how I hate stereotypes. Besides, isn’t this the year of GNU/Linux on the desktop again? That’s what the good people at Nuxified reckon as per Danijel Orsolic’s article How Microsoft is loosing to GNU/Linux. Those kids reckon that this IS that year finally come, because all these advanced users are migrating and so are all their non-techie mates because the advanced user has advised it. Sometimes peer pressure is a good thing, kids!

Everybody’s missing the point but me

So you might think that if you read both of these articles that they are both good and decent reasons for and against there being a year for GNU/Linux on the desktop, with Girard saying that geeks are out of touch with what the normal people want and that Martin from the Simpsons will never be cool, but then with Orsolic saying that not only do geeks actually have non-geek friends, but these non-geek friends do stuff like use GNU/Linux because their “advanced user” friend reckoned it would be a good idea. See? Geeks are actually influential people with FRIENDS. So, you ask, what more is there to say really?

Firstly, I would just like to say in response to Girard (and this is more of an aside) what do you MEAN geeks aren’t influential? Mate, they invented the damn things! I mean sure, Bill Gates is more of a “business man” now than a geek—although he still looks a lot like one—but he has a heap of geeks working for him. If the common man didn’t listen to the geek occasionally he’d still be communicating with his mates via shouting really loud, or waiting to run into them down at the local watering hole. Now he can text them, email them, download photos of random babes called Candy or Mandy to show off to them... When it comes to technology, non-geeks are like lambs to the slaughter.

The kiddies are at the gates!

And for my main point... Here’s why I picked this up as opposed to letting the two articles just cancel each other out, and it’s back to the point I originally started off with about literacy. Kids these days are different to kids in my day, and I’m only twenty six! If you say stuff like “Linux will never take over on the desktop because people just aren’t into doing geek stuff—they don’t want to know how to do things and they just want usability” I will respond with even if that is true at the moment—and there isn’t conclusive evidence to suggest this is so—what about today’s six year olds? The world isn’t static. The way kids grow up changes dramatically with each generation. In 1876 Western Union said “The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication”. And weren’t they on the money? Telephones! Who uses that anymore? VoIP anybody?

When I was growing up my idea of the height of technology was a clunky box with a perhaps seven inch, black and white screen and we thought we were so cool because a bit later down the track we used Windows 3.1 and had a colour printer. Now six year olds get antsy if you keep them from the inbox and probably sulk if the broadband goes down. Kids of today have a dynamic relationship with technology. They are keen to have what we think of as cutting edge technology and they see it as pretty standard. If you bring up advanced users, that’s what you get. And, consider all the schools over the place who are migrating to Linux? These kids aren’t all geeks. They think tech stuff is normal. They probably don’t all look like Martin and lots of them do sport and and are pretty cute looking. And who knows how much longer the geek/non-geek distinction will be made? Watch for the year of Linux on the desktop... the kids are out in force and taking over.


[1] Carrington, V. & Luke, A. (2002) Reading, homes and families: From postmodern to modern?, in A van Kleeck et al (eds), On Reading to Children. Mahwah, NJ: Ealbaum


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