open letter to geek love readers

Dear loyal readers: I owe you an apology.

I’ve spent the last two weeks acting as an interim Executive Director at a local day care centre.

I now understand how generally meaningless a lot of what I write about might seem to you.

Let me explain.

From a technology perspective, my time at the centre has been like a step back into the stone age.

There are index cards. And binders. And staplers. There are these funny little wire things that are all twisted up. They seem to be designed to bind stacks of paper together, and they’re everywhere in mass quantities.

The office at the day care does have a PC. But it’s a Studebaker-era Dell that would test the patience of a saint at the best of times. (And, heck, it’s a Dell.)

And then there’s paper. Lots and lots of paper. Endless paper. Filing cabinets full of it. Boxes of paper. Bags full of paper.

In fact, the whole place runs on paper. And, as you know if you read this column regularly, I’m allergic to the stuff.

But I realize now that this is probably a lot like the world you lead.

And that makes me understand that many of the high-falootin’ things I write about are not unlike the stuff of adolescent fantasy to you.

Because, really, so much of what I’ve written about to date is irrelevant to my current situation.

Being on the outside looking in, I realize how insular and generally inconsequential much of the the geek world is.

I mean, when considered against the health and safety of 40-odd kids, who really cares about the Mac versus Windows debate?

And Twitter, the addictive mini-blogging service. I once was fascinated by what appeared to be its virally social qualities. I now see it’s really just a loner-geek circle-jerk of epic narcissistic proportions.

And Facebook is a frivolous service that epitomizes the wastefulness of our contemporary society. We blindly burn fossil fuel energy with our SUVs and time with Facebook.

Even potentially valuable online resources like YouTube and Flickr now strike me as somewhat valueless, so overrun are they with what I would generally categorize as crap.

In a way, I’ve crossed the digital divide. Or I’m at least straddling it.

Rest easy, though. I’m not writing off contemporary technology and it’s applications completely.

Instead, I’ve adopted a perspective that questions the intrinsic value of technology. For, really, what is technology without a meaningful application?

In other words, if the world ran out of nails, what is a hammer worth?

As a geek, I’m often thrilled simply by a new gadget just because it’s a new gadget. Not surprisingly, I tend to grow weary of most of them because they fail to provide any lasting utility.

And that’s what I’ve realized is so wrong about society’s attitude towards technology in general.

We revere it for its own sake.

We value society in light of its technological achievements, as though we are defined by them. We compare ourselves regionally by our best gadgets, rather than our humanistic developments.

We recognize Finland as a world leader because of Nokia. But very few people are aware of the advanced state of the Finnish educational system (that effectively enables the mobile phone economy there).

As I manage a day care I recognize dozens of potential applications for technology that would drastically enhance the safety, security, comfort, and service of the children, staff, and parents.

But the solutions I envision from inside the organization are drastically different from what I had pre-imagined from a geek perspective.

Because, really, a geek is always inclined to replace the entity itself with technology. That’s the sort of mentality that conceived of robots: we are flawed as humans; therefore, we must be replaced.

But what it really comes down to at the day care, and in reality in general, is this: I’m working in an environment where everything I do has purely human repercussions, positive and negative.

As a result, humanism must take precedence and the geek perspective has to take a back seat.

Over the past 15 years, it was rare that anything I did as a technology consultant had any meaning or value to anyone
beyond my immediate client, whose owns intentions were generally driven by very esoteric interests.

Too often the best work I did was left on a shelf, collecting dust (and I’ve done some pretty killer work in my time).

Years later I might be called back to solve the same problem again, my previous efforts forgotten by a staff change or a new election.

I’d be asked to apply the same technology a second or third time as a desperate salve to a year-end budget surplus or the generally ignorant demands of a superior member of an organization.

Too often, these subsequent efforts would again be forgotten once the discomforts of the internal political situation had been assuaged.

On the other hand, every day at the day care centre I make decisions and take actions that have an immediate ripple effect on the local economy, the community, and within any number of social, government, and business environments.

That’s a much bigger thing.

But I digress.

My original intention with this column was to try and frame the most fascinating new technologies in a layperson’s view, to give them meaning in the “normal” person’s eyes.

However, my time in the real world has revealed to me that a lot of my writing borders on the irrelevant to all but the most hardened geek in the crowd.

And it’s for that I feel I should apologize.

I’ll do my best from here on the refresh the Geek Love perspective with the new and improved real world view I’ve developed over the past couple of weeks.

Let me know how I’m doing. As the staff at the day care centre know, I take criticism well.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, May 16, 2008.