Yesterday an essay by Wikipedia and Citizendium co-founder Larry Sanger made rounds: Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?
There’s a lot to discuss there, including whether this is actually a particularly new phenomena, how prominent it actually is, whether being anti-college actually constitutes anti-intellectualism (and does thinking that the educational system is badly broken constitute being anti-college?), whether Nicholas Carr is being unreasonable, and whether advocating letting anyone edit a Wikipedia page actually constitutes a hatred of knowledge.
I’ll let others have that conversation for now.
One thing that I noticed reading Sanger’s essay was how few geeks he cites as evidence. Where are the quotes from Hacker News threads from real-life actual geeks? I’m sure you could find some gems in this thread or this one.
Instead, Sanger cites Peter Thiel, Sir Ken Robinson, Don Tapscott and Clay Shirkey. Do these people represent geek culture?
Thiel is a lawyer and venture capitalist. He’s best known as the co-founder of PayPal, but it was Max Levchin and the other co-founders who had the technical background. Robinson is an education researcher. Tapscott is a business consultant with a background in education research. Shirkey has perhaps the most geek cred among them. According to Wikipedia, he wrote technology guides for Ziff Davis before become a professor of new media. But do any of them truly represent geek culture?
Also, who doesn’t speak for geek culture? Apparently, in Sanger’s view Carr does not. Neither does Sanger himself. Apparently Jaron Lanier doesn’t consider himself a geek anymore, despite his background in computer science, and therefore speaks against geek culture instead of as part of it.
I’m not being glib here, and I’m not bringing this up as a counter point to Sanger. Articles and lectures by and interviews with Shirkey, Thiel, etc. tend to be discussed frequently in geek circles (though not always approvingly). Carr and Lanier are discussed as well – my perception, and Sanger’s, is that they have received more negative attention in the geekosphere than positive attention. But is that a correct assessment?
Who counts as a geek and who doesn’t?
Of course, Sanger only asks whether there is a strain of geek culture that is anti-intellectual, not whether the whole culture is anti-intellectual. Geek culture is not coherent. There are many right-wing libertarian geeks, and there are many socialist geeks as well. Some geeks are ruthless entrepreneurs (especially these days with the bubble in full swing). Some are more interested in free culture than making money. What, then, is the politics of geek culture? What do geeks have in common?
Does it even matter who speaks for geek culture?