I was talking to a friend at work today. In the discussion he stated that he was a geek, then fairly quickly recanted saying that he can be no such thing as he’s not a programmer. This, of course, coming from a man who collects the live CD versions of various flavors of Linux as well as other operating systems. Due to the context of the conversation, the evident implication of his recantation was that he could not be a geek as I, the one in the room with “software engineer” on their business card, had more right to the title and would become offended if I had to share.
My reply to his implication was, “Programmer? I’m no programmer! I’m a Classicist for goodness sakes!”
What exactly is going on here?
My friend, who exhibits nothing but healthy signs of geekdom and should wear it as a badge of pride strongly denies this rightful facet of his identity, apparently and mistakenly under the impression that he would offend one with a stronger claim. This is, of course, a spurious impression. Not only would I not get offended should another claim membership in geek society, but I also would most assuredly not be offended when that person so obviously belongs there.
And then there’s me. Just as strongly as he denied being a geek, I moved to remove myself from the title of software engineer. Yet, considering that I spend my days looking at Perl, HTML, CSS and a lot of other acronyms, it’s impossible to deny that I do in fact deserve the title. Perhaps it’s so that I, like he, did not want to upset anyone whom I felt were a true member of the club.
Really though, the most telling part of it is not what we denied being but what we claimed instead, how we identified ourselves. My friend back-peddled, pointing out the geeky things that he was not, ignoring the other weighty evidence which tipped his scales soundly toward geekness. I vehemently proclaimed myself as a Classicist, ignoring the fact that by now my Latin is rusty at best and my Greek is in lamentable condition.
But these realities don’t matter. It’s how we identify ourselves which makes all the difference. I know women who wish to be thought of as alternative and counter-culture who in my experience have not fit the mold. I know men who perhaps once were bad-ass SOBs deserving of a theme song sung by Isaac Hayes and who still think of themselves that way though they are, of course, nothing of the sort. Witches and saints and geniuses and brutes and liberals and authentic, the lot of them. All, for the most part, facades or shadows of things past. Myself included, of course. It’s quite interesting, really, looking around and watching the masquerade of the world go by.
This all comes out sounding a bit on the negative side, as though I’m about to pound my pulpit and rail against those who lead the inauthentic life. Cast away your shadow and you will be free! It worked so well for Peter Pan, didn’t it? But no, that’s not in the works for today. Because I kind of like my little facade. It blocks the wind and it’s warm and comfy back here. It’s causing harm to no one and looks rather nice from the street. And if I’m not tearing down my happy little structure then I’m not about to go telling others that they should. Folks know they’re often not really the people they identify themselves as. That’s fine. That’s the way people are, after all. Far be it from me to go questing to change human nature.
Still, it’s interesting to see in action.
Yup. All these pixels spilled, just because my friend had to go and tell me that there’s a new release of Minix.