Geek love

With so much strangeness afoot in the world—Microsoft closing arguments, the continuing privacy wars, and so on—I meant to write yet another concerned and serious column about the state of tech affairs. However, the state of tech affairs is getting preempted by the state of, well, tech affairs. Just when I thought the scene was getting mainstream and geeks were getting boring, along comes Keith Kelly and restores my faith that no, there is a strain of the species that will never be comprehensible to the outside world.

Keith, as you might have read in our Letters column, feels that the reason he’s not having much success on the Seattle social scene is that the female component of aforementioned scene is not—how did he put it?—”anywhere near par.” His letter got passed around the office a bit before it appeared in print, and there was much offense taken by various parties. If you read the Letters column, you’ll know there was much offense taken there, too. Not I, though. I laughed the full-throated laugh of recognition, because you almost never see such a pure-blooded specimen of the Alpha Geek Male on the hoof anymore.

Part university computer lab nerd, part swallowed thesaurus, and a dash too much maternal affirmation that “the other kids only make fun of you because they’re jealous, sweetie,” the AGM is rarely seen since the Net got popular and lucrative. Many of us pinpoint Spring Internet World ’95, where suddenly even the biggest geeks were taking both meetings and regular showers, as the meteorite that sent the species into fatal twilight. For those born in these latter days, allow me to present this brief apologia.

It’s important to understand that the AGM means no harm when he whips out his dating checklist, which Keith spent 12 column inches elucidating for our benefit. After all, what software developer ever undertook a major project without a spec sheet? (For those of you unfamiliar with spec sheets, they list the desired features of a planned product; if the finished product doesn’t match up to the spec, the product is unacceptable.)

If dating is about getting to know another person, surely a checklisted discovery process is preferable to hours wasted in roundabout fact-finding missions such as cocktail conversation or coffee dates. The AGM doesn’t want to install what he believes to be a spreadsheet package only to find out it’s graphics software; a well-developed spec sheet ensures not only that he’ll have no unpleasant surprises (a tautology for the AGM), but that once the suitable woman is found their time together can then be spent upgrading her, I mean, developing their already-known-by-the-AGM-to-be-compatible relationship.

But girls are funny, complains the AGM: They do dumb things, they do unexpected things, they do things that do not fit the spec. This is obviously a defect, and so the AGM casts back the faulty component and continues his search, checklist in hand, muttering to himself (and to the occasional Letters column) that Quality Assurance on the opposite sex is really slipping and how does anyone expect him to take delivery on such substandard equipment?

But I have a secret to tell you about Alpha Geek Males, a secret I’ll bet even Keith Kelly doesn’t know: The AGM is destined by nature to struggle like Sisyphus with a deep, dark, dirty secret attraction to the flakiest, liberal-artsiest, poetry-writingest chicks around. AGMs are a breed without irony, which is why the universe so delights in tormenting them—with girls that almost-but-not-quite fit the spec (or are utterly unlike the spec and yet pure catnip) and with resounding silence in the Letters column where young Keith expected “I would guess a lot of guys out there” to sympathize about life’s stubborn resistance to being debugged.

Fret not, friends, about the Keiths of the world. Enjoy them for what they are— a throwback to the days when an AGM could perhaps honestly chalk up his slow social life to a lack of females “pushed or raised to take interest in scientific or technological fields” rather than to his own sad interpersonal skills. Find the retro charm in his study of quantum mechanics, a discipline that tells us that in the end there’s only so much that’s knowable about any particular situation, and that’s Not Keith’s Fault.

Be kind to the Keiths, because it took (whether he knows it or not) a very lonely boy to write that letter. More significantly, anyone who refers to finding female companionship as a “miraculous” occurrence is, half unknown to himself, already on the slippery slope to losing AGM membership; the ironic, love-sodden universe will be along to whomp him upside the head presently. After all, technology is proof of humankind’s ability to make miracles. Even for, and in spite of, Keith.


Mr. Kelly writes again! See what he had to say this time.


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