[Review] Geeks by Jon Katz

Can one person really make a difference in another person’s life? Just by showing a bit of caring in what happens to another person, can you change a life’s direction? Does the simple act of taking an interest in someone really mean anything?

Those are the questions that are really at the heart of Geeks by Jon Katz. You wouldn’t know this from looking at the book, or really from reading the introduction. From that, you would think it was an essay on geeks living in the world today. I figured it would start with a good definition of what a geek was, which it did in a way, but from that point on this book became something I really wasn’t expecting at all.

What’s a Geek?

The defining aspect of geek-hood given within this book was a feeling of being outside the mainstream. The definition didn’t revolve too much around technology. Many of the people interviewed within the book talked about being geeks, and what it meant to them, and it wasn’t all about how they lived their life through a computer.

Computers were discussed within the context of the geek life as a place where a geek could feel safe and connect with other people. It was the world that they belonged to. It was the refuge they could go to in order to feel safe after long, high school days of being bullied.

As I said at the beginning, though, that’s not really what this book was about.

The Author as a Character

In this book, the author sets out at the beginning to define what a geek is. He mentions his goal of compiling stories from geeks all over the world. That goal is soon pushed aside as he meets up with the main geek characters of the book, Jesse and Eric. These two, Jesse the more outgoing (for a geek) and Eric the “Silent Bob” side kick are at the heart of the book.

It is the author, though, who comes through as the protagonist of the story. His caring, and his self-described “non journalistic” activities, change the course of Jesse’s life, and to a smaller degree, Eric’s life. The author’s first act of caring is in the simple observation that Jesse’s skills with computers and networks could get him a job anywhere. This simple eye-opening statement changes Jesse’s life from that point on, and the book is the story of that adventure.

I don’t want to give away too much, but the author’s actions during the course of this book really do change a life for the better. Watching the transformation of the author himself is also part of the charm of this book. He starts off almost ashamed of himself for meddling in the life of a subject. By the end of the story, though, he’s as much a father to Jesse as anyone.

Is It Still Relevant?

This book was published in 2000, and compiled over a few years before that. This was a time when Google was not even yet a household word, when e-mail was barely breaking into the workplace, and when only a few people were bold enough to let their inner geekiness out of the closet.

An interesting aspect of this book is that while it was being written, the Columbine massacre took place. While I was affected by this when it happened, I was oblivious to the impact it was having on the geek world throughout high schools. The discussion of the injustices that happened after this event was eye opening and intriguing. It’s interesting to see this event in the context of this book, and also with nine years of time passing.

When I picked up this book at a used bookstore, I questioned whether the essay would even be relevant in the world today. Well, as I talked about above, this book is certainly not about computers or video games or pocket protectors. The ability of one person to completely alter another life is certainly relevant in today’s world, and the racing speed of technological advancement won’t change that.

Rating: B+

Who would like it: People looking for an inspiring story. People who are geeks themselves will be able to take away even more.

Who wouldn’t like it: People who don’t want to challenge the way they see things, and who are so mainstream that geeks scare them.

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