Geek out and about

Cast your gaze upon this video footage of a talk entitled Science Fiction as a Literary Genre by Neal Stephenson. Alas, there is no transcript of the talk but there are chapter markers. If you’re pushed for time, skip ahead to the part marked vegging out and geeking out. There, Stephenson makes an important distinction between the two; a distinction that was missed in Clay Shirky’s otherwise excellent speech Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.

Shirky distils his observations of passive and interactive activities into a general principle:

It’s better to do something than to do nothing.

But Stephenson makes the case that both activities have their place. Sometimes switching off your brain and wallowing in low-brow entertainment can be refreshing, even cathartic.

That said, while I agree that vegging out is not something to be dismissed, geeking out is clearly the more important of the two ends of the activity spectrum. In a commencement speech to Caltech students, Radiolab’s stresses the importance of scientists geeking out to non-scientists to battle the forces of ignorance. Tell me a story, he implores.

For us workers on the Web we have plenty of opportunities to geek out in virtual environments like mailing lists, Twitter, IRC and instant messaging but there’s still nothing to beat the enjoyment of geeking out face to face. I feel very fortunate to live in Brighton where there is ample opportunity for in-the-flesh geek gatherings. The town has a strong whiff of what Kevin Kelly calls scenius.

But for pure geekout overload, nothing beats a gathering of the tribes. That means BarCamps and conferences.

There are some geek gatherings in the offing that I’m particularly looking forward to. In just under a fortnight, I’ll be heading out to San Francisco for An Event Apart. This will be my second AEA—my first was in Chicago—so I guess I must have done something right. If this one is even half as good as my first experience, it will be wonderful.

By the way, if you’re thinking about heading along to the conference, tickets are still available. If you decide to register, use the code AEAKEITH to get fifty bucks off.

Then, just a couple of weeks after An Event Apart San Francisco, Brighton will be hosting the annual geekgasm that is dConstruct (followed immediately by BarCamp Brighton on the Saturday and Sunday). There are still a few tickets available for dConstruct but they’re going pretty fast.

I’m all set for An Event Apart but I still haven’t prepared my talk for dConstruct. I’m starting to feel the pressure. I’ve made a start of trying to get my thoughts out of my head and onto post-it notes as a first step but that has thrown the magnitude of my task into sharp relief. There’s so much material I want to cover and I want to do it justice. If I succeed, I think I can deliver an entertaining 45 minutes of geeking out. If.

I really should get on with preparing that talk. Maybe I’ll veg out with some mindless entertainment first.

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