Geeks and control freaks

August 09, 2011

A while ago I started using Google Plus. I’m yet to be convinced of it’s value, but I’ll stick with it. As with Twitter, I started following a few people I know of through the Drupal community, including Earl Miles, the creator of the Views module. I’ve never met Earl, but he seems like he really knows his stuff. I use Views all the time, and thought he might be a useful person to follow.

The first few posts I saw from him made me wonder though. They were all about some fantasy role-playing game. I guess his name on (merlinofchaos) should have given me a clue, but even so it gave me a jolt.

Why did I react like that? Probably because fantasy roleplaying is the domain of the geek. 

Computer people aren’t cool. I’ve met more than a few people at web events who reminded me of comic book guy from the Simpsons, and the male-female ratio is ridiculous. People don’t aspire to be like Moss from the IT crowd.

I’m obviously in denial about being a geek, in spite of any notions that the word has been reclaimed, or any idea that it might be hip to be square. I’m not the only one who is in denial about being uncool, which is why some IT people call themselves ninjas or rock stars. That’s just silly, and I’d never make claims of being cool. In fact I used to be in a band who had a song all about not being cool.

There’s a certain tendency among geeks to be somewhere along the OCD / autistic spectrum. We like rules and systems. We want the world to progress along logical lines. We want to be able to exert control. We want to be able to shape the world according to our own view of it.

This is where the link with roleplaying comes in. It also ties in with hobbies like model railways, and it’s no surprise that there has been a lot of crossover, to the extent that a model railway club was the beginning of hacker culture. It’s no surprise that computer games like Sim City or Civilisation were so popular, offering the player the chance to control a virtual world.

I think this is one of the reasons why so many developers want there to be web standards.

It’s also why developers have such a hatred of Internet Explorer. They don’t have control over it. It’s mysterious, and it doesn’t obey the rules that we expect it to.

As is the case so often, xkcd expresses this nicely: