The secret handshake

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If you read my last post, you’ll know that I struggle to express ideas precisely and am frequently frustrated knowing that my listeners are hearing something different, because I’m not good at that precision, because they’re bringing their own experiences and perceptions of the ideas and of me to what I say, because we’re so used to hearing hyperbole that we tone down any proclamation, like lopping off the score from the East German judge*.

So I don’t self-identify as a geek or a nerd because neither camp would fully accept me as one of their own. I love Star Trek but not (gasp) Doctor Who, have been to NASA JPL twice now and am waiting for the next open house after the sequester cancelled this year’s but I haven’t been to the local less-dramatic space science centre, I love reading and hearing about physics but get to a point where I hit a wall of WTF, I admire Neil Gaiman but think Joss Whedon is overrated, I’m not a gamer but I’m immersed in some aspects of web culture.

It’s always good-natured but it happened again this weekend at the Northern Voice blogging conference. If attending that doesn’t scream geek of some kind I don’t know what does, but it’s the kind of place where admitting you found Firefly boring gets you teasingly ostracized.

But there’s the old adage “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” In my offline circles I’m geekier than many. At most of my workplaces I’ve been considered tech savvy, which makes my truly tech savvy friends laugh.

The geek handshake, where there’s a checklist of things you must enjoy, is another example of how we put each other into boxes. As if any two people have one set of traits, as if we’re not all way more complicated than that. And even in good-natured-ness, it’s another way of dividing people as in the club and not in the club.

I had a boss once who drew a Venn diagram to show me where he thought friendship lives:


I agree that commonalities draw us together, but I countered by saying the most interesting parts of friendship are where the circles don’t overlap. If our secret handshake excludes the rest of the circle, the boundaries of our own circle will never expand. My mixed metaphors would have worked better if Venn diagrams were square, but in essence we put ourselves in boxes.

Which leads me to another Venn diagram, this one presented by Dave Olson of Hootsuite at the conference about living an enriched, story-filled life (I’ve re-created – his was nicer):


I don’t do this well. I’m an introvert – my comfort zone is inside my own head, and while some might call that a very weird place, my version of the weird I want to explore out there in the world would be sedate compared to, say, Dave O’s version. But I do think the world would be more interesting — we’d all be more interesting — if we spent more time dodging the handshake instead of seeking it.

* outdated West Wing reference.

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