Teenage hackers Jesse Dailey and Eric Twilegar are the heroes of Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho
, a thoughtful, affecting pop ethnography--and heroes is exactly what Jon Katz wants you to see them as. To the rest of the world, themselves included, they are geeks, which is a complicated thing to be these days. With the rise of the networked economy, the world and its wealth have become increasingly dependent on the expertise of Star Wars
-loving, cola-swilling propellerheads everywhere. Yet at the same time, the typical geek--especially the typical adolescent geek--remains a consummate outsider, with passions for technological arcana that are both alienating and empowering.
Katz, a writer for both Rolling Stone and the profoundly geeky Web site Slashdot.org, does a fine job of mapping this ambiguous new state of affairs (the Geek Ascendancy, he calls it). But the book's heart and soul is the well-told tale of Jesse and Eric's adventurous flight from lonely, dead-end lives in Idaho Mormon country to brighter possibilities in Chicago.
Katz argues that this great escape couldn't have happened without the networks (both social and technological) that are the lifeblood of '90s geekdom, but he doesn't let his celebratory argument get in the way of the story. Although he's a tireless advocate for geeks (the last chapters retrace his impassioned advocacy for brooding teenage weirdos in the face of post-Columbine media attacks), he presents their culture warts and all, with its tendencies toward social awkwardness and arrogance recognizably intact. He doesn't demand your sympathy for his heroes and their world--but he wins it anyway, by bringing them vividly and honestly to life. --Julian Dibbell
From Publishers Weekly
While promoting his book Virtuous Reality, journalist Katz was introduced to the world of "geeks," those smart, technically savvy misfits who are ostracized by their high school peers. Katz wrote in his column on the slashdot.org Web site about the isolation, exclusion and maltreatment--from dirty looks to brutal beatings--such kids routinely face. Tens of thousands of anguished e-mails confirmed his story. One of the e-mailers was Jesse Dailey, a working-class 19-year-old trapped in rural Idaho, where he and his friend Eric Twilegar fixed computers for a living, and hacked and surfed the Web, convinced that they were losers and outcasts. Katz, also a writer for Wired and Rolling Stone, traveled to Idaho to meet the pair, intending to chronicle their lives. He wound up encouraging and sometimes assisting Jesse and Eric as they tried to improve their lives by moving to Chicago, where they sought better jobs and even considered applying to college. Sometimes intensely earnest, Katz cuts back and forth between Jesse and Eric's story and more general discussions of the geeks' condition. Over the course of the book, Jesse and Eric come to represent geeks' collective weaknesses and strengths. While the bulk of the book has broad social and educational implications (concerning the fate of bright kids who don't come from socially and educationally privileged backgrounds), it is a highly personal tale: Katz takes us inside the lives of these two young men, shows us their sense of isolation, their complete absorption in the cyberworld, their distrust of authority and institutions, and their attempts to negotiate an often hostile society. He breaks through the stereotype and humanizes this outcast group of young people. (Feb.)
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