Some thoughts on geekery.

“Hey, read me some of your book,” said my girlfriend, and I knew I was in trouble. Because what I was reading was The Amber Spyglass, a fantasy novel by Philip Pullman. I got through half of one sentence, and she cut me off. “Who's Iorek?” she asked.

“He's a, uh, talking polar bear. In armor.”

“Ah. And what's he doing?”

“Well, he and these people who ride dragonflies are going to get into a gyropter and go to war over magic dust.” The look on her face when I said “gyropter” filled me with grim shame. And I hadn't even explained how nearly every human in the book has a magical animal companion.

Why are so many of the things I love so embarrassing? Computer programming, science fiction, blogging-every one of my passions is something to sneer at. You're supposed to not care, to just do the things you love and ignore public censure-but who doesn't know better than that? When I discovered computers, I used to hide the manuals, so that no one could see. From the age of 12, I knew it was better to be a cipher, invisible to my peers, with no obvious preferences, than to be known as a boy who loved fractals. The alternative was beatings, and spitballs. Now, when I meet strangers, I talk about anything but websites and sci-fi. I keep the topics urbane. Art, serious film, well-reviewed books.

There's something terrible about being judged by your preferences. I'm thinking of my friend Ken, who was reading Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections on his morning commute, and was so ashamed to be lumped in with all the other trend-conscious Corrections-reading subway riders, that he tore off the cover and blacked out the spine. He wanted to read the book without feeling judged. And he's right to be paranoid: I liked the Corrections, too, but if I'd seen him on the train, I would have rolled my eyes at yet another sheep who bought into the marketing. I'm a sneerer as well as a sneeree. I'm a hypocrite.

We're all ashamed, and probably all sneering. Everyone except for a minority of few very pure snobs has some secret media consumption habit that they don't discuss at work or at a party. That Justin Timberlake album, romance novels, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, the WB. Just because some of the characters in the books I like have horns and live in different galaxies shouldn't make me a social pariah.

That's why I was glad when a few weeks ago, another friend, a man in his 30s, emailed me a huge, involved invitation to his bi-annual Dungeons and Dragons competition. The invitation was peppered with pictures of monsters, and scrolls, and done up to look exactly like an ad in a comic book. He and his wife were going to decorate their apartment with a medieval theme, and everyone was going to wear cloaks, and twelve-sided dice would be tossed without fear.

I was deeply impressed to see someone so at peace with their inner dork, so open and unapologetic. It was inspiring. Of course, I didn't go, because I've never played Dungeons and Dragons. I mean, even I have some standards.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents