Baby Steps

Anyone who is reading this blog is probably only too aware of the reported rise in popularity of the Geek Movement. Well, I’m going to say something outrageous and shocking. I’m still not convinced that there is such a thing as “The Geek Movement”. That’s right, you heard me….

Controversial, I know, but when I’ve seen the term used recently it’s usually in a derogatory way, and often by people who see themselves (somewhat loftily) as above it. A kind of “we have our minds on higher aims than popularity” view which is brilliant and wonderful and worthy… but to me doesn’t conversely mean that popularity is a bad thing. In fact, if you’re an Alice Roberts or a Brian Cox or a Steve Jones, I’m pretty sure you have the brain capacity to do both and multi-task. Just as I tell my children that there is no limit on love and I have enough to go around, there is no limit to the ways we can be interested in science. There’s room for everyone, from the tired nurse picking up Ben Miller’s pop-sci book for the first time to the UCL researcher.

And likewise, it’s been used in a derogatory way by people who see themselves as outside of some magical clique. Maybe I’m being naive, and if you asked me again in five years I’d be an embittered husk, but I’ve been to a fair few events and can safely say I don’t think there’s a “Geek clique”. Certainly there’s a bunch of faces you’re likely to see around and they’re people who know each other, but you would find that at DragonCon or a rock concert as well. There’s no exclusivity that I’ve ever seen and every one of the “big guns” I’ve met has been extremely welcoming to me, although I have very little brain power, economic power or sparkling wit to offer. I’m not going to get  too far into the realms of slush here but I’ve been very lucky to meet some great friends in the last year or two, and my life is all the richer for knowing them.

Like many movements, the “Geek Movement” provides an easy shorthand, but when you take a closer look you realise how many facets and approaches there are. Just as you couldn’t claim “The Left” or “Feminists”, or indeed Weight Watchers devotees or Trekkers, are one homogenous mass, likewise the Geeks are wide and varied. For every best selling popular science book or BBC science show that captures the imagination, there is a quiet corner of data analysts, lab researchers and people with science degrees who somehow ended up in middle management, sitting in a pub somewhere, talking excitedly about synthetic biology or quarks. They are men, women, left wing, right wing, young, old, professionals or students or manual workers… as many kinds of geek as there are people who show an interest.

At the end of last year Guardian journalist Alok Jha wrote a bright, breezy post on the Geek Movement, and more specifically the power of entertainment shows such as Uncaged Monkeys and The Festival of The Spoken Nerd to educate through laughter. As someone who had taken their first baby steps into my current path through these kind of shows, I could appreciate his words. My first proper geek event was just a year before when Robin Ince hosted Ghosts of Christmas Past at The Royal Institution. It might have been awe at sitting in the lecture theatre for the first time in front of the huge wooden desk, or it might have been the ether-soaked cotton wool left by chemist Andrea Sella just a metre in front of me, but I came out of that show dizzy with knowledge and high on Geek. I helped mathematician Matt Parker demonstrate a wonky old wooden contraption which had last been used by Christopher Zeeman in 1978 (judging by the dust), and I watched Dr Adam Rutherford talking about the ability of older brains to learn newer things little knowing that in a few short months he’d be an occasional drinking buddy.

But also, in the intervening year between that night and Alok’s article, I learned that these big touring and London based shows were a gateway drug, entry level geek. There is a richer world if you’re prepared to look around a bit, a world not necessarily populated by the big names or big venues, a world where you’re not just waiting for Robin Ince’s tour to next pass through your town (and let’s face it, that’s quite frequent – the man never stops). At the end of this post you’ll find, in alphabetical order, a list of geek events and organisations that take place all over the UK and all over the world, mainly run by dedicated volunteers on a shoestring. If you have more to add please get in touch, either through Twitter (@CherryMakes) or by email: CherryMakes at Live dot com. I’d love to eventually have a sidebar full of good stuff on this blog page.

I said at the beginning of this post that I don’t really believe there is a Geek Movement,  but maybe I’m wrong after all. Not necessarily within the narrow definitions of its detractors who focus on the biggest names and hope for some kind of reflected glory, but in the pubs, cafes and village halls. Dedicated volunteers who geek out in their spare time are searching each other out and getting organised. And the grass roots movements, that grow away from the sight of tiresome critics and commentators, are the ones you need to look out for.