It's Friday night and I'm slipping into a dimly lit, loud, packed club in New York. By traditional standards, I'm not a *cool* person, I don't go to NY clubs (I don't even get invites), and my wardrobe is utterly deficient in terms of label-love-sexy, but this club and this party are being held and attended by *my people* -- tech geeks who also fall into the same category...or do they?
High-tech and haute-hip have officially converged into a very happening social scene where geeks are cool. Of all the events taking place last Friday night, it was popular blog Mashable.com's MashBash that was one of Manhattan's hottest tickets. A look at the various wristbands worn by attendees revealed who had access to the open bar, A-list entrepreneurs and sponsors, and dancing.
I was at once intimidated and fascinated by the crowd. Having attended a number of tech-related events over the past year (where there were no lines or bouncers) it's clearly become chic to be geek. When did levels of geekness become so complicated? Having only two wristbands, I found myself having a flashback to finding the right lunch-table in the proverbial high school cafeteria.
Growing up, I found solace in a nerd culture by circumstance, not by choice. Simply stated, if there had been an eBay in 1990, I would have auctioned off my clarinet for a proper pair of cool shoes. In fact, I spent most of my awkward teen years fighting off my nerd-like tendencies only to reconcile with and embrace them as an adult, choosing an obvious path for the socially awkward and alienated high tech.
My career has been a safe haven for my awkwardness for several years, but like any neighborhood undergoing development, I've been noticing that the culture of the uncool has transformed to become the culture of the cool. It's both off-putting and thrilling, but I don't know how to handle it. The transformation of geek-to-chic feels like it happened overnight, it's been rapidly developing alongside the 21st century expansion of the Internet and the more recent blowout of the social web.
Here's what I think . . .
Blogs were the catalyst that made it possible for the mainstream and the non-programmer to create community out of a handful of pixels. Suddenly, regular people could adopt and share knowledge, opinion, and stories of their personal lives like never before. Websites became ridiculously easy to create. Google indexed it all, gave us each a reason to create personal brands, and the very people who never would have connected to one another became hyper-connected inwardly and outwardly.
Services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have created a kind of competitive and social culture of friending, following, and connecting. Who you know, is more obvious today than ever before (a realization that personally scares me to death).
As much as I'm a cynic, I'm also full of hope. The positive and exciting aspect of these relationships and interactions is that if you step back and look at an offline event like MashBash, you can see the people who are the creators of the code interacting and having a great time with the people who are using and benefiting from their code. The red-rope divisions inside the club and the wristbands were a social annoyance reminiscent of awkward teen years, but, suddenly there's a whole new level of connectedness and community being created and shared.
As blogs like Mashable host events that take the social web offline, technology and geek culture, with all the ongoing A-list/D-list social divisions, relationship complications, and rapidly expanding community, have never felt so human with their inherent coolness, uncoolness, and awkwardness to me.
What do you think? Are you starting to feel like tech and social scenes are converging in your hometown too? Have you ever attended a geek-chic event?
(MashBash hosts included Brett Petersel, Adam Hirsch, and Adam Ostrow. Brett, in particular, is a person you want to meet as soon as you move to New York. Organizer of the Web 2.0 Meetup, Nextwebonline.com, Techkaraoke, and Mashable.com events).