Katz wrote an article covering much of the adventure to that point for Rolling Stone. The new material begins about a third of the way through the book, when Katz picks up two strands meant to pull the story forward. First, Jesse decides he wants to attend the University of Chicago, an impressive example of geek ascension indeed, given his spotty academic background and rough upbringing. Second, the massacre at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado, casts unflattering attention on geekdom � attention that Katz finds wildly, offensively, catastrophically misguided.
These themes do not fit together naturally, but fitting them together is the core of what Katz is trying to do here. His view, as outlined in his long and unwieldy introduction, is that geeks are not just technically adept; geeks are oppressed rebel spirits who will rise up and change not only the economy but the world in general. Somewhat unconvincingly, Katz turns to 1980s identity politics to explain the �language inversion� that has caused geeks to call themselves geeks. �They adopted the most hateful words used against them as a badge of pride,� he writes.
Now, Jesse is young, so we can forgive him for his belief that geeks, as a class, have endured the same prejudice as blacks, women and gays. But it's absurd for Katz to imply that this is so. Instead, geeks seem to me more like freaks, in the 1960s sense. When Katz writes about the �geek technocracy� and its distaste for authority, disgust with the educational system, suspicion of conglomerates, etc., he sounds just like Frank Zappa in �Freak Out!� warning �Mr. America� that he can �not forestall the rising tide of hungry freaks, Daddy.� Though in this case the rising tide consists not of hippies armed with guitars and a lot of ill-defined notions about utopia, but rather of geeks armed with computers and ... a lot of ill-defined notions about utopia. Anyway, it's actually an interesting question: What if, instead of launching their full frontal assault on politics and culture, the Zappa class of the 1960s had plunged into corporate America? And is that what's actually happening now?
But Katz pushes in a different, and ultimately more muddled, direction when he gets to Columbine. His overriding point � made in a series of Slashdot columns by and about geeks that he self-importantly rehashes here (�Like it or not, I was the conduit, the transmitter�) � is that the day-to-day pain of high school life for geek outsiders was ignored in the post-shooting hysteria.
That's legitimate. What's harder to swallow is the connection he then draws to Jesse, the up-and-coming geek. It may well be that many talented computer programmers are persecuted in high school, but every persecuted high school student is not the diamond in the rough that Jesse so clearly turns out to be. That's why Katz chose him: Not because he's typical but because he isn't. Katz ends up, in fact, getting rather directly involved in Jesse's life, and although it compromises his narrative in a journalistic sense, it's not hard to understand why he did it � the reader is definitely rooting for this kid by the end.
But Katz is ultimately too much of a geek-power zealot to reconcile the contradictions in, say, Jesse's rebelliousness and his desire to enroll at (of all places) the University of Chicago. Nor does he come up with anything definitive and credible about the supposedly apolitical, anticommerce geek class and where they will ultimately steer us. I suspect for the answer to that question we'll have to wait and watch the Jesse Daileys of the world, not to mention the generation after them, as they find their way into the economy.
If this person were actually a geek, he would have read the 'long and unweildy' intro with a huge grin on his face and maybe even a 'right fucking ON' here and there.
The book is wonderful.
The book is excellent.
I'm still trying to track down Eric in all this, but look up Jesse Dailey. He's doing exactly what he wanted to do and it's incredible and inspiring and all that jazz...
But, really, what I got most out of this book is that all those things that I thought set me apart do not. Not in the ways they have before.
The parts on columbine are shocking. They brought it all back so viscerally and I am just not the blubbery "I identify with you" sort. It was excellent.
I even wrote something to Katz about it, will probably write something to Jesse, and hopefully Eric as well.
William Wimsatt is to blame for this proactive attitude.
(read No More Prisons.... no.. really...)