CKL's HotSheet
What Non-Aardvarks are Pondering

By Curtis C. Chen

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May 18, 2002


If you gaze long into an abyss...

I don't read enough these days. And I think I know why-- it's because of TV and the Internet. Interactivity is cool. Moving pictures are cool. If my parents had subscribed to cable TV, or if microcomputers had been invented a few years earlier, I might not have read so many books when I was younger.

Thankfully, my mother is a librarian. The only downside is that I can't just order Mother's Day gifts from She gets books for free; hell, she decides what books the library should buy. The new Toni Morrison hardcover isn't really going to impress her.

Anyway. I still enjoy reading. It's just easier and more immediate in most cases to entertain myself with TV or computers. And both those pastimes are more active than reading. For me, TV has been interactive since 1984, when our family got our first VCR. You hate making appointments to see the doctor, and that's actually important. Why should you make appointments to watch TV?

I rarely watch live TV, and when I do, I pause frequently, making time for me to skip commercials using my Dishplayer. (I know, TiVo is better, but I was a Dish Network customer first.) The experience is no longer passive-- in some ways, it's like a game. How well can you fast-forward through the ads? I'm just waiting for some hacker to add a scoring mechanism to his TiVo: +10 points for every commercial you skip, -5 if you have to rewind...

...the abyss will gaze back into you

Oh boy! Interactive TV! But don't get too excited yet. TV networks don't really want to give you all that much control. If NBC could sell you an NBC-branded TV set that only receives one station-- NBC-- they would. They only want to offer as much control (or the illusion of control) as it takes to keep you from complaining.

No, I'll tell you what they want (what they really, really want). They want to gather marketing information. Nothing survives without advertising. TV networks want to know what you watch so they can use that information to price their commercial rates and/or sell the aggregate data directly to advertisers. You're not a person, you're a data point in the males 18-49 demographic.

Of course, this generally doesn't bother you, because you don't know about it. You're not even a part of it, probably, because of the way Nielsen TV ratings are calculated. I know, statistical sampling is a valid data gathering mechanism, but I just don't trust it in this case. There are too many other variables. I don't know anybody who's part of a "Nielsen family," and I know a lot of people. I'm supposed to trust that my viewing habits are being represented? Yeah, right, and I'll buy that bridge in Manhattan, too.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I want TV networks-- or anyone else-- tracking my viewing habits in microscopic detail. It's good to know that other people, who are in a position to affect whether this happens, also care about privacy rights:

Geeking Out

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I'm not a hardcore geek, despite being a computer programmer and looking for a new job in that field. Now, after a few more interviews and a lot more research, I'm starting to realize something: geekiness is binary. You're either a geek or you're not.

It doesn't matter what you do as a geek, or how much you interact with the geek community, or how many O'Reilly books are in your zoo. It doesn't matter whether you prefer to program in Java, Perl, Python, C++, Visual Basic, or AppleScript. All that matters is that you care enough to know (and remember) what any of it is.

But, as I've also discovered, just being a geek won't get you a job. Geeks come in just as many shapes, sizes, and attitudes as any other ethnic, geographic, or social group. There are geeks I love and geeks I can't stand. Being a geek doesn't automatically mean you're my friend.

And geekiness is only one part of me. I'm also a writer, an artist, a diplomat, a hermit, an enigma, a gadfly. I'm alive. I'm magic.

I'm geek and I'm proud.

The Question

No, I haven't seen Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones yet. I'm going on Sunday, May 19-- exactly three years after I saw Episode I. How's that for geeky?




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