“The Internet generation has no use for books,” declared some random commenter on some random forum, “They can only write in 140-character chunks and only focus long enough to respond to shallow pop-culture references with gobbledygook (‘omgroflmao’? WTF?). Their only critical reading skill is scanning a website to figure out where to input their parent’s credit card info. Huxley’s nightmare has already come to pass”.
Prompting this grave pronouncement was a debate on whether my old high school should pull Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian classic Brave New World from the 10th-grade reading curriculum for offensively racist content (more on that in a bit). Huxley warned against a world where no one reads – not necessarily because it is forbidden, but because they are lulled into blissfully ignorance and apathy by sanitized, government-prescribed entertainment, consumerism, sex and drugs. The idea that this book may be banned (or at least relegated to dusty library shelves) just as we’re on the cusp of such a world was just too richly ironic for many to pass up. My knee-jerk reaction was an indignant defense: “I’m a twenty-something geek and a reader, and so are all my friends!” But something about my objection rang a little hollow.
Although I am not (thank Ford) still in high school, I’m incontrovertibly a member of the “Internet generation”. I grew up with it, from Netscape Navigator on a behemoth of a mid-90’s PC to writing blog posts on my phone. I’m culturally tied to it, for better or worse – most of my connection to the larger world filters through its tubes, getting caught up in memes along the way (dinner is inevitably announced with the glad cry of “Nom noms!”, and when we recently got a pet rabbit, our first instinct was to put things on its head and take pictures). Beyond that, I’m a proud geek – my undergraduate degree is in computer science and biology, I work as a web developer, I understand almost all of xkcd, and I’m fascinated by the underlying mathematical structure of networks. I’m also a confirmed bibliophile, starting with my mom’s collection of old science-fiction anthologies, and escaping the unpleasant aspects of middle and high school through reading. But a quick glance at that list of 100 classics that tends to float around social networks (just saw it on Facebook, but I swear I remember it from LiveJournal) shows that maybe my literary credentials aren’t as deep as they could be. And college – especially in the sciences – doesn’t encourage a lot of extra-curricular literary escapism. So now that I’m, at least supposedly, an adult (hah!), I want to do two things with my newfound freedom: eat ice cream for dinner, and read stacks of big, old books.
But of course, as a true member of my generation, I can’t just sit quietly in a corner and read – I have to trumpet my opinion on it, too. I’ve been thinking for while about starting a blog, but the Brave New World debate gave me the incentive I needed (nothing gets a reader riled like a threatened book-banning). We’ll see where it goes from there – discussions of machines vs paper, old knowledge vs. new, static text vs hyperlinks, language vs. the information it carries. More simply, a blog about geeks and books. Or, if it’s 2 am on a weekday and I’ve been writing code for too long and English is hard … beeks and guks*.
Welcome to Beekguk.
* also forthcoming: an explanation of why “guk” vs “gook”, other than making it look more like an Ikea dining-room set.