Or why the Internet has led to the democratization of trendsetting
Flash back to the early 2000’s, or whenever Motorola was hot. I distinctly remember when the hot pink Razr came out on the market. Oh, how I longed for that phone, even though it would mean saying goodbye to the chunky Nokia buttons my muscle memory longed for, and bidding adieu to my long-time favorite game of Snake. By the time I came around to my two-year renewal, everyone and their mother, and perhaps my mother, had the phone in one of its metallic varieties. Sigh.
Now, back to 2010, the year during which the tech geek was undoubtedly coolified. This mainstream acceptance and even longing can be attributed to a few factors:
- We can relate. The “cool tech geek” is no longer solely classified by back room programming genius that mystify the masses. Some of the most promising start-ups are founded by the anti-antisocial, and their prowess is not limited to coding, although that’s often part of the mix. As such, the barriers to entry (or in this case, outsider understanding and sense of familiarity), are increasingly low, particularly with consumer-facing products.
- We can understand. Similarly to the point above, the vast majority of society now engages with new technology in some capacity, and thus the benefits are less abstract or esoteric.
- We can dream the same dreams. As The Social Network proved, a less than amicable 20-something can turn an idea into a multibillion dollar company in only a handful of years. Web 2.0 American Dream meets Manifest Destiny, with resulting fame and glory that rivals Lindsay Lohan on gossip blogs.
What I find particularly unique to our “cool tech geek” times is that the historic barriers to adoption, and particularly early adoption, are diminishing as we move from gadget frenzy to gadget & platform frenzy. In the past, if you didn’t have the disposable income or Best Buy hook-up to get you the latest Apple (or Motorola!) INSERT AWESOME NEW THING HERE, you would have to wait your turn like the rest of us plebeians. Now, religiously reading TechCrunch, attending a NY Tech Meetup or scanning Quora can keep you in the know – and perhaps help you score a beta invite to the latest platform trial. (Though I still don’t know how to get an Art.sy invite). For better or worse, the status of early adopter (or as Wikipedia explains, a trendsetter) is becoming increasingly synonymous with “cool tech geek” — or “technofile,” “tech lover,” “digital maven” … choose your fix. I’ve recently been toying with strategic digitician. (Shout out to @gabemizrahi for the brilliant coining.)
I’ll expand on the point through anecdotal, self-depreciating confession:
As an aspiring strategic digitician, I try to keep pace with what cooler tech geeks have accomplished thus far, and recently stumbled upon TheFancy.com in a recent All Things D post. The Fancy, a startup by the stealth and well-respected ThingD NY enclave, lets you tag cool, pretty and/or interesting things across the web. It then pulls those images seamlessly onto the platform, which falls into an emerging hybrid class: social site meets information network meets visual database of web-generated and user-tagged content (read: way smart catalog). They will likely move into e-commerce in the future.
Again, I digress. Long story, long, I went online and played on the site, thought it was interesting and then BOOM, prompt to request an invite. So beta. So Gilt Groupe. OK fine…
Aren’t possessions taboo in a post Great Recession age? Isn’t America facing a serious foreclosure crisis? And isn’t the concept of “ownership” such a gilded age cliché? Well, probably not if you look at the California brushfire growth rates for e-commerce. Depending on who you ask, Americans are born to shop and eat even when they claim to be “buckling down,” and I’m addicted to flash sales. So much for wishful utopian thinking…OK, so what is my favorite thing? Scan the room, look at my Mac. Up to the painting, beautiful but unknown swap meet artist. If I can’t name the artist, then it must not be important to me? Eyes meet disorganized stack of old journals, starting from the pre-Moleskin era through today, stuffed with everything from 10-year-old angst to business ideas and really poorly drawn doodles. Old leather smell. Done.
3 hours later – Acceptance! Validation! Pathetic realization that as much as I was interested in playing around on Fancy and seeing what’s up with the Tumblr-minded, visually perceptive enclave, I also wanted to be able to form my own opinion before the masses, fulfill my curiosity for the new and the innovative – essentially move up a notch on the geek-o-meter.
Again, compared to a gadget age where money serves as the gatekeeper for the bright, shiny and new, with proliferating consumer-facing start-ups, early adoption’s only barrier is access to information. Because of unfiltered, unlimited and inundating access (at least in some parts of the world), if you will it, it’s no longer a dream. Cool tech geekdom has never been so attainable, at least for the 8% of Americans on Twitter. Welcome to the fierce comeback of “Knowledge is Power.”