Ungeeking the nation | Us Now screening


Anyone within earshot of me for the last few weeks will have heard me rambling on about this thing I call ungeeking.  At Amplifed08 last Thursday one of those people happened to be David Wilcox who interviewed me briefly on the subject with his trusty Flip Mino.

I'm using the term ungeeking in what I believe is a new and exciting way.  But before we look at exactly what I do mean, let's look at what I don't mean.

Ungeeking is not:

  • purging the world of coders.  I was wearing the sticky label shown above at a recent Social Innovation Meetup and it caused not a little bit of consternation.  It goes without saying that I have incredible admiration for developers' talents and can even say I was once a very amateur one myself having taught myself Java using a book called Teach Youself Java in 21 Days.  For those who are wondering, it was more like 24 (and I skipped the last few chapters).
  • just mainstreaming social media etc and therefore raising everyone's digital literacy to that of the geeks and early adopters.  This is a worthwhile ambition and certainly something we here at NESTA Connect are interested in and connected to but…

What I specifically mean by ungeeking is:

  • understanding how behaviours developed online and in "geek culture" are leaking into wider society in ways that are not necessarily anything to do with technology. 

An example.  Barcamps are conferences where its the participants dictate that dictate what sessions are held with every attendee expected to actively participate in some way.  As an event in itself it's as lo-tech as you can get: arrive in the morning to a big piece of paper outlining the meeting rooms and timeslots and people use Post-it notes to fill in the grid with the topic they want to host a session around and lo and behold, you have a full self-organising conference format. 

But Barcamp has its origin in Palo Alto – the hi-tech capital of the known universe. This is not a coincidence. 

My hypothesis is that via a deep literacy of Web 2.0, open source software models etc  the people that started Barcamp has sufficient training in participation, self-organisation and information-gathering based on passion and curiosity that Barcamp is that web-enabled experience made flesh.  I'll go further still and say that the whole unconference phenomenon is a direct result of the social web.  It's the social web ungeeked into events.

I've been asked to write a more extensive article on ungeeking for the main NESTA website which I shall be completing shortly so please look out for that.

Clay Shirky summarizes ungeeking brilliantly here from the excellent Us Now.

"A revolution doesn't happen when a society adopts new tools.  It happens when it adopts new behaviours."

As part of out mission to ungeek the nation, NESTA Connect is very pleased to be hosting a screening of Us Now on December 10th at the Prince Charles Cinema in London.  There are still a few tickets left so please see the full details and sign up at http://usnowfilm.eventbrite.com


  1. Hey Rohan
    Just watched the video of you explaining ungeeking to David Wilcox at Amplified. Fascinating and essential stuff.
    I’m interested in the story you seem to be telling of re-learning behaviors we’ve lost. Would the following sort of hypothesis / explanatory story fit with/capture some what what you were saying:
    //We developed good practice for interacting in small communities. As communities/societies got more complex we lost some of those practices as our ability to communicate and process information in those larger communities didn’t keep up with their change of scale/pace. New communication technologies remove some of these limitations and allow us to recapture and re-invent many past practices – and we realise that in fact, many we can apply even without the technologies being present (e.g. we use the technology to get the right people in the room for an unconference, and then we recognise we can let it drop out of the picture.)//
    Interestingly I think I only 1/2 agree with the story I’ve told above (I thought I’d agree with it more when I started trying to set it out…). We do find some old patterns of social organisation re-emerging – but many of the forms of organisation we’re seeing are essentially new, though related to past modes of organising and action.
    Which is where I find the idea of ungeeking particularly interesting. If these new modes of organising are developed within a geek culture (which includes certain implicit shared values, or certain power relations as a result of ability to control technologies etc.) how do those modes of organising transfer to an ungeeked space – where values and power structures will be different? And how are we able to critique them to find the positives and the negatives in them before adopting them fully*
    *Presumably at some point someone thought the conference with speakers at the front and everyone sitting quiet was a really good idea for just about everything. It probably was good for some contexts. But it was adopted for far too many cases – and hasn’t been dropped when it’s gone beyond it’s usefulness. Do we need to be able to subject the emerging models of organisation to the same critiques that we may find ourselves subjecting the standard conference to? Or can we let that critique emerge, or even build the tools to critique approaches into the emerging approaches themselves…

  2. I like being a geek. Can I stay that way or must I be ungeekified? 😉
    Seriously, though, to quote another Clay Shirkyism (that guy is annoyingly quotable):
    ‘communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they become technologically boring.’
    I think web2.0 enthusiasm needs to cross-over or risk irrelevance. Ungeeking seems a powerful and important objective and one I like alot. But then again I would say that…

  3. Rohan, I think you raise something very important. The internet has encouraged the development of an ‘open’ culture, because it enables it. For me this is the most valuable leakage… a change in attitudes about knowledge, creating it collectively, sharing it widely, generously. But it is a ‘new order’ and my experience is that this can be threatening to some/many. Tim raised many points about the practical difficulties in encouraging new ways of working.
    I wonder if the term ‘ungeeking’ is open to misinterpretation though – as you found with your label. Like Roland I love being a geek, but am geeky about a whole range of things that I am really enthusiastic about – technology being just one – human interaction another …I encourage geekiness in my children.

  4. Thanks Tessy. Yes I’ve been thinking about the term “ungeeking” and recognise that it can be confusing…so will welcome alternatives!
    However there is something quite provocative about it which I like. Also once it is defined well, I think it sticks.

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