Regular People vs. "Geeks" vs. The Fringe

There we were, the family sitting around the table honoring my father on Father's Day.

The big topic of conversation: My sister and her husband just bought a brand new tow-behind camper. It's fully furnished, and by all accounts, a great camper. They're focusing more on adventure-style vacations, and because they want to include their toddler son, the camper made perfect sense. Now they can go anywhere and do anything, cheaply and as a family.

We were all pretty happy for them, and they were very stoked. My brother-in-law and my father were discussing how much campers had changed from when my father was an outdoorsman, and the two really had a lot to talk about. But I was reminded of when my wife and I went to Yosemite on our honeymoon back in 2002, and we were talking about the camping and hiking and outdoorsy stuff we were into, and my entire family looked at us like we were crazy and wondered why we didn't go on a cruise.

But then came time for me to share my recent acquisition:

"I bought out a guy's entire Akira cel collection, and ended up with a whole lot more than I anticipated! I got all sorts of genga and douga I wasn't anticipating, and it all came in an official scene envelope that the actual animation studio used! It was awesome!"


Now, this isn't the only instance of such inability to relate to one another. In fact, it's not the only instance this week. And as time has moved forward and the things I have been interested in have been co-opted by the mainstream, I am reminded time and time again that - even when the Akira live-action movie comes out in 2011, and my family will have all seen it and everyone's discussing it around the table (just like they did with Star Trek, Transformers, Spiderman and all the other recent transitioned properties), it won't matter how much I was into the film back when I was 12 or 22 or even now at 32. They'll discuss it like it's a current affair and I'll just sit back and listen to the generalists' version of Akira.

This is life on the Fringe. And it doesn't happen just with my family, or people I've worked for / with. This even happens at conventions and gatherings dedicated to genres like sci-fi and anime. Even those who "get it" don't really get it. They can understand why I do, but they don't actually feel the love or have the passion.

It really got me thinking about the dichotomy between Regular People, Geeks and The Fringe.

Everyone has their "thing" that they like. I'd go so far as to say 100% of people have something that they can point to and say "yeah, I like that." These are Regular People. If we're talking about photography, these folks own a digital camera. They may even know how to use it. They snap pics at parties or of their children and print them out at Wal-Mart. To them, photography is the act of taking pictures.

Then, there's folks who pick up a certain hobby or interest and dedicate time to it. These folks get deep into the nuance of, say, photography or knitting or House, M.D. They dedicate blocks of time to the pursuit of information on these topics. They'd be considered "into it." They're interested. It gives them something to learn about and focus on. These are hobbyists, folks who want to know more about it so they can do it right.

Then there's what has become the most recent definition of Geeks. The Geeks not only get passionate about their "thing" - to them, it's absolutely essential to know all aspects of everything associated with whatever it is they love. If we're still talking photography, they save up for the best equipment they can afford (most definitely an SLR of some sort) - and when they buy, you can trust that they've done TONS of research. They have very specific reasons for choosing their products, which usually boil down to the level of sophistication within their budget. They'll relentlessly pursue learning more about photography in order to create not just photographs, but works of art. They want the final image to represent not just an object, but how they see the world. They're Geeks. They love what they do.

And then, there's the folks who not only love what they do, they put a ring on it and marry it. The Fringe - the 1% of people who aren't just passionate about a thing - they make it their life. Where a Geek would sell off old SLR bodies or lenses to afford new stuff, The Fringe has every one of their old cameras on a shelf in order of acquisition, to show their progression through the medium (including a Lomo or two that they got off eBay... BEFORE they got popular and Wired did an article on them).

The thing is, a lot of Geeks think they're on the Fringe... But they're not:
And the big big big problem is that for this tiny, tiny fraction of society, life gets really lonely. 99% of the population looks at you strange, because what is, for them, a mild interest in a thing is a passion for The Fringe. It's just not something they get excited about. But the other 1% who are photography Geeks, they're supposed to get it, right?? They're into this thing! They can grok the love!

Well, no. Because to Geeks, interests are mistresses. They are escapes from their life, something else to focus on which brings them joy aside from the things they do for a living or the rest of daily life. And when you marry a mistress, you leave a void, right? Why buy the cow yadda yadda, right?

But The Fringe, we can't just have a fleeting tryst with our passions. We engulf them whole, digest them and look for more. We adore getting to know this fantastic thing which enriches our lives and we beg for more opportunity to do so. We make permanent commitments to them.

Life's kinda lonely on the Fringe, because we constantly look at those who seem like they know about our passions and instantly go into full-tilt talking about it. And at some point - sooner with Regular People and later with Geeks - their eyes gloss over and you can tell that they're just listening to be polite. And you keep going, because for you it slides into "maybe I can teach them about how great this stuff is" territory. And of course, after that, you're known as the weirdo who's WAY to into comic books or Akira or cycling or football.

But that's okay... Because they don't get it, there's much more room for you to explore and be the expert. The Fringe is where it's at, man. The Fringe brings you all those great forum posts and Wikipedia articles that you turn to when you want to know why there was a furor about Dr. House walking with his cane on the wrong side, or how to tweak your router with open source firmware so you can access its full featureset. The Fringe catalogue all those works by all those artistic masters so navigating museums is a lot less confusing for you.

So when you run into one of us and strike up a conversation about The Beatles and we start rattling off all sorts of knowledge you never even knew could be gained about that band, don't just be polite and listen for the sake of listening. Know that the person talking is the curator of a museum of knowledge that will persist well beyond the next time you're curious about a topic.