Published in the Spring 2007 issue • Geek Chic
Who was that masked mechanatrix?
It’s time to unleash your inner geek
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to you a powerful hidden force of our time. I speak of a silent sisterhood, an ineffable affinity, a culture shrouded in a mystery wrapped in an enigma, so secret that the members themselves may not be aware of who they are. I speak, of course, of the camouflaged chix0r, the masked mechanatrix — the geek in disguise.
Oh yes, they are all around us, and always have been. Searching through history, the inquisitive mind finds them everywhere. There’s Adelaide Cabete, doctor, activist and the first ordained female Freemason: total geek. And Rosalind Franklin, who decided to become a scientist at 15 (despite her father’s desire for her to be a social worker) and later went on to provide critical photographic evidence of the structure of DNA. There’s Mary Anning, who discovered ichthyosaurs, giant marine reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic era. And keep in mind that the programmer of the first computer was not a man, but the vaunted Ada Lovelace. Even the enigmatic Emily Dickinson, with her inexhaustible obsession with words and penchant for dreams, showed traces of it. When the geek is in you, it is inescapable.
As I write this, I am on an airplane heading to California, travelling with my boss — video game developer, CEO, mother, geek par excellence — to pitch a new project to three Los Angeles publishers. I am a game designer, a career some would consider to be at the fiery heart of geekdom. My profession lies just to the right of Dungeons & Dragons, slightly left of Linux administration, poised at the apex of toy and tech. When I was a kid, my friends used to mock my obsession with the Commodore 64, but now I fix their PCs, and tolerant sighs have turned to envy.
These days, a woman can wear her flash drive on her sleeve and win social capital, but it wasn’t always so. Before it was culturally acceptable for a girl to debug C++, pioneer geek women asserted their right to have their ones and zeros all in a row. My mother, now a senior manager for Computer Sciences Corporation, brought home a 286 when the only other kids in my class who had computers in their homes were a couple of comfortably outcast Trekkies. And it was from her influence, not my father’s, that the term “defrag” entered my vocabulary before I was 10 years old.
Yet my mother’s geekiness is not merely a lust for high-tech toys. It lies in a tireless pursuit for a better way to do things, a sense of eternally young idealism. Her love of gadgetry is a love of efficiency, of building tools that allow us to do more, experience more and accomplish more in the brief time we each have on earth. I learned scholarship and a fascination with the sciences from my father, but not a week went by in my childhood when my mother didn’t have another idea for a great invention or a better way to do things.
I was 13 years old when she took my grandparents, my brother and me to Walt Disney World. We purchased one of those ticket package deals, the type where one ticket gets you into several theme parks. We all went to Epcot, but my grandparents skipped a couple of trips to the other parks, and this created a desynch when we went to the Magic Kingdom; we were two tickets short, but my grandparents had many entrance tokens left on their tickets. Mom to the rescue! Rather than purchasing extra tickets, she shunted me and my brother through with my grandparents’ tickets, got a hand stamp, then went back outside and escorted my grandparents back in with a second run on their tickets. At the time I thought of it as merely clever (a classic sort of logic puzzle) and perhaps a bit mischievous, but I recognize it now for what it was: the relentless pursuit of efficiency. My mother was defragging Disney World admissions.