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Geek Cred in an “Economy of Meanings” Universe


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics I recently emailed a coworker and got a reply. Nothing new there, yes? The response was short and started with the explanation that they were in transit and currently flying half way across the continent.

Again, nothing truly new there. Only third and fourth world countries are lacking in such easily accessible mass transit.

But at the bottom of their email was “Sent from my iPad”. I laughed when I read it and emailed back

You have an iPad?
I’m so jealous…not!

My coworker responded that I had seriously lost Geek Cred by not having an iPad.

That really gave me a chuckle. Me? Geek Cred?

People’s email signatures have been a study of mine since I started emailing. This means “since the early 1970s” because that’s when I got my first email account at Lincoln Labs. Early on I started including quotes in my email signatures. Later on I started including contact information and eventually marketing info.

At one point I started getting emails with signatures that included “sent from my …” and some one or another mobile device was named. I use to respond with

sent from my backporch, watching my fields and forest, listening to wildlife, sipping some wine.
Wish you were here?

or something similar. It got chuckles.

My favorite signature (and it’s become a quote) is

Sent from my iphone while sitting in a Starbucks writing my novel on a Macbook

(thanks to John “Skoles” Scullin for this)

I sometimes go mobile hunting. Recently a NextStage Senior Researcher had to get a new mobile and I went along to learn. The researcher’s opening statement was “I don’t want to get email, I don’t want to TXT, I don’t want to take pictures. I want to make calls, get calls and have voicemail.” The salesperson directed us to an older sales associate.

The last time I had to get a new mobile was a little similar. I was shown a model that allowed people to contact me anywhere on the planet.

“Why would I want that?”

Had you been there, you could have seen the salesperson’s face lose color. I could browse the web if I wanted.

“I’d do that because…?”

Their left eyelid started a subtle twitch. This model has a GPS and can help you get where you’re going.

This time Susan (wife, partner, all things bright and beautiful, …) chimed in, “He never gets lost. He can remember how to get to places he’s only been to once when he was a kid.”

Uncontrolled convulsing of the diaphragm started. I could download apps.

“So this isn’t complete as is? It’s kind of like a razor or printer? It’s real function is to sell razor blades and ink cartridges?”

We had defibrillator paddles at the ready by this point. I could take pictures and capture video of people doing silly things!

I took the mobile, aimed the lens at the salesperson and clicked.

We left as the medics walked in.

And what has this to do with An Economy of Meanings Universe, Joseph?

Back in the day, information was difficult to obtain. It had what economists call “an opportunity cost” associated with it because (usually) you had to research by going to a library of some sort, study, discuss. find an expert, … and it took recognizable time. Education minded families had encyclopedia and dictionaries in the home. You could determine how much a given family valued education by the number of books, book shelves and book cases they had in their home. Another metric — metric??? — was the diversity of subject matter covered by the books. Sure, there were popular reads. You had to have those so you’d have something to talk about at the watercooler. They were the equivalent of last night’s Seinfeld episode (in its day), the latest YouTube, …

Now-a-days and as the purloined salesperson above would no doubt offer as a selling point, you can find out anything you want to know via your mobile.

Well, you need to understand the source of what you find as well as that source’s legitimacy and accuracy before accepting what you’ve found as valid information.

I remember going to a bar with a client exec after a day of meetings with other execs in their organization. This client was in the sports industry and the fellow I was sipping Scotch with oversaw US Baseball web content. A few seats away a discussion broke out over some piece of baseball trivia and one fellow pulled out his mobile, clicked a few times and held it up, screen out so the other people in his group could read it. “See?” he proudly proclaimed.

“Excuse me, what site are you looking at?”

It was the one my Scotch drinking friend oversaw.

“What did you look up?”

We were told the obscure fact.


I turned to my comrade and asked, “Wasn’t that one of the things we just talked about today? How when you can’t verify something you post whatever the office consensus is?”

He bought me another Scotch.

But note one of the lesson’s here; the web-based consensus on a fact has greater information value — economy of meaning value — than an individual’s knowledge of a fact.

Information has gotten incredibly inexpensive and it’s a challenge (for me) to think of it as a commodity any more. Recently (as I write this) Egypt has made a move towards a new form of government. I was in a client’s office and watched a few workers keep live feeds of events open on their screens and mobiles. This kind of “in the moment” information isn’t new. I’ve been told and can’t verify that word of Kennedy’s assassination made it around the globe in seven seconds and that was with “ancient” satellite technology. If accurate, the technologic speed of communication hasn’t radically changed in fifty or so years. What’s changed is the speed of information dispersal and that change is largely due to the different information distribution platforms currently available.

A senior US official, asked where the government was getting its information regarding Egypt, said “From the media, pretty much, same as everybody else.”

So you don’t know more than the public does?

“In most cases we don’t but that’s not the problem. The problem isn’t knowing what’s going on, the problem is knowing what to do about it.”

A world of difference, that.

Specifically, a difference in the economy of meanings.

Information is cheap. Knowing which information has real meaning is expensive. Knowing what meaning to act on?

Meaning is Priceless Priceless!

Closing the Geek Cred Loop

One of the changes brought about by the lowered cost of information is that the information itself isn’t as valued as the speed with which one can access it.

Long ago a favorite aunt I was visiting asked me about a made-for-tv movie she’d watched. “Could the moon really break apart and collide with the earth the way they showed it?” she asked.

She was asking me because everybody in my family knew I buried myself in science books and knew that I’d know the answer. I was Wikipedia, the Web, the Encyclopedia Britannica, etc., to them.

I was also the quickest source of information at the time. It really didn’t matter if I was accurate because I was accurate by default; I was the fastest access point to information in that time and place and therefore was accurate.

The coworker mentioned at the start of this post emailed me regarding a question about how people pay attention during webinars. I responded with a few paragraphs explaining different scenarios. My coworker wrote back “God, I love knowing you”.

Why did my coworker seek me out over a web based query? Because, much like my aunt, he knew I was the quickest source of accurate information available to him. He could’ve used the web but then there would have been several hundreds of thousands of answers and he’d have to refine his question half a dozen times…

Or he could just ask me.

Look at all those books!And the fact that he asked me such a question?

Yeah…Geek Cred…I got’s it.

I mean, look at all those books!

If you get my meaning.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. 2011/02/12 2:50 pm

    Nice geek suit yer wearin! I agree completely with your point. It’s why time and time again, people would often rather deal with a live human to resolve a customer services issue instead of scrolling through a website listing of FAQ’s. The human can answer the question much faster. It’s also why most people prefer to learn to do something from a real human than a computer-assisted instruction; the human contains tons more content than can put put into a CAI course. I recently watched a segment from an episode of the PBS program NOVA which pitted Watson the computer against two humans in a Jeopardy-like game show. Watson was great at answering obscure factual questions, but missed questions that featured a play on words.

  2. Tom Bigda-Peyton permalink
    2011/02/13 10:39 am

    I agree that “you need to understand the source of what you find as well as that source’s legitimacy and accuracy before accepting what you’ve found as valid information.” This is why journalists have been in business for a long time; given the omnipresence of information in our time, we all need to acquire the skills to be our own journalists. I once did a lot of work with a major investment firm. They spent lots of money on decision-making software to improve the “hit rate” of investors across the firm. Despite all of this, some investors still did much better than others. They were trying to understand why. Using “anecdotal” (story-based) inquiry, I learned that the best-performing investors did not trust the first source (the IT platform). They used it to narrow the range of options, but always contacted a second (or third) source before hitting the “buy” button. As one of them commented, “I worked on the Street; everybody is always selling something. I never believe any of it until I check with someone I know and trust.” The new technologies, and access to real-time information, can lead us to believe that this ancient rule-of-thumb no longer applies. On the contrary, in my view it applies even more than before.

  3. Dan permalink
    2011/02/15 10:28 am

    To clarify in bullet point argument format:
    – You are a reliable source of information because you have established yourself as an expert in the matters to which I question you.
    – Geek cred is by definition (according to the equally reliable Urban Dictionary) is knowledge of different aspects of geek culture such as Star Wars, anime, comic books… and the newest electronics
    – You have not displayed knowledge of Star Wars to date, and do not own an iPad.
    – Therefore, you have not established your geek cred.

    A full tutorial is available by borrowing my entire series collection of Star Trek Voyager as a first step.


  4. 2011/02/15 11:24 am

    Dang! I was hopin’, you know? Not even close, though, huh? Dang!
    (thanks for reading and commenting)

    I just sent Dan Directing Your Customer’s Gaze and Learning to Use New Tools and he’s begrudgingly awarded me a few Geek Cred points.
    Hoorah! I’m a person!

  5. Derrick permalink
    2011/02/17 2:39 pm

    i love it


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