I've only recently caught up to the whole concept of "geekiness" in what Wikipedia describes as its "evolved" meaning—an expert or enthusiast who is interested in an intellectual or complex subject for its own sake. Or (more negatively) an odd sort of duck who is way more into something than is healthy, or who takes very seriously something that was meant to be light. (I suspect a Zen pinnacle of geeky circularity was reached recently when Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on the TV show "Breaking Bad," attended Comic-Con impenetrably disguised in a startlingly lifelike Walter White mask. If that's not a cool concept, I don't know what is.) I've long noted, however, the tendency of individuals to dive into some narrow subject and stay there for the rest of their lives. Devotees love their subjects in what seems like almost a brain-chemical way.
I've privately mused that this must be an evolved trait related to the basic human unit of the tribe. I'm sure in the ancestral environment of a million years ago, every tribe of hunter-gatherers had a weird guy named Ogg who was just totally into making hand tools by chipping rocks. He was better at it than anybody else; everybody marveled at how good he was; and he made the spearheads and sinew-choppers for the nomad band's best people. And of course he ate, slept and drank rock chipping: he was kind of a bore at parties. He had rivals as well as a gaggle of admirers. And apprentices, which turned out to be a good thing when Ogg died of old age at 26. And his narrow focus on his passion was a real competitive advantage for the tribe and an evolutionary edge for their genes.
In this paradigm, geekery is an evolutionary adaptation gone bad. (I jest. Put down your lightsaber-shaped pens.)
Relief, not replacement
Anyway, Ctein and I learned a lesson last week, separately and independently: that we each have subjects we just love to geek out about but that readers of TOP plainly don't want to read a lot more about. Bottom line: no more columns about billiards or tea. The lonely whisper of the wind and the sound of chirping crickets around here after each of those columns was rather consternating. Ctein set a new record low for comments, and the only thing people wanted to talk about in the wake of my post about my pool lesson last Sunday was whether I should have taken the "on-the-way-there" picture from the car in the rain. Which was interesting, but of course completely beside the point of the post.
We each love those subjects, respectively (that is, he's a tea geek and, lately at least, I'm a pool geek), but Internet audiences are self-selecting, and what qualifies as a break from our normal topic and what is a departure from it is a distinction we have become newly aware of. Off-topic posts should be temporary relief from the usual fare, not a replacement for it.
As I always say, one constant of running an interactive website for tens of thousands of smart and informed readers is that you keep learning lessons. We hope to become more adroit in the future about the ways in which we go off-topic.
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic and sometimes off-the-wall ruminations from TOP World Headquarters in the heart of urban Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Ctein adds: Dear folks,
No doubt Mike is writing his own clarification, but I figure I better double down on it, because of widespread misconception.
I have no intention of curtailing OT columns, either in scope or frequency! They will continue exactly as in the past. Mike simply felt (and I concurred) that the very small number of comments on two specific topics—tea and pool—meant we had gone on too long on those subjects and started to bore our readers. On just those two topics, not on OT in general. Whether that's true seems to be subject to argument, but there's no argument about OT columns in general.
Mine will continue as before, roughly once a month. In fact, with Column 300 coming up in four weeks, you can count on it. As is my wont for the centenary scribblings, it'll be OT and likely even a two parter, as I tend to tackle big topics on the anniversaries.
And, oh yeah, it's gonna generate comments, I betcha.
Featured Comments from:
SerrArris: "Mike, please, the tea and pool columns were the most interesting reads last week. I am a fan of your website because it isn't 100% dedicated to photography! I love to read about tea, coffee, hifi equipment, pool, etc. It broadens my vision. But I don't want to read dedicated tea, coffee etc blogs, as they get boring soon (I'm not so much into that topics, but an occasional read is great). For me, your off-topic posts are what makes TOP special. Forget about the 10,000 other readers and continue to write off-topic for ME. Best regards, Markus."
David Paterson: "Phew! For weeks I've been rehearsing ironic posts about the photographic blog which never mentions photography, but just kept holding off, for some reason (that old sixth sense). I'm glad you've seen the light (NPI) but while you're at it, why not include hi-fi in the embargo?"
Mike replies: What?! Everyone loves hi-fi!
David Miller: "WRONG! Mike, sometimes there may be no comments because an item from you or Ctein is complete: informative, well-written, perhaps (as in both the posts you cite) delightful. I had nothing to add, nothing to take issue with, but I enjoyed peering through the windows you opened into places I know nothing about. I love having my world expanded and being conducted on small tours by witty, intelligent, and passionate guides.
"I'm sorry if your loyal readers don't always give you enough positive feedback. But you're grown-ups (well…); I counsel you to have a bit of faith in your own skills and in our ability to let you know if you are drifting into tedium. (Aha! That's the negative aspect of Geekdom that you passed over: the wrong sort of geeks are boring. You and Ctein haven't even come close. If you do, trust us to tell you.) Sometimes silence is a compliment: we're thinking, savouring, nodding quietly to ourselves.
"Your post sent me off to the links for the billiard school. Ctein's sent me off for a cup of tea. Yes, photography is the shared interest that—along with good writing—keeps me coming back daily to TOP; but variety is the very spice of life.
"Write on, gentlemen!
Kusandha Hertrich: "I couldn't agree more with Hugh Weller-Lewis, Benjamin Marks and others who expressed similar sentiments. I read TOP on a daily basis, and have tried to comment only once before this. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy the posts or get something valuable out of them. There are plenty of sites with narrow focus on photography; we don't need another one of those. Balance is important, and striking the right one of on- and off-topic posts is something that should happen. But for me it's the off-topic posts that help me really connect with you and Ctein as people and not just two dimensional avatars on my screen."
Bron (partial comment): "Despite studying photography, and working as a photographer and darkroom tech, and still doing photography, I'm far more likely to skip an equipment post than one of the entertaining, informative OT posts."
Terry Moore (partial comment): "For the record I really enjoy the tea posts—actually more than Ctein's usual. I read the billiards one but they don't do anything for me. More hi-fi OT posts would be fine."
Mike replies: There, y'see, David Paterson? :-)
Rod Graham: "I've enjoyed all the detours also. I thought the billiards piece was fascinating not so much from the pool itself, but from the student-teacher relationship and how much we all can learn from someone who is truly knowledgeable, whether pool or photography."
Bahi: "I like the OTs as well. I'm waiting for the post on beards: you and Ctein, conversation style. :-)"