Geek Knowing: From FAQ to Feminism 101

In addition to information sharing and helpfulness, geek culture has a complementary norm obliging others to educate themselves on rudimentary topics. This obligation to know is expressed by way of jargon-laden exhortations such as “check the FAQ” (frequently asked questions) and “RTFM” (read the fucking manual). Additionally, the geek lexicon includes designations of the stature of the knower and the extent of what he or she knows (e.g., “newbie”). Online feminists, especially “geek feminists,” are similarly beset by naive or disruptive questions, and demonstrate and further their geekiness through the deployment of the obligation to know, with some interesting differences. For instance, geek feminism includes a term for designating rudimentary (i.e., “101”) knowledge, for “derailing” questions, and has novel concerns with respect to stature and extent of knowing (e.g., the Unicorn Law, impostor syndrome, and mansplaining).

Speaker Details

I am an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern as well as a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia was published by The MIT Press in September 2010. I’m currently working on the free culture gender gap, geek feminism, infocide, and comment culture. I’m also on the advisory board of the Ada Initiative (“supporting women in open technology and culture”). The working title of my next book is Comment: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators in the Age of the Web

A long time ago I was a Computer Science student at UMBC. I then moved to Cambridge and completed the Masters program in Technology and Policy at MIT. After a brief time as a consultant in New York City I returned to the MIT Lab for Computer Science as a policy analyst and W3C/IETF Working Group chair and editor. After almost a decade in Cambridge, I left for New York again to articulate and contextualize my experience with new media and collaborative communities at NYU’s Department of Media, Communication, and Culture. I concluded my graduate studies at NYU with a doctoral dissertation on the history and collaborative culture of Wikipedia. I’ve been able to speak about my work with national media including Technology Review, The Economist, The New York Times, USA Today, Al Jazeera English, and American and New Zealand Public Radio.

I live in Cambridge, but like to travel – I’m particularly fond of Sydney and Tokyo, and I love to visit the waterfalls of wherever I go. I’m a geek, no doubt, and enjoy riding my bicycle, vegan cooking (particularly baking!), photography, and haiku.

In addition to the publications in my curriculum vitae, you can also read my research blog. If you are bored, you could check out my other (older) work including student projects from MIT and UMBC, and twenty years’ worth of photos and writing on the Web.

Joseph Reagle
Northeastern and Berkman Center