Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho
Jesse and Eric were geeks: suspicious of authority figures, proud of their status as outsiders, fervent in their belief in the positive power of technology. High school had been an unbearable experience and their small-town Idaho families had been torn apart by hard times. On the fringe of society, they had almost no social lives and little to look forward to. They spent every spare cent on their computers and every spare moment on-line. Nobody ever spoke of them, much less for them. But then they met Jon Katz, a roving journalist who suggested that, in the age of geek impresario Bill Gates, Jesse and Eric had marketable skills that could get them out of Idaho and pave the way to a better life. So they bravely set out to conquer Chicagogeek style. Told with Katz's trademark charm and sparkle,Geeksis a humorous, moving tale of triumph over adversity and self-acceptance that delivers two irresistible heroes for the digital age and reveals the very human face of technology.
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INTRODUCTION: THE GEEK ASCENSION
As you read through this story be sure to check out the "Define" tool. Simply highlight any word, and select "Define" from the menu. This will give you a dictionary definition of unfamiliar words.
What do most geeks seem to lack that makes them outsiders?
A "rite of passage" is a moment in a young person's life when he or she grows up. In literature, this genre is referred to as a "bildungsroman." Great Expectations, Jungle Book, and Hatchet, are all stories of characters who go through wild journeys into adulthood. As you read this story, you will be asked to consider how various events shape the main characters and cause them to mature.
The highlighted phrase is an example of a popular literary device called a metaphor. In this example, the Internet is being compared to a party. Watch the video below to learn more about metaphors. (This annotation contains a video)
The highlighted sentence contains an example of a
As you read, consider what purpose the author has in telling you these anecdotes (small, personal stories). The introduction to a book is often the place where the author establishes his or her credibility for a.) why this topic is important and b.) why he or she is qualified to write about it. Are you convinced that this author is geeky enough to write about this?
According to this introduction, what specifically do MOST Geeks facilitate that makes them so important?
In breaking this word apart, we find two root words--"xeno" and "phobic." You have most likely heard a word with phobic or phobia in it. It means "fear of". Use the define tool to determine what a xenophobic person is afraid of.
Another important part of an introduction is that it often introduces themes. The highlighted phrase is such an example. The video below will provide more information on themes. As you read this story, be prepared to focus in on themes and respond to questions about them.
In what ways are you similar with a "Geek"? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
What were Louis's MOST significant contributions in popular culture and our global economy?
The introduction ends with a segue into why this story was written--it's meant to document the story of a real "Geek" whose story must be worth hearing.
Which of the following is NOT a detail provided about the setting?
A turbocharger is an add-on engine part that increases its horsepower. It was placed on cars like the Mustang mentioned in this paragraph. The use of this word here draws upon a figurative meaning to talk about computers that have been enhanced. When we say something is "supercharged' today, we mean something that has been greatly enhanced.
As you learn more about Jesse, you will see how he has developed and will develop. The video below explains character development. Watch it and be prepared to answer questions about the changes that Jesse (and other major characters) go through. (This annotation contains a video)
Which word BEST characterizes Jesse's description of himself?
An important theme in this novel emerges as Jesse begins to explain who he is--someone who apparently breaks the expectations of those around him. The author thinks Jesse's lonely, but he's not. The author thinks he's lost, but he's actually quite determined. Perhaps the lesson "Don't judge a book by it's cover" could be applied here.
Quake II is a first-person shooter computer game that was released in 1997 as a sequel to the wildly popular Quake game that revolutionized the computerized gaming industry. A screen shot is shown below. (This annotation contains an image)
What MOST motivates Jesse to leave Caldwell? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
Because this story is told in first-person by the author, it is important to know that his tone plays a role in determining who he is as a character in the story and how he changes. Pay careful attention to the tone he uses, as this will give you insight into how he changes. The following video provides more information about tone and how it is different from the mood of a story. (This annotation contains a video)
Which word BEST describes the author's tone in this passage?
What childhood event MOST emotionally harmed Jesse?
Similar to other characters in literature, like The Great Gatsby, or historical icons, like Abraham Lincoln and Steve Jobs, both of these boys are learning to be self-sufficient. They know they can't depend on others to help them reach their goals. Consider the challenge these boys face based on their upbringing and where they are from. Do you think they have what it takes to make it?
As part of his research into geekdom and what a geek really is, Jon Katz published editorial columns to elicit responses from geeks all around the world. He used their anecdotes to help him understand this sub-culture, which he claims to be a part of, too. These letters show the overwhelming response he got.
How did the Geek club members gain approval from their peers?
The author's description of Jesse and Eric's story touches upon the concept of archetypes--a recurring symbol or character in literature. Watch the following video to learn more about this concept. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the meaning of this metaphor as it is used in this story?
Take a moment and mentally break this word up into its familiar word parts. What do you think it means?
How did Jesse's gang experience MOST affect him?
One of the themes in this novel is the concept of control versus chaos. For Jesse and other geeks, the Internet is a controlled environment where they thrive. The world around them is chaos, more difficult to navigate. Think for a moment about what environments make you feel this way.
How does the Geek Club help Jesse overcome his deep sense of alienation? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
Jesse's letter BEST reveals which geek-like attitude?
As Jesse and Eric routinely pack, this detail about how much time they packed their computers is meant to emphasize the importance of technology to them. It also symbolizes that through these computers, all their hopes and aspirations for success lie. If they can't make it happen with their computer skills, they will have a short-lived trip to Chicago.
This story is obviously being told by Jon Katz as a first-person narrative about his experiences with two geeks. His point of view provides insight into a culture (or sub-culture, according to him) where the computer savvy seemingly rule the world. Watch the video below to learn more about point of view and cultural perspective and be prepared to engage with questions about this topic in this novel. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following cultural perspectives is BEST represented by the highlighted passage?
One of the biggest reasons why geeks don't pay for digital content, is because they feel it encourages an overly capitalistic economy. People only care about making money off of others--often at a high price--but geeks refuse to feed into this system. Do you think their actions are ethical?
What central idea do Jon's comments about himself and Jesse BEST convey?
Part I Quiz
Most coming-of-age tales include a point in the character's story when he becomes extremely disillusioned. This seems to be a common experience for those who aspire for greatness. Things not working out can make or break a person. What makes a person grow is what he does in response to his failures. What do you think Jesse will do next?
What do the details in this highlighted passage suggest about Jesse?
The "density" refers to the mass-urbanization of Chicago, where there are more people than one is used to in a small town. Jesse most likely feels very claustrophobic in this town.
AltaVista was one of the most popular search engines of its time. An image of one of the first world-wide browsers is shown below. It was bought out by Yahoo and then later shut down. (This annotation contains an image)
Is Jesse more of an optimistic or pessimistic person? Explain your response using evidence from the text.
The central idea of alienation still looms in this narrative. The interesting take on this story is that the author is only documenting what he sees--not interfering. This is the 101 of journalism--observe, don't meddle. This doesn't mean, though, that we cannot sense the author's sympathetic tone. He obviously wants these boys to succeed and is pained to see them struggle.
What does Jesse's anecdote MOST reveal about his development?
Use the "Define" tool to help answer the following question: Which word is MOST similar to "panache" as it is used in this sentence?
Cable and phone companies were the first to add wiring that connected people to the Internet. An image of what this wiring looks like is pictured below. Internet that runs through cables provides much higher speeds and reliability--a must for any geek. (This annotation contains an image)
Using evidence from the text, explain what this "geek technocracy" is and what the boys did to become part of it?
The highlighted text is a reference to a famous Charles Dicken's novel. Many say that "David Copperfield" is the closest thing we have a Dicken's autobiography. Dickens, Copperfield, and Jesse all have painful pasts and struggled to fit in in the early parts of their lives. This reference to Dickens might not be well-known by readers, but it is well-known by those who love literature. The fact that Jesse has read this, shows both his softer, emotional side, and his wide-range of knowledge.
What do Jesse and David MOST apparently have in common?
What is the story about the blizzard meant to suggest to the reader?
Although Eric and Jesse are roommates and shared this dream together, Jesse seems to have more aspirations than Eric. The author makes a point to show us this. If you're looking at the theme of courage, both boys traveled far from home. One, though, seems to be a little stronger than the other in terms of aspiring for just par.
Flame wars occur online between a person and usually a gaggle of enraged individuals. Today you might read about fights on Twitter or see hateful words exchanged back and forth behind the wall of a social media account. Some flame wars quickly turn in cyber-bullying and often have serious psychological consequences on one or more individuals. Our society tends to glamorize these flame wars and look at them as a source for entertainment. Do you agree with this perspective? (This annotation contains an image)
Part II Quiz
Take a moment and think about why Jesse is so reluctant to receive help. It could be that he is so used to doing things on his own that he doesn't think other's help will really benefit him in the long run. Or it could be a deep sense of mistrust that he will get let down or hurt by those that seem to care. Why do you think he prefers to go so solo in life?
Katz equates Jesse and Eric's new computers to
Recall that this story is mostly a bildungsroman--or a coming-of-age tale. Its focus is on the growth of a character from naive adolescence into adulthood. This is why the author spends so much time explain the cognitive, social, and cultural growth Jesse experiences. This lesson also foreshadows what is probably going to happen next. Where do you think Jesse is going?
How does Jesse's decision to apply to the University of Chicago demonstrate his grit? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
There is this idea that there are two kinds of people--those who live for challenges and those who want to get by with the least amount of effort exerted possible. The former have a growth mindset. They believe that failure is an opportunity for growth. The latter believe that failure indicates something is wrong--you're just not good enough. Which kind of person do you think Jesse is?
What is the central idea of Jesse's poem?
What central idea does Jesse's letter to the Dean of Admissions BEST convey?
This is possibly a reference to Mowgli, the main character in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Mowgli is orphaned as a child, raised by wolves, and then thrown back into the real world. His story is also a coming-of-age tale. See an image from this story below. (This annotation contains an image)
Which character trait does Katz worry will MOST hurt Jesse's chances for success in a place like the University of Chicago?
What is MOST preventing Eric from having an optimistic outlook on life?
From movies like Terminator and GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra to video games, such as Metal Gear Solid, nanotechnology plays a key part in the plot of these stories. This type of technology represents a society that has reached scientific sophistication. This technology is still mostly abstract, but scientists are working to bring some of it to life. (This annotation contains an image)
The shooters were two kids considered by many to be "geeks" and the social outcasts of their school. Their ability to plan and execute such a deadly attack raised eyebrows all across America on topics such as violence in video games, social stigmas, and the never-ending debate about gun control. Both Jesse and Eric would be affected by this considering their unique social status.
"Cubicleville" is a metaphor for
This is a Latin phrase that means "unfamiliar ground." Jesse is out of his element.
Which sentence from the highlighted passage BEST builds tension?
How does Jesse's interest in college MOST change your view about his fierce self-reliance?
In thinking about character development, it's important to note the opinion Katz has about the Internet's influence on Jesse. He believes it is the most impactful force in changing his life and turning things around for him. Do you think Katz has built a strong enough case for how influential the Internet has been on Jesse? Do you think the Internet can really change someone's life the way Katz described?
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter did not exist in 2003. However, social media has existed as long as the Internet has. The Internet was actually built around the social platform that offered a faster communication bridge between scientists. It wasn't until 2004 that the mega social media apps we follow started coming into existence one at a time. An image of Facebook's logo is shown below. (This annotation contains an image)
How did the tragedy at Columbine High school in Littleton, Colorado MOST affect Jesse?
The search for "oddballs" is unfortunately a recurring theme in human history. Witches in Salem. Blacks in the South. Muslims in America after 9/11. The act of being super-vigilant and looking for individuals to suspect or report is called profiling. It is a police term that is used to find suspects, but it has been applied in a larger sense in society as a whole. Its practice is often the source of much debate. How helpful do you think profiling is when it's applied to a large group of people like this?
Who is the highlighted question referring to?
What conclusion does the author want us to come to based on this highlighted part of the text?
Aryans are the ethnic group that Hitler invented during his reign in Germany. He believed that his group of people were the superior race of humanity. They were smarter, more athletic, and more moral than any other race. His genocide sought to destroy all who were not part of the Aryan race. A picture of an Aryan family is shown below. (This annotation contains an image)
The purpose of these letters is to show that the Constitutional rights of many high school geeks were not being respected. Which of the following rights is MOST violated as evidenced by these letters?
Although Littleton was a tragedy, in its aftermath it created an opportunity for geeks to reveal the pain they had been feeling. Naturally, many people were not sympathetic to these geeks because the trauma of shootings in Colorado caused too much fear, pain, and paranoia to them. Others, like Katz, seemed to have a more sympathetic tone towards the geeks. What response do you think you would have towards kids who claimed "geek" and said they had been victims of an oppressive culture of jocks, popular kids, and cookie-cutter school systems?
What word is MOST similar in meaning to "provocateur" as it used in this sentence?
What central idea is BEST conveyed through the events that are unfolding in this chapter?
This is another way of saying a "stereotype." It is a false idea that is popularized by society. It's like saying girls aren't naturally good at math, or believing that boys who are flamboyant are homosexuals.
People usually fear what is new, but after time the "danger" of anything new subsides and the old culture evolves with the changes brought by the new one. Think about how different the world will be ten years from now. Will the world be more accepting of what it has a hard time accepting today?
What role did Jon Katz play in helping alter the negative perspective the nation held towards geeks? Use specific evidence from the text to support your response.
Katz's tone at the beginning of this chapter can BEST be described as
According to the Dean, why is Jesse chosen for admission? Using evidence from throughout the story, explain how you know this to be true.
The tone of this story's ending reveals a heart-felt moment in which Katz confesses his love for Jesse and Eric. His frankness about his involvement in what is essentially the "plot" of this story should lead you to see how strongly he feels about the pain Jesse, geeks and other isolated individuals in the world feel. Do you think that he was sincere? Or do you think he just wanted to write a good book?
Part III Quiz