If you’ve ever visited the “News for Nerds” site, Slashdot, chances are you’re familiar with Jon Katz. He writes regular columns over there covering everything from the Internet as a new Enlightenment to the Columbine shootings (more specifically the effect the aftermath had on geeks in high schools across the country).
By the time you read this, Katz will have released a new book (he’s written several) called Geeks. It’s the story of two (duh) geeks fresh outta high school who — with no real prospects in their homes in the hinterlands of Idaho — move to Chicago, get good-paying computer jobs and both end up in college. During the course of this story, Jon Katz disregards his journalistic detachment and finds himself in the middle of the drama.
I caught Katz on the phone while he was having a 500-channel TV satellite system installed.
Roy Christopher: How has the pre-release response to Geeks been?
Jon Katz: Well, the official release date is February fourth but we sent out hundreds of gallies to geeks. The hilarious responses I get back are, “There’s a typo on page 14. There’s a typo on page 72. There’s a typo on page 86…” I always say, “Well, yes, that’s an uncorrected gally. We caught that. What did you think of the book?” “Oh, the book’s okay…” (Laughter). It is a completely different sensibility, which is great. It’s very precise. Very “programmer.” … Some people have challenged my tendency to get involved in the story…
RC: But you were very open about that in the book, so…
JK: Well, I figured I’d better be! If I wasn’t I’d get filleted. I also had no hesitation about it and I have no hesitation about it now. If anything, I regret that I didn’t get more involved. Well, I’ve never been a great fan of detachment. And as is probably obvious from reading the book, it’s very complicated because Jesse is both so likeable and unlikeable simlutaneously. I saw so much of me in him. I thought that I understood him real well and my own sort of lovelorn battles with authority. I also found him very admirable because he was so astonishingly intelligent and so determined and had so much pride. But I think the thing about him that probably shocked me the most was that I was looking at my own life but without the Net — I didn’t have that… People like me didn’t know that there were other people like us out there. It’s just a different kind of universe…
RC: A lot of us know you from Slashdot, but this is only one of the many facets of your work. Can you tell us some of the other things you do and have done in the media and outside the media?
JK: I write for lots of different places — Wired, Rolling Stone, GQ and also write novels and books. Slashdot is my main Web-writing home, but I also write on the Web for the Freedom Forum and about the Web in a monthly column for Yahoo! Internet Life.
RC: You recently finally got Linux running on your home machine. What insight can you bring to other who’ve heard so much about Linux and the Open Source movement, but have no idea what’s involved?
JK: What attracted me to Slashdot and Linux is the Open Source and Free Software movements. The notion of a vast community working together to make software and technology that frees up information is very appealing to me. Linux is tough. It’s not for everybody, and it takes a lot of time. People don’t need Linux to be on the Net or the Web, or even to feel like true geeks. It’s just one tool, one approach, which I wanted to learn something about.