Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho

Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho

4.3 16
by Jon Katz

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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.… See more details below


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 Chicago—geek style. Told with Katz’s trademark charm and sparkle, Geeks is 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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for A Dog Year

“A great book that dog lovers will definitely enjoy.”

“The story line of Katz’s latest book can be summed up very simply–two dogs die and two new ones join the family but its charm comes from an intricate blend of witty anecdote and touching reflection.”
Publishers Weekly

“A surfeit of tail-wagging, face-licking love.”
Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Running to the Mountain

“A wonderful book — personal, moving, funny… to call a book a perfect gift always seems slightly patronizing, but I already have a long list of names — yes aging baby boomers — I’m intending to give Running to the Mountain.”
USA Today

“A funny, moving, and triumphant voyage of the soul… Katz finds faith not by running away, but by realizing that spiritual sustenance comes from within — from the decency with which we handle our roles as spouses, parents, and friends.”
Boston Globe

“You’ll love this book…. In the end, we admire Katz, not for the spiritual grace that he seeks but for the grace he finds: the grace of fatherhood, husbandhood, of tending fully to those who depend on him to be a source of stability in their world.”
Men’s Journal

“Candid and inspiring… Katz has much to be proud of: he faced himself, he rearranged himself, and he came back to write movingly of the experience.”
Washington Post Book World
Praise for Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho
“In Geeks, Katz displays a deft reporter’s touch and shows us the geek truth, rather than simply telling us about it…. Too often, writing about the on-line world lacks emotional punch, but Katz’s obvious love for his ‘lost boys’ gives his narrative a rich taste.”
-New York Times Book Review

Geeks is a story of triumph, friendship, love, and above all, about being human and reaching for dreams in a hard-wired world.”
-Seattle Times

“A touching page-turner about social outcasts using technology to wriggle free of dead-end lives.”
-U.S. News & World Report

“An uplifting and hugely compassionate book.”
-Philadelphia Inquirer

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While promoting his book Virtuous Reality, journalist Katz was introduced to the world of "geeks," those smart, technically savvy misfits who are ostracized by their high school peers. Katz wrote in his column on the Web site about the isolation, exclusion and maltreatment--from dirty looks to brutal beatings--such kids routinely face. Tens of thousands of anguished e-mails confirmed his story. One of the e-mailers was Jesse Dailey, a working-class 19-year-old trapped in rural Idaho, where he and his friend Eric Twilegar fixed computers for a living, and hacked and surfed the Web, convinced that they were losers and outcasts. Katz, also a writer for Wired and Rolling Stone, traveled to Idaho to meet the pair, intending to chronicle their lives. He wound up encouraging and sometimes assisting Jesse and Eric as they tried to improve their lives by moving to Chicago, where they sought better jobs and even considered applying to college. Sometimes intensely earnest, Katz cuts back and forth between Jesse and Eric's story and more general discussions of the geeks' condition. Over the course of the book, Jesse and Eric come to represent geeks' collective weaknesses and strengths. While the bulk of the book has broad social and educational implications (concerning the fate of bright kids who don't come from socially and educationally privileged backgrounds), it is a highly personal tale: Katz takes us inside the lives of these two young men, shows us their sense of isolation, their complete absorption in the cyberworld, their distrust of authority and institutions, and their attempts to negotiate an often hostile society. He breaks through the stereotype and humanizes this outcast group of young people. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Katz writes that "Geeks is... a very human, almost classically American story about two plucky, brainy, rebellious outsider kids from a little godforsaken town who headed to the big city to make their fortunes." He began to write a book about geeks (nerds) after he got an unusually enthusiastic response to his Hotwired article "The Rise of the Geeks." But, as Margot Adler of NPR says, "it is about mentoring—about the willingness of one person to enter the life of another, someone temporarily needy, and offer a hand." From hundreds of e-mails, Katz chose to follow up on one from Jesse Dailey, a young man living in Caldwell, Idaho and doing computer repairs. This highly acclaimed and popular true story is uplifting and inspirational. Every student who doesn't think he has a chance should read Jesse's application letter to the University of Chicago. Every guidance counselor should read it, too! Jon Katz took an interest, communicated, encouraged, befriended; sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference. Not to be missed. YALSA has chosen Geeks as a Best Book, as has the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Random House/Broadway Books, 210p, 21cm, 99-043150, $12.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Rita M. Fontinha; Lib. Media Spec., Norwood H.S., Norwood, MA, March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
School Library Journal
YA-Katz sets out to explain geek culture by tracing the life stories of two 19 year olds from Caldwell, ID. The young men had no money, no family support, but they did have a riveting passion for computers. A year after graduating from high school, they were desperately seeking relief from their dead-end jobs. By chance, the author received a moving e-mail message from one of them and traveled to Idaho to meet them. This meeting is the start of the boys' journey and is the book's beginning. Early on, readers realize that the biggest roadblock to their success was the educational system and the intolerance of others toward those not following the traditional direction of society. Students will identify with the situation. Many will see themselves in much of this book and realize that they can survive-and flourish-in real life. Geeks is well written, thought provoking, and attitude changing. Readers may not agree with all of Katz's sermonizing, but they will agree that America needs ideas like his to serve as a catalyst for change and progress. Above all, Geeks will bring about much needed thinking and dialogue about the experience of going to high school and the price people have paid and are paying for being different. Students will enjoy Katz's argument that even if society does not acknowledge their varying needs, geeks will ultimately ascend.-Linda A. Vretos, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Katz's new book, however, is refreshingly brief. In Geeks he displays a deft reporter's touch...Katz's obvious empathy and love for his ''lost boys,'' his ability to see shades of his own troubled youth in their tough lives, gives his narrative a rich taste that makes it unlike other Net books.
The New York Times Book Review
Armed with nothing more than big brains and a bit of pluck, two misfit teens flee their stifling Idaho hometown for Chicago in this nonfiction work. An oddly touching page-turner about social outcasts using technology to wriggle free of dead-end lives.

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Crown Publishing Group
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5.20(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.65(d)
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Read an Excerpt

From: Jesse Dailey
To: Jon Katz

When I was looking on the Tribune, there were 433 jobs under ComputerInfo Systems, under every other category I looked in there was an average of 15-20.... A total of about 40% computers. The problem now isn't finding a place in which those jobs are in demand, because like you say ... they are everywhere. The problem is finding a place that wants to hire someone like me. In a Human Resources kinda way I'm defined as 19 w one year of experience.... In reality, I am an ageless geek, with years of personal experience, a fiercely aggressive intelligence coupled with geek wit, and the education of the best online material in the world. Aarrgghh!! too much stress being a geek on the move.:)


Jesse and Eric lived in a cave-an airless two-bedroom apartment in a dank stucco-and-brick complex on the outskirts of Caldwell. Two doors down, chickens paraded around the street.

The apartment itself was dominated by two computers that sat across from the front door like twin shrines. Everything else-the piles of dirty laundry, the opened Doritos bags, the empty cans of generic soda pop, two ratty old chairs, and a moldering beanbag chair-was dispensable, an afterthought, props.

Jesse's computer was a Pentium 11 300, Asus P2B (Intel BX chipset) motherboard; a Matrix Milleniurn II AGP; 160 MB SDRAM with a 15.5 GB total hard-drive space; a 4X CD-recorder; 24X CD-ROM; a 17-inch Micron monitor. Plus a scanner and printer. A well-thumbed paperback-Katherine Dunn's novel Geek Love-served as his mousepad.

Eric's computer: an AMD K-6 233 with a generic motherboard; an S3 video card, a 15-inch monitor; a 2.5 GB hard drive with 36 MB SDRAM. Jesse wangled the parts for both from work.

They stashed their bikes and then Jesse blasted in through the door, which was always left open since he can never hang on to keys, and went right to his PC, which was always on. He yelled a question to Eric about the new operating system. "We change them like cartons of milk," he explained. At the moment, he had NT 5, NT 4, Work Station, Windows 98, and he and Eric had begun fooling around with Linux, the complex, open-source software system rapidly spreading across the world.

Before settling in at his own rig, Eric grabbed a swig of milk from a carton in the refrigerator, taking a good whiff first. Meals usually consisted of a daily fast-food stop at lunchtime; everything else was more or less on the fly. There didn't seem to be any edible food in the refrigerator, apart from a slightly discolored hunk of cheddar cheese.

Jesse opened his MP3 playlist (MP3 is a wildly popular format for storing music on computer hard drives; on the Net, songs get traded like baseball cards) and pulled down five or six tracks-Alanis Morissette, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Ani DiFranco. He turned on his Web browser, checked his e-mail, opened ICQ chat (an also-rapidly growing global messaging and chat system) looking for messages from Sam Hunter, fellow Geek Club alumnus, or his mother or sisters.

He and Eric networked their computers for a few quick rounds of Quake 11. Racing down hallways and passages on the screen, picking up ammo and medical supplies, acquiring ever bigger guns and Wasters, the two kept up their techno-patter about the graphics, speed, and performance of their computers. "My hard drive is grungy," Eric complained. Jesse gunned Eric down three times in a row, then yelped, "Shit, I'm dead." A laser burst of bullets splattered blood all over the dungeonlike floor.

Meanwhile, the two of them continued to chat with me over their shoulders, pausing every now and then to kill or be killed. All the while, Jesse listened to music, and answered ICQ messages. Somebody called and asked about ordering an ID card, the cottage industry that at fifty bucks a pop will help underwrite their contemplated move to Chicago. Somebody e-mailed a few additional MP3s; somebody else sent software and upgrades for Quake and Doom. I was dizzied and distracted by all the activity; they were completely in their element.

The game was still under way when Eric moved over to the scanner and printer and printed out something semi-official-looking.

"Too dark," was Jesse's assessment, without seeming to look away from the screen. So Eric went back to his computer and called up a graphic program. Jesse took another phone call, still playing Quake, as Joni Mitchell gave way to Jane's Addiction, then the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

At any given point, he was doing six things almost simultaneously, sipping soda, glancing at the phone's caller ID, watching the scanner and the printer, blasting away at menacing soldiers, opening mail from an apartment manager in Chicago, fielding a message from his sister in Boise.

He wasn't just a kid at a computer, but something more, something new, an impresario and an Information Age CEO, transfixed and concentrated, almost part of the machinery, conducting the digital ensemble that controlled his life. Anyone could have come into the apartment and carted away everything in it, except for the computer, and Jesse wouldn't have noticed or perhaps cared that much. He was playing, working, networking, visiting, strategizing-all without skipping a function, getting confused, or stopping to think.

It was evidently second nature by now, which explained why he looked as if he hadn't been out in the sun for years. It was more or less true: A couple of weeks earlier, he'd gone hiking along the Idaho River on a bright day and landed in the hospital emergency room with his arms and legs severely sunburned.

He carried himself like someone who expected to get screwed, who would have to fend for himself when that happened, and who was almost never surprised when it did. Trouble, Jesse often declared, was the building block of character. Without the former, you didn't get the latter.

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