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

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

by Jon Katz

Paperback(1ST BROADW)

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“A story of triumph, friendship, love, and above all, about being human and reaching for dreams in a hard-wired world.”—Seattle Times
“Too often, writing about the online world lacks emotional punch, but Katz’s obvious love for his ‘lost boys’ gives his narrative a rich taste.”—The New York Times Book Review

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 online. 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.
Praise for Geeks

“Ultimately, Geeks is not a story about the Internet or computers or techies. It is a story about personal bonds, optimism, access to opportunity, and the courage to dream.”Salon

“An uplifting and hugely compassionate book.”Philadelphia Inquirer
“A story of friendship, optimism, social despair, and an updated version of that American icon, the tinkerer.”USA Today

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767906999
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 02/28/2001
Edition description: 1ST BROADW
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 398,042
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 1070L (what's this?)

About the Author

Jon Katz is the author of Running to the Mountain and Virtuous Reality, as well as six novels. He has written for Wired, New York, GQ, Hotwired, and the New York Times and was twice nominated for the National Magazine Award for articles in Rolling Stone. He writes for Slashdot and the Freedom Forum's website "Free!" on the Web. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife, Paula Span.


Montclair, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

August 8, 1947

Place of Birth:

Providence, Rhode Island


Attended George Washington University and The New School for Social Research

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.

Table of Contents

 Acknowledgments                                xiii
 Introduction: The Geek Ascension               xvii   
 First Encounter                                   3   
 The Cave                                         16   
 The Geek Club                                    25   
 Leave Fast                                       37   
 The Trip                                         55   
 Thanksgiving                                     72   
 The More Things Change                           81   
 Escape from Richton Park                         98   
 The Dean                                        121   
 Into the Hellmouth                              145   
 Don't Expect Miracles                           180 
 The Letter                                      185 
 Finito                                          187 
 Epilogue                                        189 

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Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, overall, is about two boys (Jesse Dailey and Eric P. Twilegar). It's the story of these two boys and their techno-centric lives. They live, eat, sleep, and breathe technology. One day, the author of the book, John Katz, approached them saying he wished to write about them. He begins to become acquainted with the boys and eventually prods them with the idea that with their computing skills, they could land a job anywhere in the entire U.S. This is the story of their move from small-town Idaho to big-city Chicago and the subsequent trials and successes in this unfamiliar territory. The book is quite interesting, especially because of its unique perspective. The author of the book literally invades their lives, doing everything but move in with them. He learns about their habits, their wants, their needs (the few there are), and on days when he can't visit them, gets a full account of what happened. He kept up a relay of e-mails with both boys (some of which are showcased throughout the book), phoned them quite often and found out all the details he possibly could concerning their lives. He didn't take on the traditional role of just viewing the two of them, but takes an active part in their lives, in some cases helping them out in a time of financial need, or help in an unknown situation. He becomes part of their family. But, the book also is rich in its underlying themes. Reading between the lines, it's really book about the troubles geeks everywhere suffer: being excommunicated from the area around you and being spit on by society. These appear everywhere from a small section of the book written during the time of the Columbine attacks to the sourness toward society felt by the two boys. I found the book very interesting. It shows the reader how technologically adept people are excluded in institutions such as, say, high schools. It shows the odd and fantastic ways a person can develop after being tormented to a great extent. As much as I did enjoy reading this book, I felt the ending came a bit fast. The book moved off in the tangent of getting Jesse into college, more specifically, the very selective University of Chicago, but once they find out whether he made it in (I won't spoil the ending and say if he does or doesn't), the book begins to drop from it's previous level of detail given and the book slows down and wraps up. I think that had the author put the same amount of detail into the end of the book as in the rest of it, it would've made the book flow to the conclusion in a better manner. But this is only a minor flaw. Overall, I'd give this book 4 1/2 - 5 out of 5 stars. I've read very few books in my lifetime that were so enthralling and were such pageturners.
nevusmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book. Reminded of some kids I know.
Djupstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A cool story of some...well let's face it...geeks that turned their passions into careers. It is about friendship in the face of oblivion. A great human drama for the 21st century.
chsbellboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While Jon Katz himself is not a geek, he accurately portrays the story of two geeks that use their knowledge of computing to move out of their hometown and advance their lives significantly. While the two geeks that Katz describes are a bit more reclusive than some, the principles he discusses hold true for many members of the geek community.
eenerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This amazing little book propels you along the journey of two Gen Xers from Idaho who realize that they can pretty much do whatever the hell they want to with their lives...then go for it! You share their struggles and triumphs, and everything in between. Really incredible because it's true. Somewhat dated (hey, it's a tech book!) but great nonetheless - a sequel would be absolutely amazing.
heidilove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Katz came to fame on his 'observations' of geeks, and even spent some time at slashdot doing a series on the hellmouth, his (stolen) term for how badly geeks are treated in high school. read this if you're interested. it's pretty good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here is acres of white fenced in property, thick tall grass grows here with the occasional pond. Here, wild herds of horses roam. Though really, they aren't considered "wild" anymore since they are enclosed. But they do sleep out here and get their own food, not brushed or treated lie the horses that sleep in the stalls.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fun filled book good for all ages. A very easy read and leaves you wanting more and more!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is known for catching your attention from the beginning and holding it in place.This book is emotional and funny in all the right places.This book is great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was a book that i picked up just to see if it was any good i never expected to like it but it gave me another veiw of the world complety different then mine
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book changed my entire outlook on being a young geek, or as some say a 'geek in the making' jesse and eric are two brave boys trying to make it big in the world, trying to make it to college, even though it wasn't 'in the cards' and jesse would put it. when the two find out that geeks can pretty much get a job anywhere, they get the courage to move to chicago into a small little apartment... i'll leave the rest for you to read. and please do -liz age:12
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jon Katz is a terrific writer. I enjoyed learning about the world of computers and geek kids in GEEKS. I think that this book offers super insight into kids, and it was an all around interesting and fun read at the same time. Good book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you're a geek, or you know of a geek and want to understand them better, this is the book to read. Amazing, touching, and interesting. This is a wonderful book. I read it in one sitting (big-time page turner). It's going onto my shelf next to Stranger in a Strange Land (The other key book to understanding geeks).
Guest More than 1 year ago
For those of us who have no understanding of those who eat, live and breathe on the internet, Geeks is the open door in describing a new generation obsessed and impacted by this wonderful technology. Jon Katz chronicles the story of two young men in 'nowheresville' whose lives are dominated by a modem, keyboard and monitor. On encountering these young men our author brings to them other alternatives that their compuuter skills can offer beyond their small town. They take up the challenge and we view them as they make their journey from a limited environment to a place which offers them untold possibilities. Whether or not to take advantage of these possibilities or remain in their cyber world is the challenge that the boys face. The question is can they meet the challenge? I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Geeks. It was a heart warming, informative story of a world and group that is unfamiliar to most people. It moved beyond the stereotype of Geeks being little more than computer obsessed young people. Geeks are given a human face of young people facing the pains of growing up. Rejection and the pain that it causes these young people are areas in which we find invisible. Considered as outcasts by their peers and potential lunatics by adults, Geeks are quick to withdraw into their cyberworld. Katz deals with this issue and many others that portray Geeks in a negative light. This is a must read book for understanding those who are being nurtured in this new technology.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is like everything else out there. It has the usual plot of every other book, with fighting and everything. Don't waste your time or money by getting it bevause, as I mentioned, "It is a book LIKE every other!"
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good book if you're a geek, just like you wouldn't read a romance book if you were a hardcore goth, don't read this book unless you consider yourself a geek or if you have an open mind. Now, with that said, I want to tell everyone that this is one of the best books I've read in a while. If you're a geek that is feeling down, read this book. It might not make your life perfect and happy, but it will at least make it bearable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would suggest reading this if you really like reading about geeks. These boys, who really know the Net, find out money is to be made, and search for jobs and a college in Chicago... To me it was boring. Their life seemed so dull, and their problem was boring.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book might even deserve six stars, it is that rich in content and in humanity. This book will interest computer buffs, University of Chicago buffs, and people who have driven through small hamlets in the West (or elswhere) and asked themselves, 'Who could possibly bear to live in this place, and why?' If you want to take up a dialog with the author, he supplies his e-mail address for the purpose. Great non-fiction writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book hits home with the hard life for a geek. Chapter 10 is very intresting and covers a very important time, but you have to read to find out what it is. Katz new exactly how to document the story about Jesse and Eric so that you would feel almost like you were there. This book is very good motivation for geeks and those who just are not sure where they belong. I loved every minute of this book, and I am sure anyone who reads it will.