The social geek


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Today I want to consider this Venn diagram. It has been widely circulated on the internet: it appears to have been created by the Californian producer and publisher Scott Beale in 2009. It is a laudable attempt to differentiate between nerds, geeks, dweebs and dorks.
You may feel that, given all the other pressures on our busy lives, time spent determining whether someone is merely a geek or is a fully-fledged nerd could be better used elsewhere. And you are probably right. But let us consider the three attribute classes which Beale used to make his definition: intelligence, obsession and social ineptitude.
As I am sure you are all aware, the popular beat singer will.i.am was one of the keynote speakers at IBC recently. The wisdom of this choice has been the subject of much debate.
The first question in the Q&A session following his presentation, for example, was not about communication or the future of television, but where he got his shoes. That, it seems to me, was firmly on the social ineptitude/obsession scale, suggesting the questioner was a dork. [They were Christian Louboutin, incidentally, and looked disconcertingly like bright red hedgehogs.]
More interestingly, will.i.am (I cannot tell you how irritating I find typing his name) talked about our growing connectivity, and how the way it engages with people is now a fact of life. He urged the industry to “rethink what is possible”, which seems to me to be sound advice.
“Why doesn’t our fridge tell our car while we’re out that we have run out of milk?” he asked, not unreasonably. “Why do we drive to some amazing scenery and take a picture on our phones – the fucking car should take it!” he continued, rather less reasonably, but still on his “let’s connect everything” riff.
Connectivity was one of the big talking points at IBC this year, by real speakers in the conference as well as everywhere on the show floor. Two of the winners of the big IBC awards went to different connectivity concepts: to FX UK for its second screen app for The Walking Dead, and for Channel 4 for using the Xbox network and the Kinect controller to deliver its 4OD video on demand through a familiar and fun user interface.
Some people were talking about connected TVs. To develop a smart TV – that talks to the internet as freely as it talks to an Astra satellite – calls for significant intelligence, certainly, but it also smacks heavily of social ineptitude. We who understand Beale’s Venn diagram can now confidently call these people dweebs.
Making it as easy to find content on demand as it is to find linear channels is, of course, very important, which is why the 4OD project was such a worthy winner of an IBC Innovation Award. But using a connected TV for social media? Do you really want your children to see what you have just tweeted, or see what they have posted on Facebook? Social ineptitude: a solution for sad loners.
I recently spoke to Alan Wright, who is head honcho for EMEA of the newly-revitalised Grass Valley. He told me that “in five years the broadcast industry will be a vertical in the IT industry”. I’m not sure I agree with him there. As Jeremy Bancroft said at a conference earlier this year, “We have to remember that we need IT companies, they do not need us. Broadcasters want small volumes of highly-tailored systems; IT companies want to supply large volumes of completely standard products.”
For me, there is an important point that both these fine gentlemen have missed. The IT world is built upon constant, incessant, unflinching repeatability. If you pay money into your bank, you know it will be added to your account. If you book a flight to Ibiza you know your ticket will let you on that plane but not one to Islamabad. Yes, I know we can point to famous occasions when this principle has gone wrong, but as one voice we call it a computer failure.
In broadcasting we do not want repeatability. We want everything we make to be different. The technology is not the object of our efforts, it is the platform which allows the clever people in our industry to make great television.
I’m sure you, like me, were captivated by the coverage of the Olympics this summer. The hardware used to make it – the Grass Valley cameras, the EVS servers – was the same as any other OB. What made it special was the creative attention to detail, like lighting the audience as well as the arena, so the director could capture reaction shots whatever happened.
Leith Murgai is a consultant and trainer in workflows for whom I have a huge amount of respect. He recently argued that we should educate the end users – producers and business managers in broadcast and production – so that they know what can be achieved with today’s technology. Absolutely right. And it will allow us to add creativity to the geek Venn diagram.
the Nerd Venn Diagram
the Nerd Venn Diagram

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