While on vacation recently, I took along all my camera gear -- tripods, flashes, light meter, memory cards, lenses, remote firing cords, etc. -- and sat down and re-read all the manuals. It wasn't punishment. I was having a blast.
Guess I'm a geek.
I suppose it should have been obvious by the ham radio license hanging on my apartment wall or how, instead of playing organized sports like all the other kids, I decided to learn how to program the VCR, utilize all the features on my parents' microwave and take apart the clock radio just to see how it worked.
People like me apparently went on to start Google and launch major software and hardware manufacturers. How and why I became a journalist is still somewhat of a mystery.
Despite all this -- plus subtle reminders by friends and a girlfriend that maybe I was a little too gung ho -- I still always thought I was a pretty cool dude.
On June 28, though, I headed up to Columbus to attend the first PodCamp Ohio. Any past denials of geekdom would be hard to defend now.
A podcamp is an excuse for a bunch of Internet-savvy new media types to gather in one place and geek out all day, attending session after session about the latest and greatest information on blogging, podcasting and generally just catching up on all sorts of tech stuff.
Some of it was a little unsettling -- like being broadcast live on the Internet as I checked in at the event while the guy holding the Web cam added his own commentary -- but most of it was just good people sharing information with each other and talking about gadgets and modes of communication they just adore.
As I began to realize how nerdy I really am, there was this sensation I hadn't felt since high school: the need to feel cool and rise above the snorting laughs and the poor fashion sense. Then something dawned me as I was in the lunch line listening to a geeky guy explain to a geeky girl the intricacies of their iPhones and what applications ("apps") they shared: This is cool. These people are wonderful.
Without pay and with knowing only a few of the nearly 300 people who attended the free camp, several volunteers -- many who knew each other previously only through the glimmering light of their flat screen monitors as online identities -- put together a top-notch event solely to help others.
Sure, people exchanged business cards and talked shop and some sponsors got to share their wares, but most people came to PodCamp Ohio just to learn and get to know one another.
I learned a lot during that eight-hour Saturday. I attended sessions on how to make money doing podcasts, taught by a man who retired from the military to do it full-time and wrote a book on the subject, plus another on how to maximize your reach in Google and how to better use WordPress, the free open-source blogging software that's arguably the best available.
As the day went on, I realized that the organizers -- who went to great pains to be transparent and democratic in their planning process -- had little to gain and a lot to give by hosting this event.
The geek community, if you will, is full of people who seem to genuinely care about one another, the world we live in and how it can be better for everyone. There are always exceptions, but it seems the geek motto -- created by those who'd been shunned by so many for so long -- is that nothing will happen at these events to intentionally harm another person.
As I drove back down I-71 toward Cincinnati, I felt that I'd been part of something really special. In this world full of people who will backstab another just to get a little ahead, it was remarkably special to finally be able to admit it that I'm a geek.
With all the focus in American culture on glamor, money, fame and fortune, there's a group of people who just want to survive and be. And they'd rather be on the periphery than in the spotlight.
That's really something to geek out about.
Contact Joe Wessels: firstname.lastname@example.org