It annoys me that I have to write another one of these pieces, but I’ve come to realise that this is a standard slot of time I need to schedule after attending these events. For whatever reason, Geek Retreat draws what appears to be the most criticism with the most volume. Albeit within a tiny community, and albeit for a very short moment in time.
This year’s Geek Retreat took a risk [full disclosure: I was one of the organising committee and I was directly involved in the project discussed here]. Instead of making it a gathering of digerati gathering to try and make the industry, the internet, the world a better place, we decided to focus on what made the Geek Retreat special before: an opportunity for some influential, interesting people to get together, socialise, talk about geeky stuff and maybe get some interesting projects and ideas moving over the weekend.
We also took another risk this time, limited to a particular group of people at the retreat of which I was one. And that was to create a fictional view of the Geek Retreat that intentionally parodied the event, even creating a fictional attendee. We accepted that Geek Retreat is always controversial and always stands in the firing path of criticism like being elitist, and so we fuelled that fire a little. It was a dodgy manoeuvre I’ll grant, and one that ran the risk of annoying people. It also ran the risk of making the Geek Retreat seem even more pointless and irrelevant than people already believed it to be.
Perhaps both of these outcomes occurred. I have had some conversations today that confirm this, and I must say my overall response to that is: meh. Shrug. Whatever.
I haven’t done the math, but I suspect close to 100 people have attended Geek Retreat over the past three years, and I’ve rarely (if ever) heard negative views from those attendees. This weekend was no exception. People had a good time. They hung out. They drank some fine beer. They did some meaningful projects and some frivolous ones. And that, my friends, is all.
At no stage (at least not recently) has the Geek Retreat held itself up to be anything more than a voluntary, paid-for weekend conference for people to come along and mix fun with some innovation and work to see what transpires. It’s a melting pot, and it’s an unconference. No-one quite knows what will happen but generally it’s proved to be worthwhile.
Levelling criticism from the outside, particularly when we’ve flooded the airwaves with some fairly juvenile material, is probably fair. But as the real information emerges (Heather Ford has posted a good summary here) hopefully it will be judged more on what happened than what didn’t. As a matter of fact, a number of interesting initiatives were kicked off and a good deal of more serious information was shared. It’s the nature of a noisy ruse that it’s going to be noisy.
I guess in the end I’m willing to stand up and have my part in this thing thought of as being stupid or pointless firstly because I had fun (which I’m sure I’m allowed) and secondly because everyone is entitled to their opinion and I’m fairly well used to being at the centre of one or other controversy. I’m even willing to go as far as to say that we might have taken a few missteps and may not have serviced the reputation of the Geek Retreat well by doing so.
But then again, part of playing a prank is feeling guilty and having fun at the same time. I think it would be to compound the absurdity of this for anyone to take it more seriously than that. The detractors were already there before we even drove to Stanford this weekend. Their criticism was going to ring loud whether we went to look after AIDS babies or plotted to overthrow the governments of the Free World. That’s not a presumption, that’s a matter of historical record.
To all and anyone who was either offended or irritated; to any participants who do or did not want to put their name against such a thing; to anyone who was caught up in it and feels a fool for it; and to the industry as a whole who (as one conversation I had today has it) would feel “fools by association” because of this, I make a personal apology for my part in this. That was not my intention and there was nothing mean-spirited about any of it. Mark: I don’t feel that I owe that apology, but I’m offering it anyway because these kinds of things tend to have a life of their own, and I still have to work with everyone in 2011 and I can’t afford to burn bridges over a joke — even one that I happen to think had a valuable and serious side for anyone who could look beyond the nonsense.