Monday, June 15, 2009

Grokking and the nature of geeks

My little comic book hiatus is at an end - I picked up Stranger in a Strange Land from the library, and will start it later on today.

I know only one thing about this novel, and that is its most well-known contribution to the world of science fiction: the word "grok." The word means to understand a thing as if the thing is a part of you, to truly internalize it.

This is a fantastic word for geeks. I know, there are a ton of people out there glorifying all things geeky, just as there are tons of people who were actually popular in high school who now call themselves geeks - posers! Bear with me - I'm not about to start going on about "oh how delightfully geeky was my Han Solo action figure that absolutely everyone born in the 70s owned." This is about the real geeks. People who know what that thing over C3PO's head is.

Because what do true geeks do? They become fascinated with things, and learn every detail. They memorize the tiniest facts of everything that strikes their interest. This is why geeks are excellent at recalling trivia, obscure characters, and movie quotes that you have no interest in. This is also why they are excellent at, say, creating a computer language.

So the word "grok" perfectly demonstrates the true geek's mindset - a geek does not merely like something, but takes it in, learns it, knows it, until it is part of who the geek is.

I use the word myself (in my head, normally). Normally I use it in the negative form; if I read a book that doesn't grab my attention, I did not grok it. Narnia doesn't count in this regard - I got Narnia, I just didn't like it. When I tried to read The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, however, something didn't quite take. There were things going on in my life, I was distracted, and I couldn't pay attention to the story. I lost track of the plot, and found I couldn't keep reading it. Failure to grok. I will try again later.

So I approach Stranger in a Strange Land with anticipation. It gave us a word that the old-school sci-fi fans have embraced, and so I feel that probably, it has earned its place on the list in other ways as well.

There's a question that I have been asked a few times now, which is "why did it take you so long to finish the Chronicles of Narnia?" Another question that absolutely no one has asked me is "have you devised some sort of plan to prevent yourself from getting distracted away from a book, especially if you don't like it that much?"
Indeed I have. I developed this while reading Narnia, out of necessity. I eventually got a little embarrassed at how long it was taking me to finish Narnia. Not to mention, I wanted to read something else. So I devised a system in which I count the number of chapters in the book, and divide that by the number of days I have until the book is due back at the library.
So as an example: I have 3 weeks until the book must be returned of renewed. That's 15 days of reading - I have found that I don't usually read on weekends. There are 39 chapters in Stranger in a Strange Land. 39 divided by 15 is - well, some number involving decimal points, but basically a number between 2 and 3. So I need to read 3 chapters a day, at least. Obviously, if I stick to this formula I will finish the book early. It also accounts for nights when I don't find time to read as much as I want to - those times that I did meet the goal, or exceeded it, will make up for it.
Yes, its sort of dorky and obsessive to use math to accomplish something that I allegedly want to do for enjoyment. But what can I say? I'm easily distracted, and goals and lists tend to keep me on task.

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