Geek gurus are the new rock stars

2013-06-07 09:30

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The new breed of geeks knows how to get – and keep – our attention.

Geek is the new sexy. I’ve seen it time and time again, from here to New York – tech nerds are running the world.

At a digital conference in Cape Town at the beginning of the year, I watched as some company executive stood on the stage presenting to an uninterested crowd.

As he rambled on nervously, people turned to one another, updating each other on the weekend’s events, I assumed.

This happened to suit after suit as they fumbled over a PowerPoint presentation, shrieking over an audience clearly more interested in the catering.

That changed when a young guy in jeans and trainers bounded onto the stage. He was from Mxit, the social networking platform that has become South Africa’s mobile success story.

With his hands in his pockets he still had the crowd’s attention. He said his piece, threw in a joke or two, finished off with a quotable nugget and walked off with the air of a man who is well aware of his status among the newly anointed.

That guy knew that, like Mark Zuckerberg, he was a rock star.

I’ve seen them on the podium at business conferences where company leaders, often older and well aware of their loosening grasp on power, hang on their every word.

The new elite is very different from the old guard – they dress in the uniform of rebels and pepper their talks with the kind of self-deprecating humour only employed by those who know they have truly ascended to the top.

They are smarter and are becoming even younger than when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs found their success.

They are mostly men, which we hope will steadily change. But on the upside, since Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Zuckerberg, they seem to be getting better looking, too.

You’ll know what I am talking about if you’ve seen photos of Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare.com, Pete Cashmore, who started Mashable, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

It’s as if the universe has decided that if it’s going to saddle the world with a bunch of coders and tech nerds for the coming century or so, then it would be kinder to make them easy on the eye.

They are geek gods, more brainy than brawny, but braver in the only ways that truly matter these days: they do nothing by the book (there are some university dropouts among them), and they are non-conformists not just for their lax dress sense and easy-going manner.

They are true rock stars because they knew early on what some of us are only learning now – that to enthrall a crowd you need to be dancing to the tune of your own music.

Joonji Mdyogolo is a writer and editor.

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