It's been a long time since I posted How to Date a Geek Guy, and yet the comments continue to flood in. The huge response shows that there is a need for explaining geeks and non-geeks to each other. So this time, I thought I'd make it more general: this guide will be not just for a geeky significant other, but for anyone with a geek in the family or even as a roommate.
1. Be understanding of their strange hours. - Geeks actually have good reasons for hacking at 3 AM. It's quieter so they can concentrate and the Internet has less traffic in their local area. Plus, they're more likely to be working with international business partners. When your project includes co-workers, clients, and bosses in Egypt, Australia, France, and Japan all at once, the concept of a nine-to-five day just tends to get thrown out the window. It's always daytime somewhere in the global marketplace.
2. Learn to tell when your geek is too busy to be interrupted. - The best technique is to approach the work area and quietly observe for a second. Is there an editor open on their desktop with a lot of code in it? Are they wearing the face of blank, stoic concentration? That's busy. Are they playing Quake or responding to a comment on Digg? That's playtime. When they're busy, it's best to make a small noise and present yourself so that the geek knows you're there, then wait patiently while they find a good break-off point. Yes, they really did hear you, they are not ignoring you, and they are not really trying to shut out the rest of the world. They're just dealing with a lot of mental effort at the moment. Do not simply burst in and yell, "Hey! Brittany Spears escaped from the mental institution again!" Seriously, even if we're playing Quake, Brittany can go to hell.
3. Please don't make decisions for the whole household concerning technology without consulting them. - We're not being control freaks here, it's just that the geek of the household tends to become the free system administrator. You can make that job a little easier for your geek by not hauling off and trying to buy, upgrade, or install something that's going to become their problem without at least asking about it before-hand. And also, if you're going to decide that something is broken and throw it out on your own, be prepared for your geek to utter dismayed cries of "What do you mean you threw it out? All it needed was a blast from the air can and it would have worked fine!"
4. Be prepared for some quirky tastes. - Understand first: we have no idea why geeks tend to have the tastes that they do. But if it's mainstream, you can almost count on them veering in the other direction. Top 40 music and football games and Walmart are out; eclectic music that nobody listens to, the original black-and-white Outer Limits marathon, and hand-crafted wooden gizmos from the Renaissance Faire are in. No, we're not trying to deliberately be snobbish yuppie metrosexuals, it just seems to work out that way when compared to the rest of the population. And half the time, our taste is unbelievably cheesy. Yes, we know this 1970's spaghetti kung-fu western is crap. That's why we're giggling at it.
5. Geeks need to read! - Geeks read everything. At least half the time a Christmas or birthday present should be a book. If you're in college, give them a chance to browse your old textbooks before you pitch them. Your old magazines are cannon fodder for the geek's reading appetite as well. And the tech books that they need for work are likely to have at least one volume that's out of date. Computer books have a maximum shelf life of five years and are the most expensive books at the store, so if you're replacing the 1998 copy of their hardware guide with this year's edition, you're doing them a substantial favor.
6. Do remind your geek that there's a real world out there every now and then. - Of course, you shouldn't take this as an invitation to nag or be pushy... But you might want to be sure that they notice that it's their turn to shovel the snow from the driveway and mow the grass. Watch them with the utility bills. Invite them along to the mall, in a ploy to get them outside and dealing with people. That sort of thing. Geeks do hard mental work, and tend to suffer from a kind of absent-minded professor syndrome. They forget to pay the cable bill because they were too distracted thinking about a static public void register class in Java.