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Linux and Sociability--Opposites?

By DesiredUsername in Op-Ed
Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 04:17:09 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

I attended 3 or so meetings at the LUG where I used to live. Last night I attended my first meeting at the LUG where I live now. Conclusion: Geeks don't know how to run a sewing circle.

What is the purpose of a LUG? Obviously, it isn't to disseminate technical information--the Internet is much more appropriate for that. The purpose of a LUG is to be social: meet Linux enthusiasts in your area, talk to them about your issues, listen to their issues, make connections with people.

I'm going to skip right to last night's meeting because that's the one that burns my backside. The first LUG had similar problems, although I wasn't as bothered by them at the time (for various reasons)

According to the emailed invitation to the mailing list, the structure was: Dinner at 6:00, presentation at 7:00. Since I'd be new I thought I'd attend the dinner to get to know people first. I arrive right at 6:00 and find a table with ten people sitting around it drinking beer. I say "hi" and get a few "hi"'s in return. Then everyone shuts up so I sit down. No one asks me my name, no one tells me their name (and no one even has name tags so I couldn't even tell who was new like me).

Other things that did NOT happen:

An explanation of the "protocol" (who is paying for dinner and how--should we eat big or will their be snacks later?)
An introduction of the "people running the show" (there was a guy with a beard who was making decisions--was he in charge? what was his name?)
A heads-up on how long the meeting would run (or how long they've run in the past)

There were other problems as well. I can't exactly blame these on the LUG, on the other hand they DO drive away new members:

1) There were about 18 people--10 around a table meant for 6 and 8 around two satellite tables. We were right outside the kitchen (apparently their usual spot) so much clattering and shouting from the next room. I had trouble hearing the person right next to me so forget about participating in a conversation across the table. It would have been MUCH smarter to break up into groups of 4 around smaller tables in a better location. You can't socialize as widely in any given meeting, but over time you get to know people in depth.

2) The Annoying Smart Aleck. I wouldn't mention this guy, but there seems to be one in every group of geeks. You know the guy I mean: he generally has some lowly position (tech support, gofer, etc) but talks like he knows everything about everything. Also much prone to derogatory jokes ("Netscape fixed a problem? Wow!") that are sure to get a polite laugh even if they make no sense. This type of person also can't ever admit they are wrong--to the point where their original comment mutates in response to rebuttals until they are saying the opposite of what they originally said. Again, I realize this (type of) person is more to be pitied than reviled and it's not the fault of the LUG that he is that way and attends meetings--but he (and it's not always a "he") sure makes it difficult for the non-dysfunctional among us to get involved.

Now, I'm sure to get a bunch of accusations about how I should have taken the plunge or maybe I was shy and withdrawn so let me just deal with that:

I was alert, cheerful and interested during the entire process. I made eye-contact, listened to what people were saying and made a few comments of my own. None of these gambits got me more than 2 lines into a conversation. Admittedly, I did not go up to anyone and "proactively" introduce myself--but should I need to? I've always worked under the model where the host does the "at ease putting" and introductions. This did not happen at last night's meeting. There wasn't even any "mingle time" where we could have done this one on one. During dinner it was too loud to have a conversation and the presentation started right away when we got to the meeting room.

I was not actively made to feel unwelcome--but neither was any attempt made to acknowledge my existence other than making room around the table and handing me a raffle ticket. We could have all been random strangers on the subway for all the interaction we had. That's no way to run a healthly LUG.


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Linux and Sociability--Opposites? | 20 comments (17 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Ahhh ... (3.76 / 13) (#1)
by Bad Mojo on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 02:54:11 PM EST

Bad LUG. There are GOOD LUGs out there where there is a president or other person (or people) who is outgoing and quick to introduce people and get people intergrated quickly. If your LUG doesn't have one, BE that person. Not an easy solution, but every LUG needs a leader like every Open Source project needs a leader.

1) Can't say much for poor location to talk. The LUG I attend meets in a classroom and that works out great for the most part. The best is when we face each other in a circle type formation. Easier to hear everyone else talking. It also helps to have some guidance or a leader and to go to dinner afterwards. The meeting has a format that the president keeps bringing us back to and we use the dinner afterwards for general chit-chat.

2) Get used to it. The LUG I'm at has about 3 or 4 annoying smart alecs and I'm probably one of them. *shrug* The important point is having someone in control who can quiet things down and keep things moving along.

LUGs don't happen by themselves. Someone has to organize and do some work. Hopefully that person will accept help or just naturally be able to do everything that needs to get done.

Just my opinion though.

-Bad Mojo
"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
B. Watterson's Calvin - "Calvin & Hobbes"

Good LUGs (2.50 / 6) (#2)
by Matrix on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 03:12:14 PM EST

The LUG in my area (Nova Scotia) is quite good. We don't meet regularly, but the meetings we do manage to pull together are usually interesting. Sometimes we manage to get someone to do a talk about something, but they usually degenerate in to a free-form discussion after a short time. Most of the really helpful or interesting discussion goes on through the mailing list, though.

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

Mine works just fine, thank you (2.66 / 9) (#4)
by hardburn on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 04:22:41 PM EST

My local LUG seems to be very freindly in the way you want. At my first meeting, I was introduced to the gropu president and a few other members. Met the resident Debian geek (since I use Debian), drank coffee, made jabs at Microsoft, went home :)

In other words, you're a victum of two bad LUGs, as another post already pointed out.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

More General (3.50 / 10) (#5)
by DemiGodez on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 04:24:48 PM EST

I think this is a more general problem than LUGs. Where I went to college there were a group of people who used the university BBS obsessively. I mean obsessively. As I read your post, you could have been describing these people.

I thought I had gotten away from that (I thought it was just a college thing) until I met a bunch of friends of a girl i used to work with. It was eerie. They were almost exactly the same as the people I knew in college (and the people you describe) right down to the sarcastic tech support guy.

I find people like this tend to have cetain traits. They tend to beLinux users, pretty well educated although not wordly, smart, and have unique tastes ranging from the goth style to pseudo-hippy. A majority of them are more sexually open than the average person. This is obviously a generality based only on my experience.

Here's what I think. As my mom would say, "You computer people are all a little off." In other words, I think we get so used to being different or even excluded that some of us lose the ability to be inclusive even when around kindred spirits. Maybe I'm wrong, but this is my interpretation. It's not fun to deal with, but it's a reality.

More In Depth (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by RadiantMatrix on Sun Oct 29, 2000 at 01:24:04 AM EST

I think we get so used to being different or even excluded that some of us lose the ability to be inclusive even when around kindred spirits.
Maybe this is true, or maybe it is one of several other factors:
  • Geeks, per se, are often more used to dealing with machines that respond predictably to given imputs - if output is unexpected, input must be erroneous or the 'traslator' (the code) is flawed. With humans who respond unpredictably and beyond our control, it is often uncomfortable to try to formulate proper "input", making many Geeks socially inept (by public standards).

  • Stereotypes take their toll. In my experience, anyone who demonstrates "odd" behavior or has "odd" ideas (by non-geek standards) is constantly berated when they are open about these things. I, for one, am very tight-lipped about my opinions and beliefs until I am on good terms with someone. When a group that has common experiences in this regard gets together, you end up with a tight-lipped group of people -- socially akward.

  • Geeks often become so used to dealing with protocols based on logic, that the seemingly illogical rules of ettiquette [sp?] -- even those considered to be basic courtesy -- become easy to forget, or seem unnecessary. I have seen this many times, but I have also seen the opposite - due to the obsession with detail and protocol needed for many programming and administration tasks, some Geeks have nearly perfect ettiquette.
These are, of course, purely my own observations - I would love some comment on them.
I'm not going out with a "meh". I plan to live, dammit. [ZorbaTHut]

[ Parent ]
They're Geeks, for God's sake... (3.36 / 11) (#6)
by itsbruce on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 04:51:30 PM EST

A certain lack of social skills is part of the definition. Many of these people went through school not being picked for teams and not being invited to things. Some of them even went through university like that. Put them into a room together and they all try to stand against the wall.

You weren't being excluded, they just don't know how to include. Trying to make eye contact may not have helped...


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
Just add Ecstacy (1.00 / 7) (#7)
by CiXeL on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 06:57:57 PM EST

And see how many life long friends they make. Sometimes people just need a little something to push them over the edge to force them to socialize. E, try it sometime, its not addictive and youre guaranteed to like it.
Question Tradition...
Geeks With Drugs (2.60 / 5) (#8)
by rusty on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 08:05:09 PM EST

Ok, who's gonna attend the next linux trade show and organize a Geeks With Drugs" outing? We could dose up ESR and RMS and see what happens. ;-)

DJBongHit... paging DJBongHit...

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

OK, but don't give RMS grass (2.40 / 5) (#10)
by itsbruce on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 08:16:32 PM EST

or anything like that. He needs some major uppers.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
[ Parent ]
whoopee.c (none / 0) (#19)
by radar bunny on Sat Nov 04, 2000 at 04:55:50 PM EST

#include <stdio.h>
#include <grass.h>
#include <geeks.h>

int main()
int g,d,f; /*variables d=geeks d=drugs f=fun */ while (f = g + d ) { printf("WHOPPPEEE!!!!!\n"); } return 0; }

[ Parent ]
So very different from my experiences. (3.33 / 6) (#12)
by Merekat on Fri Oct 27, 2000 at 06:44:58 AM EST

From what I've seen over the past five years, from when I first arrived in college and found myself hanging around with 'geeks', is that if anything they seemed to be compulsive organisers and socialisers.

The biggest and most active societies when I was in school (apart from those with a few hundred years of history) were the so called 'geek' orientated eg. Science Fiction, Maths, Gamers and especially Netsoc, who were voted best society of the year last year. How do they get that? Not by being shy and retiring or ignorant of other people wanting to get involved, that's for sure.

Similarly, the local LUG are a friendly and welcoming bunch and make sure to organise frequent informal social events. Again, despite having no technical qualifications, and not even a tech job at the time, I found myself welcomed on the basis of my interest. The main difference I can see about my first meeting is that I generally don't get hung up on needing to know people's names in order to have a conversation. (In fact, the idea of wearing name tags is horrible! Reminds me of a McJob). Similarly, I have no particular need to know who is running anything and have little embarrasment about asking questions. I would rather directly introduce myself to a group than have a host (who probably doesn't know me from a lump of cheese) try.

Still not convinced that your experience was the exception, rather than the rule? How about the concept of 100+ geeks, mainly total strangers, turning up in the Lake District of England, specifically to go walking, drink beer and talk about Linux? Think it wouldn't work? Well, it did, and I repeat, these were in the main, total strangers.

I think what you experienced was probably an exception rather than a rule, and if you have problems with it, you have two options. Either walk away and find a group you prefer, or as other people have suggested, be the one who makes the group more welcoming. I'm sure some of the people would be horrified at the thought that they'd accidentally alienated interested people.
I've always had the greatest respect for other peoples crack-pot beliefs.
- Sam the Eagle, The Muppet Show

Maybe it's just Ireland... ;) (2.33 / 3) (#13)
by bscanl on Fri Oct 27, 2000 at 07:26:27 AM EST

...and in the same city, a Networking Society is the biggest soc in a slightly smaller college for the last few years, though we've got no ye olde societies to compete against. Good things must be said about the local LUG as well.

Perhaps it's the cunning mix of Geeks and Guinness.

[ Parent ]
I never even made it to a meeting! (thankfully) (3.71 / 7) (#14)
by octal on Fri Oct 27, 2000 at 07:44:47 AM EST

My city, like most, has a LUG and the LUG also maintains several mailing lists as their primary method of communication. I've subscribed to these lists since I first heard of Linux to help in my quest for knowledge and to be able to communicate with others who share this interest.

Due to a very heavy work schedule as a business owner, it would be almost impossible for me to attend meetings but I do try to keep abreast of the local happenings and have attempted to be an active part of the mailing lists as my business runs Linux exclusively. It's very easy to tell that some members of this LUG really know their stuff so this makes their comments and discussions wonderful fodder for those of us in serious learning mode.

Several years ago, hearing the local LUG pleading poverty in the face of Installfests and since Linux had been such a blessing to me both personally and in business, I decided that even though I had never attended a meeting, I would have my company make a donation (I forget the actual amount, $75 or $100 I seem to recall) to help defer Installfest costs such as the purchase of the CDs they pass out. I also mentioned that I was needing to update the distro I had on my computers and would be quite appreciative if, even though I couldn't attend the Installfest, they could save a CD for me

You can't imagine the flames I received! Now, they were perfectly comfortable accepting my money, but I was told that I had no right to expect a CD and they were offended by my expectation that I could "buy" one from them for $75 or $100 or whatever the amount was. They further explained that the "proper" method for buying a CD was to contact the vendor rather than them. (They were broke and wanted to give away CDs they couldn't afford, I offered a donation to enable them to pay for the CDs, and they were offended! No wonder they were broke! Go figure.) Naturally, I responded that I wasn't trying to buy a CD, I was trying to help them with their cash problem and after they received the CDs which they were going to be distributing for free, I'd appreciate receiving one. The flaming went on for over a week, I sent the donation I had promised, and one kind soul emailed me privately that he really appreciated the support and would see that I got a CD.

I'm aware that as geeks we're not endowed with social skills, but to beg for donations and then to bite the hand offering one is nothing but boorish and ill mannered. They were treated poorly in school because of their lack of socialization? So was I, but whenever someone extends a hand to help out with a cause I believe in, unlike them, I don't bite!

The upshot of it all is that I still subscribe to the mailing lists so I can read all of their whining and in-fighting and occasionally get a tidbit of useful information. What some of us will endure for knowledge, eh? They continue to plead for new members and for financing but their membership doesn't seem to be growing too much over the last couple of years. Financing-wise, I would have been willing to cut them a donation check several times a year but as getting bit is not one of my turn ons, donating to that particular LUG is not an option.

Would I ever actually go to a local LUG meeting? Not without flame retardent clothing!



Doesn't sound so bad.. (3.00 / 3) (#15)
by ameoba on Sat Oct 28, 2000 at 07:47:32 AM EST

While I've been a Linux user on and off for the last five or so years, I'd never bothered going to LUG meeting until about a month ago and having done so, I don't feel like I was missing much.

After an hour long drive through suprisingly bad Saturday afternoon trafic, I show up to a nearly empty conference room, with about 8-10 guys well over twice my age (I'm in my early 20s). There was no apparent structure or purpose to anyone being there, and about the only computer related thing going on was how to get X running on a machine that somebody had brought in.

I tried talking to some of the guys, and I felt like they didn't really want some 'young punk' comming in and messing up their little old-men's club.

After milling about, and unsuccessfully trying to become part of several of the conversations (I think I overheard somebody talking about lawn-care), I finally found a member that was willing to treat me like I was allowed to be there, and got to talking about firewalls...

In all, a major disappointment, and (counting transit time) a major waste of 6 hours of my life... to think that I got up before noon for this.

About the only upside of the whole event was a heightened appreciation for the content of That Other Site.

Starting a LUG (none / 0) (#17)
by FeersumAsura on Fri Nov 03, 2000 at 10:54:43 AM EST

A small group of us are thinking of starting an informal LUG in my area. As the nearest LUG is over 40 miles away (about 1.5hrs drive where I live). I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions on an informal LUG. We'd like (eventually) to try to help schools and other organisations to switch over to Linux.
As we are all about 19~20 years old the funds are limited. We're planning on meeting in a lcoal pub for a while and seeing where we need to go. i.e. do we need to rent somewhere where we can set up computers. Is there enough interest from other organisations to make setting up a demo worthwhile.
Although it is a LUG we are not planning on setting up a real newbie LUG. Most people who have shown an interest are considered Windows experts and most are very proficent in Linux. Ninety percent of us are programmers the other one is an engineer. Personally I am planning on trying to bring embedded Linux to the mainstream users. Such as now to build an embedded Linux mp3 player for your car.
If anyone has any suggestions on how to set up a succesful LUG please mail me. If anyone is in the Barrow in Furness area and is interested in joining please contact me.

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
Interesting... (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by simmons75 on Sat Nov 04, 2000 at 01:22:53 AM EST

...as it sounds rather like a local LUG meeting I went to back in May-ish. And remotely like the only other close LUG. That tends to be a real problem. Terrible organization, along with Mr. Sarcastic, starved for attention. It sucks.

Then again, I've seen well-organized LUG meetings; these, unfortunately, tend to degenerate rather quickly into "how do I get my LT modem working in Linux?" "Is linux like Windows?" no matter how well-organized. It seems as if LUGs need to have actual lecturers, willing to assert themselves and say, "We'll get to that after the lecture", that sort of thing.
So there.

Good LUGs exist too (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by erotus on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 06:27:49 AM EST

I have seen many negative comments about LUGs here. I have also noticed that many of you have said you go into a meeting with around 8-20 people. I'm lucky if I can find a seat when I got to my LUG meetings. I think this is due to the higher population of geeks here in North Texas(many techie companies here). Yes, there are annoying people and there are also pleasant people as well. Overall, the presentations at the meetings have been OK.

I do agree that you should have been acknowledged in the meeting with so few people. It seems that geeks lack social awareness as a general rule and that is a shame. Not all geeks are that way mind you but a good deal are, especially linux geeks. I'm a linux geek and I'm no way trying to say that all linux users are autistic, asberger syndrome, non-bathing, greasy dorks who couldn't get a social clue if it hit them in the face. Geeks will be geeks and that is that. It is part of the personality sometimes. I think you'd see a very different crowd if you went to a classic car club. But, we're geeks and keep in mind that lack of social skills kind of goes with the territory sometimes.

Linux and Sociability--Opposites? | 20 comments (17 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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