"HEY geek," says my bureau chief. He says it with affection, an honorific won from my ability to make his phone read his e-mail. A geek is not a nerd or, God forbid, a dweeb; nerds are smart and dweebs are socially incapable. A geek is obsessed and pulls things apart. Whether he puts them back together is immaterial, as is whether everyone else has left the room. "Hey geek" used to be a life sentence; to hear it was to know that your passion was a burden, that you would type out your days accompanied by nothing but a can of Coke and the sound of your own hair thinning.
But then a funny thing happened. The geeks grew up, and it wasn't so bad. The internet was a geek-hungry machine; it plucked the geek from in front of his ham radio and deposited him among sales and marketing staff, and sometimes even near girls. Several geeks became billionaires. Perhaps a geek even became the president of the United States. It became possible to be a geek and something else, too. Maybe a journalist.
John Brockman, in a brief essay on Edge, calls these geeks who went on to do something else the algorithmic culture, dedicated to learning something about the world by understanding the actual code behind the internet. The data packed into the black boxes of our phones and web browsers reveal things about us, trails of where we have been and what we have desired. And we, the algorithmic interpreters of The Economist, aim with this blog to approach black boxes with tiny screwdrivers, to let in the light and to completely ruin them on the way to finally, blissfully understanding them.
We request that you stay in the room. If you're going to step out for a bit, maybe grab us a Coke.