Nerds on a Boat

Over at Wired there’s a piece on the JoCo Cruise, the annual pilgrimage of nerds and geeks to the Caribbean, via a cruise ship, whilst they are being entertained by nerd celebrities like Jonathan Coulton (for whom the cruise is named), Paul & Storm, and, this year at least, me (I’m running a writing track on the ship). The piece is written by Adam Rogers, an editor at Wired, who in the interest of disclosure I met and became friendly with during the cruise (I’m quoted a couple of places in the piece).

It’s an interesting piece, in part because a significant thread of the story is Adam’s personal reaction to the cruise, which is filtered through the process of grappling through his own personal nerdiness. Adam is both attracted to and unsettled by the community and dynamic of the JoCo cruise — he considers the idea that the cruise both constitutes a  “victory lap” for geek culture and may suffer from epistemic closure — and of course he has to spend time digging into both.

On balance I think it’s pretty fair to the cruise and the people on it. It’s easy but not quite correct to say that Adam’s overthinking what is, at the end of the day, just a cruise. One, because overthinking is what geeks and nerds do, after all. Two, because while it is a cruise there really is a community dynamic to the thing that makes it more than just a cruise, and that community is in fact specific to the cruise, not just an extension of the larger geek community. I don’t know if people who go on, say, the National Review cruise think of themselves as a specific community in the same way Seamonkeys (JoCo cruise attendees) think of themselves as one, but I have a feeling that what’s going on with the JoCo cruises really is its own specific thing.

I will say it’s the reason this JoCo Cruise will be my third one, however. I honestly don’t give a crap about the trip — either the ship or its destinations; cruise ships are like hotels with malls dropped on top of them, chucked out to sea, and while it’s nice to be in the warm sun in early February, it’s not as if the cruise destinations give you an authentic island experience. I like the people on the cruise and the nice little world they create on the ship. It’s the feature that keeps me coming back.

In any event, the article is a good read and I can recommend it. It does make me feel a little sad for Adam, though. As a journalist he had to spend a lot of time thinking about what the cruise meant, which speaking from some experience meant standing outside of it. I think he might enjoy it from the inside next time.

12 Comments on “Nerds on a Boat”

  1. We have come to the same conclusion on FB, i.e. we hope Adam comes back without his notebook. I’m sad he didn’t get to (dare to?) wear his Buckeroo Banzai shirt! Maybe, detached from his day job, he is less conflicted about letting his nerd out.

  2. It’s a nice article, and I think it captures a lot of what makes the JoCo Cruise special. The doubts and concerns are fair, too: I’ve grappled with some of the same questions. (I was happy to see Chicazul get some well-deserved attention for all she does to make it a welcoming place, just for instance.)

    I’ll say, though, that for me, the conclusion of the article made me feel more than a little sad. After spending a week surrounded by “his hometown” of nerd culture and seeing how much joy and acceptance we nerds can share together, Roberts seems to have emerged less comfortable with his own nerdy side. Every time I’ve stumbled back to the airport after a JoCo Cruise, I’ve been on such a nerd high that I would have assumed that gate agent was cheering us on with her superhero references, not making fun. Maybe it’s that journalistic distance that you’re talking about, but I’m sorry that he came away from the cruise still feeling embarrassed about that side of himself.

  3. On the first JoCo cruise, I didn’t know a single person there. I sat at a different table each night for dinner, I hung out in the game room and approached complete strangers to fill out a game, and over the course of the entire week I didn’t encounter a single person I had difficulty chatting with or who I didn’t like. For an extreme introvert like me, that’s remarkable.

    I do think that the experience being among a friendly group of mostly like-minded people is what makes the cruise what it is. I just think the author is wrong when he tries to explain it in terms of epistemic closure or inventing new rules of social hierarchy or disengaging from the outside world. It’s simply a safe space, where people often plagued by social anxiety can for six or eight days be completely free of it. It’s a place where we can easily form friendships and connections or just relax. He doesn’t completely miss that in the article, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate how powerful that experience can be.

  4. I have friends who have gone on the Cayamo music cruise multiple years, and in their experience, there is definitely a community that has developed around that cruise. It may not occur on random cruises (beyond the fellow feeling that is strong during the cruise and dissipates quickly afterward, extrapolating from group vacation tours I’ve taken), but such communities seem likely to develop for annual theme cruises such as Cayamo and JoCo that are based on common interests. The communities will be unique to themselves, though.

  5. It’s a well-written article, but it seemed to be a lot more about the writer than about the cruise. Also, I had to look up “epistemic closure” because I thought it meant a very sophisticated zipper. How is the cruise different than a con, after all?

    Looking forward to the trip. It will be my first Joco cruise but not my first cruise, so I’m curious to compare.

  6. Have you ever seen the film CRUISE OF THE GODS? It’s a British movie that stars Rob Bryden and Steve Coogan as actors famed for having starred in a cheesy science fiction series years before. Coogan’s character has an American hit with a TV series called Sherlock Holmes in Hawaii, while Bryden’s character is struggling to get by. So, he signs on to do a cruise on the theme of the old series. Sounds sort of like what you’re talking about.

    I thought the film’s humour was hit or miss, and it is sometimes cruel to science fiction nerds. Still, you might find that it has some entertainment value.

  7. I wish Adam had been able to reconcile with himself, as his own internal conflict between his nerd nature and the Cool WIRED Writer Person he seems to wish to project to the world became the overwhelming theme of the article, which ended with him “run[ning] like hell” away from the boat and being embarrassed by the idea of being a nerd.

    The world has changed considerably since Lewis & Gilbert took on the Alpha Betas. From this article, it seems Adam’s still living then, rather than now. I’d like to be wrong about that, but lacking other context, that’s what I draw from it.

  8. @BW: Yeah, I’ve got a neighbor who goes on the Blues Cruise; that’s a community too. Hey, it’s a big party, on a ship in the middle of the ocean, with people who all enjoy the same stuff! What’s not to like?

  9. I’m a Titanic nerd, which might not go down too well on a cruise ship. Unless the cruise ship went down too well…

  10. Like Steuard, I thought the end of the article was sad. I felt like he was trapped in mindset of self-consciousness that he couldn’t let go of. I can understand that mindset, but I wanted to hug him and sing “don’t dream it…be it”. Good writing to evoke that reaction — I’m a lousy singer and never do it.

  11. What you said about not caring about the particular ship or the destinations. I say I’m going on a nerd cruise, and people (naturally) say “to where?” and I end up saying “Um” a lot. Let’s see, I know St. Maartin and Puerto Rico, but I’ll have to look the other destinations up, because I don’t actually care. The whole week could be sea days and I’d be perfectly happy. In fact, I’ve developed a Plan for this one: because shore days are less intensively scheduled, I’ll probably do a brief shore thing, and then go back to the boat and try to catch up on a few hours of sleep!

  12. We recently went on a all women cruise to the eastern coast of central America. We missed three of our 4 landings due to a tropical storm that blew over the area. 6 to 9 foot swells. including a note from the captain asking us to secure our valuables and he personally brought a glasses of champagne to every cabin on the whole ship.

    I’m just saying, the ports even if they are silly or Potemkin villages of the actual experience of living on the island, you do want to get off the boat more than one day in 7.

    on the other hand, I took a “discover Scuba” class in Costa Maya Mexico and fell in LOVE with lying on my back on the sea bed and staring that the fish that float over my body. incredible and John, you should try it sometime on JCCC5

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