Friday, January 2, 2009

The New Geek

The definition of "geek", according to


1. a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.
2. a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders.)
3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

1915- 20; prob. var. of geck (mainly Scots) fool < D or LG gek

As a self-identified geek, I think it's just about time that we redefine what it means to be a "geek". Being a child of the 1980's, my frame of reference starts around 1985, when I was in grade school. At this point, "nerd", "geek", and "dork" all pretty much had the same meaning: someone outside the accepted social framework. Perhaps because of dress, friendships, or level of intelligence, anyone labelled with one of these three words was automatically outcast from the rest of the group. Also during this time, the personal computer was starting to show up in classrooms, and in select cases, in homes across the United States. For those of us who were forunately enough to have one of these machines in our home (thanks Dad!), a whole world was opened up to us. And then for an even more select few of us who were more interested in how the thing worked than what games it could play (thanks again, Dad!), well, that was just like being handed the keys to the Geek-dom.

By the time high school rolled around, the internet, and more specifically, the world wide web, had made it's way into classroom across the school district. I attended a high school that was geared toward the use of technology in the classroom. At this high school I discovered something I had never expected: geekiness had it's own subculture. There were people there who were as interested in computers and technology as I was. People I could talk to... sort of. Unfortunately, I came to find that those creatures were not geeks, they were nerds. Devoid of any social graces whatsoever, there were doomed to roam the halls in their own little pack, not intermingling with the rest of the world. They were animals to be admired from afar. And they were impossible to talk to. Even for a geek like me, these guys spoke a different language. Sure, I could have tried harder to fit into their world. But I liked girls, and music, and plays, and movies. Movies other than the Matrix. These were not my people. I needed something more.

College, an oasis for geeks the world over, was where I formed my current, and probably most accurate definition of geek-hood. In college, you are allowed to be whatever you decide to be, which includes enjoying technology (toting a laptop to class even before colleges and universities started handing them to students with their dorm room key), using technology (using a Palm V as a reminder tool for papers and lectures), and still having a life, dating, and enjoying the company of other human beings. In college, you can join a fraternity and be the webmaster. What more can I say? College is where a geek can be a geek.

And pop culture is coming along for the ride. I look around, and I see young professionals in jeans and graphic tees, sporting a sport-coat over the top, House MD fashion. Suddenly everyone wants a pair of vintage Chuck Taylors, and nobody thinks twice about going to their local Lens Crafters and picking up a pair of black plastic rimmed glasses to improve their reading vision while typing away at their Dell / Gateway / Apple notebook computer. Or even better, while replying to emails on their Blackberry / iPhone / Compaq iPAQ.

And it's a beautiful sight.

So what is the modern definition of "geek"? I think it's a lot of things. It's anyone who is comfortable with technology, or at least learning. It's anyone who can be described as an expert in their field. It's everything positive about knowledge, without any of the traditional negative connotations. It's Steve Jobs, dressed up, touting the latest that Apple has to offer for personal music and communications. It's Barack Obama, who is said to carry a Blackberry at all times and be way into Star Trek, all while playing basketball. It's the experts of the world, who decided to be better at what they do than anyone else, without sacrificing their personalities.

No comments:

Post a Comment