February 5, 2014
Geek V. Nerd and Why We Don’t Need to Have It
I am about to mount the podium. You’re all welcome to gather up front on the pew, to slink slyly to the rear of the sanctuary or to simply walk back out the double doors before I unleash my fire and brimstone. And I certainly won’t think less of you for choosing the latter.
I have spent my three decades upon this Earth as an outsider, a nerd and yes as a geek. I am as nerdy as I wanna be. No more. No less. At this stage in my life I am self-aware enough to realize who I am, and I have made my peace with that. Another aspect, which I also attribute to age, is the fact that I am now too damn tired to care what other people think of me. Now this certainly doesn’t mean I don’t want others to like me, to respect and accept me. (This is ingrained well within human nature itself, and even we proud nerdlingers fall under its sway.)
today being a nerd is still a derogatory, stereotypical term, no one wants to be a nerd everyone wants to be a geek and if you identify yourself as a nerd you, my good people, are still a social outcast. you dont belong. if you are a geek you belong.
I call bulshit on that …
“geek” is no longer a relevant label of self-identification, but a brand. Geek is Twitter. Geek is Tumblr. Geek is exclusivity. Geek is pomposity. Except it’s not. “Geek” was supposed to be about refuting stereotypes and celebrating the things we love, but it ends up feeling like we’re trying to convince the Cool Kids that we’re really just like them.
A great number of us have begun espousing the belief that what we do, that what we are, is a culture rightfully unto itself, and we’ve done so by embracing the names that were used as weapons against us. We took back geek and nerd and dweeb, and we bent them to our own needs. We wore them like badges of honor. But at some point we experienced a schism. We began to add our own precise context to these nonsensical words with no legitimate definition or etymology, and use them to cloister what some saw as our own less desirable elements.
We split up the nerds – a Seussian word used adjacent to “Nerkle” and “Seersucker” – and the geeks – a carnie term for a performer who eats live animals – based on unqualifiable differences instead of uniting them under their obvious similarities. We, in short, became our own tormentors. We decided who would sit at our table and who would be relegated to the far side of the lunch room. We became that guy who shook you down and called you dweeb, a spaz, or that girl who defaced your gym locker and made you a laughingstock. We became our own worst enemy. we did it gladly.
Today, adults wear thick black glasses, long pants that are cuffed fashionably short with retro sneakers, and walk while looking down into an iPhone. Frequently into things.
These are geeks. But the difference is that theirs is a choice, a matter of style. They, unlike me, were not born this way.
Nerd is to tinker with tech; geek is to admire and acquire. Nerd is innate; geek is learned. But both are self-identified, associated with intelligence and along a continuum with frequent overlap, making external categorization virtually impossible.
Nerds love knowledge for the sake of knowledge; geeks love knowledge for the sake of unapologetically making you feel stupid for not having the same level of knowledge as they do. But one common thread emerges: geek is the current cool/hip/sexy term. And no one, ever, has said being a socially awkward, misfit, inwardly tech-focused nerd is cool. Except to other nerds.
This enduring “geek chic” that the mainstream media has become so fixated upon is key to spreading our message of hope, but it can also prove a destructive element if we lose site of the fact that we are all but defined by some of our most unsavory experiences and inclinations. Whether geek or nerd, we each spent a lengthy season being abused, neglected, isolated. We know what it’s like to be bullied and to be made to feel insignificant. We know what it’s like to be outsiders. But while this pain is certainly not ours alone, it is also a defining force that we must not lose sight of. The fact that we came through the fire and yet retained those things that made us targets — that is our strength.
Many of my friends and colleagues prefer to identify as geeks rather than nerds, and that is fine. Our culture is all about personal choice. But these social pop geeks looking down their noses at those insalubrious nerds is another matter entirely.
There is no entrance exam for being a nerd. You simply need to be yourself. Anyone is welcome to join us, whether or not they play D&D or can recite Coulton lyrics from memory or understand Python semantics. All you have to do is be yourself and afford us the opportunity to do the same. Whether you call yourself a nerd or a geek or a freak or a hacker or a gamer or a Trekker or a fanboy or a furry or a LARPer or an otaku is irrelevant. But don’t you dare try and paint yourself as better than someone who identifies by a different arbitrary label! We are nerds and we are geeks and we are wonderful and quirky and awkward, but we are no better or worse than anyone else. We are, while fully aware of our unique differences, the same.