Ask [GaS]: What Does “Geek” Mean to You?

On Wednesday, I am headed out to Boston for PAX East. One of the panels I’m speaking on is with my husband and Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks (a must read for geeks of the fantasy/gaming contingent… as if you couldn’t deduce that from the title alone). Our panel is about geekdom in general and how the term “geek” has changed over the last few decade; it’s called “Geek is no longer a four-letter word” (3pm, Wyvern Theater, on Sunday).

So you can imagine that I’ve been thinking a great deal about what the term “geek” means to me, and how it’s defined my own existence. I never would have anticipated that being a self identified geek would have landed me so many writing gigs. In fact, my whole blogging “career” is successful because I’m a geek (the blogs I most often write for, in fact, both have the word geek in their titles).

Personally, I didn’t realize I was much of a geek — at least I didn’t put that word to it — until college. The Internet put me in contact with geeks all over the world, and as such I became part of the geek movement itself. Now, I proudly call myself a geek even if my mother hates it when I do!

But that’s part of it, isn’t it? The term itself has a very different meaning to us now. For my mother’s generation, a geek is someone antisocial, somewhat awkward, and probably unattractive! All things that don’t necessarily apply any longer.

So I’m appealing to you, readers. What do you think defines you as a geek? Do you still struggle against negative perceptions of the term? Do you think there is a lessening of geekdom itself as it becomes mainstream? Do you think it’s easier to be a geek than it used to be? Any other observations about geekery in general? What’s the geek perception like in your country? Now’s the time to sound off!

I promise to give credit to replies, of course, but I thought it might be a good idea to take a pulse of current thoughts on the subject before I start espousing my own thoughts!

And if you happen to be attending PAX East, come by and say hi!

[Picture source: Flickr (CC)]

Advertisements
Advertisement




27 Responses to Ask [GaS]: What Does “Geek” Mean to You?

  1. What do you think defines you as a geek? I think that just as with any other social movement, being a geek has it's physical manifestations, like Black wayfarer glasses or retro-t shirts. But More important it's an embrace of a lifestyle that utilizes technology in combination with interest in niche categories of information.

  2. What do you think defines you as a geek? I think that just as with any other social movement, being a geek has it’s physical manifestations, like Black wayfarer glasses or retro-t shirts. But More important it’s an embrace of a lifestyle that utilizes technology in combination with interest in niche categories of information.

  3. I think that these days "Geek" is more of the parent term applied as a suffix to the particular genre you enjoy most. In our parent's days Geeks were those that enjoyed intelligence and all the fun that comes with that (i.e. PCs, games, comics, trivia, A/V, etc.). Since those around them (Jocks, Preps, Cheerleaders, etc.) didn't see the individuality in our specialties we all got lumped together. So as we grew and became the "in-crowd", we have developed sub categories that we have filed ourselves into to keep the true spirit of the Geek alive and well. Sure Corporate America is trying to make it the new coolness with "cool" T-shirts and accessories but that's not what we are. You can't fake being a Geek, you just can't. Posers stand out in our world like a cow in Westminster. But the best part is, given time to learn a subject even the cow is welcome in our world. The Geek is popular to be because we are who we say we are and we're damn proud of it. So if you are a Computer-geek, Gamer, Larper, D20-geek, Comic-Geek, and on and on. Hold you head up high and represent our culture cause we are awesome!

    • Fantastic comment, I wholeheartedly agree! I think what defines a geek the most is a curious disposition, the ability not to judge but to feel and explore the different aspects of our lives and INTERACT with them. That's probably the biggest misconception, before the internet there just weren't that opportunities to find likeminded fellows, so we hid from "public" view because we were being judged for what we were and are, but if somebody showed interest in what we were doing we'd welcome them with open arms.

      • Exactly! And deep down we are all Geeks for one reason or another. You nailed it because the internet became the sand box for all of us Geeks to play together. It's great to chat with like-minded people.

  4. I think that these days “Geek” is more of the parent term applied as a suffix to the particular genre you enjoy most. In our parent’s days Geeks were those that enjoyed intelligence and all the fun that comes with that (i.e. PCs, games, comics, trivia, A/V, etc.). Since those around them (Jocks, Preps, Cheerleaders, etc.) didn’t see the individuality in our specialties we all got lumped together. So as we grew and became the “in-crowd”, we have developed sub categories that we have filed ourselves into to keep the true spirit of the Geek alive and well. Sure Corporate America is trying to make it the new coolness with “cool” T-shirts and accessories but that’s not what we are. You can’t fake being a Geek, you just can’t. Posers stand out in our world like a cow in Westminster. But the best part is, given time to learn a subject even the cow is welcome in our world. The Geek is popular to be because we are who we say we are and we’re damn proud of it. So if you are a Computer-geek, Gamer, Larper, D20-geek, Comic-Geek, and on and on. Hold you head up high and represent our culture cause we are awesome!

    • Fantastic comment, I wholeheartedly agree! I think what defines a geek the most is a curious disposition, the ability not to judge but to feel and explore the different aspects of our lives and INTERACT with them. That’s probably the biggest misconception, before the internet there just weren’t that opportunities to find likeminded fellows, so we hid from “public” view because we were being judged for what we were and are, but if somebody showed interest in what we were doing we’d welcome them with open arms.

      • Exactly! And deep down we are all Geeks for one reason or another. You nailed it because the internet became the sand box for all of us Geeks to play together. It’s great to chat with like-minded people.

    • You, my friend, need to visit http://www.reddit.com. If you still think you are alone after that, then it's time to get away from the computer and travel the world. You will find others out there just like you. I guarantee it.

    • You, my friend, need to visit http://www.reddit.com. If you still think you are alone after that, then it's time to get away from the computer and travel the world. You will find others out there just like you. I guarantee it.

  5. My love for sci-fi movies, videogames, retro pop culture references and other generally "uncool" things. Listening to music/wathing tv shows of a genre that people assume I wouldn't like based on the way I look. My general intelligence and sense of humour.

    That's what being a geek means to me.

    What differentiates us from nerds is our ability to have friends and a social life outside our obsessions.

  6. My love for sci-fi movies, videogames, retro pop culture references and other generally “uncool” things. Listening to music/wathing tv shows of a genre that people assume I wouldn’t like based on the way I look. My general intelligence and sense of humour.
    That’s what being a geek means to me.
    What differentiates us from nerds is our ability to have friends and a social life outside our obsessions.

  7. The popularity of the internet certainly made geekiness into geekdom.

    Everyone has geek-like tendencies, but what makes a geek is the ability to turn it into something bigger! Plenty of people buy 'in joke' tshirts, but a geek will wear nothing but. Everyone has a computer, but a geek will make sure it fulfills all their geeky needs. Everyone likes games, but a geek will throw on a robe and some pointy ears and live it!

    I don't know how much geeks have changed over the years… I wouldn't have called myself a geek until my uni years; but how they're represented on the likes of TV has definitely changed. In my head technology has bred a new type of geek and now for the first time there are poser geeks! Who'd have thought?

  8. The popularity of the internet certainly made geekiness into geekdom.

    Everyone has geek-like tendencies, but what makes a geek is the ability to turn it into something bigger! Plenty of people buy ‘in joke’ tshirts, but a geek will wear nothing but. Everyone has a computer, but a geek will make sure it fulfills all their geeky needs. Everyone likes games, but a geek will throw on a robe and some pointy ears and live it!

    I don’t know how much geeks have changed over the years… I wouldn’t have called myself a geek until my uni years; but how they’re represented on the likes of TV has definitely changed. In my head technology has bred a new type of geek and now for the first time there are poser geeks! Who’d have thought?

  9. I've been a geek more than 4 decades and for me it's always been about one thing more than any other. I make the world work!

    Even back in high school (early 70s)there was a personal satisfaction in knowing that when things went wrong it wasn't the jock or the cheerleader they called on, it was me. I knew which button to push, which screw to tighten, which line of code to debug. When their world came to a halt, I was the one who made it work again. I wore the name like a title, moving in and out like a shadow, doing my thing and then gone. It became my identity.

    That's why in some respects I feel more awkward now than I did then. I'm still not used to the mainstream popularity of geekdom. It was once an exclusive club; there was them and there was us. Now the lines are starting to blur, the sub categories are cluttering up the landscape and while it is, for now, still a very cool thing, we have seen mainstream overexposure ruin a sub-culture before.

    For me the question is, "As we redefine what it is to be a geek, how do we keep it from becoming just another Madison Avenue demographic?"

  10. I’ve been a geek more than 4 decades and for me it’s always been about one thing more than any other. I make the world work!

    Even back in high school (early 70s)there was a personal satisfaction in knowing that when things went wrong it wasn’t the jock or the cheerleader they called on, it was me. I knew which button to push, which screw to tighten, which line of code to debug. When their world came to a halt, I was the one who made it work again. I wore the name like a title, moving in and out like a shadow, doing my thing and then gone. It became my identity.

    That’s why in some respects I feel more awkward now than I did then. I’m still not used to the mainstream popularity of geekdom. It was once an exclusive club; there was them and there was us. Now the lines are starting to blur, the sub categories are cluttering up the landscape and while it is, for now, still a very cool thing, we have seen mainstream overexposure ruin a sub-culture before.

    For me the question is, “As we redefine what it is to be a geek, how do we keep it from becoming just another Madison Avenue demographic?”

  11. I have a different image of geek to present. I agree with the aforementioned descriptions of "geek". All correct. Here is mine. Our family has been absorbed in baseball since my son started playing at age 7. He's still playing and we're knee deep in it as he's currently on 2 teams. Here's where we are geeks. Baseball in the south is dominated by (how to put this without being judgmental) conservatives (?). We don't drive a truck. All of my son's coaches (other than us) have had a truck or SUV. We're vegetarian. We play DnD with our kid. We have advanced degrees. We homeschool, but not because we're Christian. So, what I'm getting at is we're deeply involved in a culture that doesn't really recognize us. We often get funny looks and stares of incomprehension. Alternatively we're members of a homeschool group that is extremely liberal. Our involvement in baseball and somewhat strict parenting style gets us the same sort of treatment. So, again a culture that doesn't recognize us. There are other parts of our lives where we just don’t seem to fit. *BUT* we're okay with it. We sometimes get a kick out of it. We have good friends and they're 'geeks' too in their own right.

    So "geeks" can be this thing where you're smart and good with computers and it's this thing our culture in general has started to accept and revere in some cases. But I think “geek” still retains some of its earlier meaning and describes someone who is outside the norm. I feel this is where we fall in. Then again we’re also smart and good with computers. ?

  12. I have a different image of geek to present. I agree with the aforementioned descriptions of “geek”. All correct. Here is mine. Our family has been absorbed in baseball since my son started playing at age 7. He’s still playing and we’re knee deep in it as he’s currently on 2 teams. Here’s where we are geeks. Baseball in the south is dominated by (how to put this without being judgmental) conservatives (?). We don’t drive a truck. All of my son’s coaches (other than us) have had a truck or SUV. We’re vegetarian. We play DnD with our kid. We have advanced degrees. We homeschool, but not because we’re Christian. So, what I’m getting at is we’re deeply involved in a culture that doesn’t really recognize us. We often get funny looks and stares of incomprehension. Alternatively we’re members of a homeschool group that is extremely liberal. Our involvement in baseball and somewhat strict parenting style gets us the same sort of treatment. So, again a culture that doesn’t recognize us. There are other parts of our lives where we just don’t seem to fit. *BUT* we’re okay with it. We sometimes get a kick out of it. We have good friends and they’re ‘geeks’ too in their own right.
    So “geeks” can be this thing where you’re smart and good with computers and it’s this thing our culture in general has started to accept and revere in some cases. But I think “geek” still retains some of its earlier meaning and describes someone who is outside the norm. I feel this is where we fall in. Then again we’re also smart and good with computers. ?

  13. To me, being a geek is being part of a community of intelligent people who you have things in common with. They may be "uncool" things, but you never are bored when you're in that group.

    I always play Magic with a huge group of people at my school. I cosplay anime and manga characters on a regular basis. I think that doing optics in physics is so much fun and I calculate how long it would take me to fall down the stairs whenever I walk down them. I have no money because I always buy scifi fantasy books and manga.

    I'm proud to be a geek, I'm proud to be part of my little geeky community. I'd be proud even if it wasn't cool, and I'm still proud even though it's cool. Let the posers try to say that, it's the one thing they can't fake.

  14. To me, being a geek is being part of a community of intelligent people who you have things in common with. They may be “uncool” things, but you never are bored when you’re in that group.

    I always play Magic with a huge group of people at my school. I cosplay anime and manga characters on a regular basis. I think that doing optics in physics is so much fun and I calculate how long it would take me to fall down the stairs whenever I walk down them. I have no money because I always buy scifi fantasy books and manga.

    I’m proud to be a geek, I’m proud to be part of my little geeky community. I’d be proud even if it wasn’t cool, and I’m still proud even though it’s cool. Let the posers try to say that, it’s the one thing they can’t fake.

  15. A geek would be an "expert" if he/she had credentials. It's someone who has such a deep interest in a subject that he/she learns everything they can about it. We used to use the terms geek and nerd interchangeably, until the internet came along and allowed us to see the wide variety of geeks with similar interests, and many of them have social skills that are just fine, thank you.

    I didn't consider myself a geek until the kiltak gave me all the reasons I am, in fact, a geek. Before that, I felt unworthy!

  16. A geek would be an “expert” if he/she had credentials. It’s someone who has such a deep interest in a subject that he/she learns everything they can about it. We used to use the terms geek and nerd interchangeably, until the internet came along and allowed us to see the wide variety of geeks with similar interests, and many of them have social skills that are just fine, thank you.

    I didn’t consider myself a geek until the kiltak gave me all the reasons I am, in fact, a geek. Before that, I felt unworthy!

  17. I have been a geek forever. I read by myself when I was 4, actual non illustrated books. I have been called all sorts of lousy nicknames by all sorts of lousy people who never wil be able to accept what is different from them. I used to play Magic a lot (when I actually had the time and the pals to play with). I am a fan of a different decade, and I have a weird knowledge of 60s happenings and of 60s music. I graduated high school with honors and I've got my major's top grades. I study journalism, and I am part of almost every academic project that comes within my reach. I am a fan of certain witty TV shows such as Gilmore Girls and The Big Bang Theory. I actually understand the inside jokes planted on those scripts.

    I adore fantasy and sci fi literature, I am into comics and manga, I cosplay at comic cons.

    I'm not GREAT with computers, but I certainly find them compelling, and understand them a lot better than most people I know.

    I'm a collector. I have a very personal sense of style, and my bedroom is a very eclectic bazaar, my own chaotic order.

    I have had the pleasure to meet amazing people, and even to grow up with really amazing people (almost from the craddle) who dress up in Halloween even if we're entering our 20s. Our hardcore partying involves very little alcohol, but rather lots of sugar, 8 straight hours of gaming, and about 3 hours of lexical board games.

    I am a movie fan. I go to openings, and I don't mind waiting hours in line just to put on those wonderful 3D glasses or to watch that trailer I've been wanting to see for ages.

    Internet has helped me realize that being a geek is a global quality, and that it turns you into a more tolerant and caring human being, because you KNOW different, you KNOW how it feels like to be the outsider, and you KNOW compassion. And, oh yeah, you're smart.

    I've used the word "I" a lot in this answer, but geek is not about narcissism, it's about knowing yourself, liking yourself, enjoying yourself, and embracing yourself. Because chances were that not a lot of people would do that… until this sorts of sites came, and made you realize that you are most definitely not alone in saying:

    I'M A GEEK, AND PROUD OF IT!

  18. I have been a geek forever. I read by myself when I was 4, actual non illustrated books. I have been called all sorts of lousy nicknames by all sorts of lousy people who never wil be able to accept what is different from them. I used to play Magic a lot (when I actually had the time and the pals to play with). I am a fan of a different decade, and I have a weird knowledge of 60s happenings and of 60s music. I graduated high school with honors and I’ve got my major’s top grades. I study journalism, and I am part of almost every academic project that comes within my reach. I am a fan of certain witty TV shows such as Gilmore Girls and The Big Bang Theory. I actually understand the inside jokes planted on those scripts.
    I adore fantasy and sci fi literature, I am into comics and manga, I cosplay at comic cons.
    I’m not GREAT with computers, but I certainly find them compelling, and understand them a lot better than most people I know.
    I’m a collector. I have a very personal sense of style, and my bedroom is a very eclectic bazaar, my own chaotic order.
    I have had the pleasure to meet amazing people, and even to grow up with really amazing people (almost from the craddle) who dress up in Halloween even if we’re entering our 20s. Our hardcore partying involves very little alcohol, but rather lots of sugar, 8 straight hours of gaming, and about 3 hours of lexical board games.
    I am a movie fan. I go to openings, and I don’t mind waiting hours in line just to put on those wonderful 3D glasses or to watch that trailer I’ve been wanting to see for ages.
    Internet has helped me realize that being a geek is a global quality, and that it turns you into a more tolerant and caring human being, because you KNOW different, you KNOW how it feels like to be the outsider, and you KNOW compassion. And, oh yeah, you’re smart.
    I’ve used the word “I” a lot in this answer, but geek is not about narcissism, it’s about knowing yourself, liking yourself, enjoying yourself, and embracing yourself. Because chances were that not a lot of people would do that… until this sorts of sites came, and made you realize that you are most definitely not alone in saying:
    I’M A GEEK, AND PROUD OF IT!

    • Now that is an amazing answer. I think I'll quote that if you don't mind. Not that the other answers were bad, they were all very good.

      I myself proudly call myself a geek, and have been doing so for some years now. I can see very well how the acceptance of my status has influenced me and my friends, slowing turning some of them in geeks too. A Geek is a person who's knowledge in a certain area is great, who is smart, who is open to others, and helpful. He might spend ten hours repeteadly killing monsters for a virtual title, but can spend 2 hours trying to help a friend debug his computer.

      A geek is not antisocial, he can spend his weekend with friends away from his computer, can go out with friends, can have girl/boyfriends..

      Geeks are different. Geeks are great. Geeks are sexy ;)

      Say it loud, 1-2-3 everyone… GEEK AND PROUD!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.