Thursday, September 04, 2008

Definition of Geek

Sunny wrote a post today asking what it means to be a geek.

I tried to explain, but suddenly found that defining ‘geek’ was much harder than I thought.

When I was in high school, the definition of ‘geek’ was simple. We were the less-than-popular introverted kids who had very little in the way of mainstream interests.

While the ‘normal’ boys and girls where playing football, we were talking about D&D. When kids where arguing about which soccer team was the best, we were arguing Commodore vs. Spectrum. For a long time, Geek was almost synonymous with ‘outsider’.

At first, the best definition I could think of was this:

A Geek is a person who picks his or her hobbies and interests with no regard to whether the world at large thinks they’re ‘cool’. It helps if these hobbies or interests are technical or intellectual in nature, but it’s not necessary.

I thought I’d nailed it. Basically, being a geek meant not being ‘mainstream’…but then I realized that that wasn’t really true anymore either. I mean, there isn’t a geek alive who doesn’t own an iPod or at least some kind of MP3 player…but iPods are almost the dictionary definition of mainstream right now.

Can we really consider ourselves outsiders when we’ve become one of the most important demographics on the planet?

As I thought more about it, the more I realized that we can’t really define what a geek is in terms of the things we own and the things we’re into.

I mean, most ‘Geek Paraphernalia’ has become totally mainstream. When I was in college you could spot the fellow geeks because they were the ones carrying laptops and PDA’s. As a geek, I didn’t use a notebook to take notes, I used a palmtop (That I’d also hacked so it would play Zork)…and those things identified us as geeks.

Fast forward to today, and my Dad has an iPod and broadband internet, my 70 year old mother-in-law carries her laptop everywhere and just about everyone has some kind of presence on the net.

Then, I realized something. Being a geek isn’t really about the things you own and the interests you have, it’s your attitude towards them.

Basically, being a geek is a ‘state of mind’…but before you think this is wishy-washy nonsense, let me explain.

A non-geek owns an iPod and doesn’t care how it works just as long as it does. Geeks own an iPod, know exactly how it works… and know how to hack it to get it to do something it wasn’t designed to do.

Put it this way. Every geek in the world was impressed when someone managed to hack one of the first iPods to make it play ‘Doom’. The fact that actually playing Doom on a first generation iPod was terrible because it was almost impossible to control and only ran at 1 frame every two seconds didn’t matter.

Basically, someone saw that technology, took it apart and then thought “What else can I make this do?” and did that just for the hell of it…and believe me, that guy was a true geek.

What it basically comes down to is this:

A non-geek plays Halo. A true Geek uses Halo to make a Machinema series.

A non-geek buys a gadget and uses it. A true Geek buys a gadget and takes it apart to see how it works.

A non-geek buys a surround-sound system. A true geek buys a surround sound system and spends weeks getting it perfectly tuned, finds the optimal seating position to get the best out of it…and doesn’t care if it means knocking down an interior wall to get there.

So after much though, I think I’ve finally come up with a definition of what it means to be a geek:

We’re obsessive. We’re mini MacGuyvers. We program our scanners so the motor plays a tune. We strap rockets to things to see what will happen.

Most importantly, as adults, we get exactly the same joy from playing with things that we did as kids…and that’s the true definition of a geek.

To paraphrase the great Randall Munroe:

“We can fill our apartments with playpen balls because we’re the adults now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means..”

We’re children in adult bodies. We have that same sense of wonder and experimentation that we all did as five year kids.

We understand that having a wife and a mortgage doesn’t mean you can’t play with action figures or make a sweet Indiana Jones outfit. Being in your thirties does not mean you can’t build an awesome fort in your living room just because you’re bored. Being a bank manager doesn’t mean you can’t still have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s bedspread…and being an adult doesn’t mean you can’t have as much fun as you did as a kid.

That’s what a geek is.


Sunny said... I AM a GEEK cause you are ALWAYS telling me to "Grow UP!".

Hehehehehe TY!

And I DID like the Eat Your Brains song by JC- I just don't like ALL his songs. And the fact that I even know who JC IS gives me liscense to be called "Geek".

Evanesce In 2008 said...

The basic definition of a geek is someone who is highly intellectual, but socially inept.

The thing is, geeks have seized this definition and modified it by accentuating the cognitive aspect and downplaying the social awkwardness.

Geekiness is still a bad thing among kids, but among adults it's socially fashionable to call yourself a geek, because it implies intellectual prowess.

How's that for a geeky explanation of geekiness?