The NEW Geek?

Apparently, I am no longer a geek.

The self-proclaimed "Society for Geek Advancement"* has, via a helpful PSA*, been kind enough to inform us that geeks are no longer people who spend far too much time with computers, or who play Dungeons & Dragons, or who engage in/suffer from all other the things with which we have so long identified the term. It seems that the New Geek is a person who knows how to write a blog post, or add a friend on MySpace, or - as the video implies - even use an MP3 player. And - no surprise here - the New Geek looks down on all of those stereotypical Old Geek elements.

So it seems that the term "geek" has now been co-opted by users of "new media" (defined herein as blogs and social networking sites - not "new media" as I had come to know the industry definition of it over a decade ago). By this new definition of "geek," anybody who manages to swim in this century's sea of technology can label themselves such. But the geek stigmas we Old Geeks have suffered with for decades still exist - and the New Geeks still make fun of the Old Geeks.

Of course, I'm typing all of this with my tongue firmly inserted into my cheek. I don't honestly believe that one group's club-handed attempt to "advance" the geek either reflects or has the capacity to initiate a larger popular trend to reassign the label. All of this is really a means for me to sarcastically deride the Society's ill-conceived and shoddily executed attempt to do - well, whatever it was they were trying to do.

You see, I'm offended by this video. I'm offended because it - under the banner of "advancing" geekdom - makes digs at the foundations of true geekdom (although these are, allegedly, intended to be humorous) while simultaneously presenting a series of "pretty people" claiming to wear the badge of "geek." (Some of whom are just geeks, but most of whom wouldn't know a real geek if one put down his polyhedral dice and crawled out of his parents' basement long enough to bite them on the ass.)

Don't get me wrong: I'm not claiming any "geekier than thou" status - even though I do believe it takes more than listening to your iPod or posting to a blog to make one a geek. (And just because you appear in an allegedly pro-geek PSA full of subliminal advertising for Apple doesn't make it any more true or believable.) I'm not upset that these people called themselves geeks. I'm upset because, at the same time, these talking heads derided things that are inherent to so many of us, whether we wear the geek label willingly or not.

I have been called both "nerd" and "spaz." I do play Dungeons & Dragons. I would drink Mountain Dew (if I weren't diabetic). I do speak Klingon (well, a few words - at least enough to get me beaten up by a bunch of costumed attendees in an alley behind a Trek convention). I have suffered from social anxieties. I have been a misfit - and I suppose I still am. I have been teased, picked on, tormented, harrassed, and beaten up for not being like everyone else.


*Note: I won't post a link to this group's site, nor to the PSA in question. Sorry - if you want them, I'm sure you know how to find them.

Oh, and by the way: this Society's Web site indicates that proceeds from the sale of its t-shirts go to "Room to Read." (At least they've done one thing right.) I happen to work for a not-for-profit company that supports adult literacy programs in the U.S. and abroad. We don't sell spiffy "I am a Geek" shirts (like a geek needs one of these to identify him-/herself) but if you donate, at least you can sleep soundly knowing that 100% of your money is going to help the cause. (As opposed to knowing that some of it might go to help the Society produce more PSA's like this one. /Shudder)
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  1. I have always been a self-proclaimed nerd myself. I've never liked the term geek and didn't feel it adequately captured my "colourful" qualities (or failings, depending on who you asked). A couple of months ago I wrote theConfessions of a Gamer in which I proudly advertise my nerdiness. In light of this New Geek / Old Geek debate, I'm glad I've steered clear of the whole thing by just sticking with nerd.

  2. It's the wrangling over the definition that's the problem. I've always thought of "geek" as someone feels a personal connection to a subculture or hobby. I am a geek, but I'm geeky about RPGs and the fantasy genre in general. They're geeks, but they're geeky about Facebook and iTunes.

    Nerds denoted a lot of skill or knowledge about a subject. Like computers or music.

    Dorks are just awkward socially.

    Then I mix and match the terms as I need.

    Unfortunately, the internet has a lot of people who are geeky about "not being sensible about such things because arguments are more interesting."

  3. I have to disagree, guys - this post is not about the label itself. Anybody who thinks that's the direction I was taking should reread the last two sentences of the "Don't get me wrong" paragraph.

    To clarify, this post is about people trying to pass themselves off as geeks/nerds/dorks/misfits/whatchmacallits while at the same time making stereotypical negative comments about elements that are foundational to the culture they are purporting to adhere to. I could care less what label they choose, and I don't want to see that point get lost in some trite argument over semantics. We all know what they meant by the term - what culture they're trying to "advance" - regardless of fine points of language. So please, let's not devolve this into a petty discussion of the nature of the term "geek." (Unfortunately, I think a lot of commenters on Wil Wheaton's blog post of a similar vein also strayed from the real discussion at hand. I really would hate to see that happen here.)


  4. I got into semantics because, IMO, it's a part of the issue. As you mentioned, being a geek has certain connotations and assumptions. I'm responding to some short-sighted folks who have decided to take what it is to be a geek and redefine it, to narrow it from what is the pretty wide and traditionally accepting idea of the "Geek".

    I found the site, and the definition of geek that they used is woefully specific. However, it was done for a specific purpose, social action through new media.

    It's not really malicious, but it is myopic.

  5. @James V: I appreciate your point, but my post is wholly concerned with the "I'm a geek but I'm cool (because I don't engage in those sorts of activities)" vibe the PSA gives off. It's not about how they define the term - or even how they use it. (That is a different argument, IMO.) My point's about the usage of negative stereotypes in the presentation of cool versus not-cool in the PSA. Instead of taking this opportunity to promote these things as acceptable activities, or even to extol their virtues, the SGA took the low road and continued the tradition of denigration that has plagued us most of our lives, whether we wear the label "geek" or "nerd" or "Fred," regardless what any of those labels mean.

  6. I saw it put very well on a tech site (The Register?) once. To paraphrase: "You're lost. This is the geeky end of the Internet. Go back to MyFace or Spacebook or whatever playpen you escaped from, and let the grown-ups talk."

    Now, it may be uncharitable, but I can entirely empathise with that sort of impatience with new-minted cash-in geeks. I and mine are entitled to mock our own subculture, and that's *strictly* because we've paid our dues. We're the ones who supported our fields of interest over the years they were left in the cultural wilderness. We're the ones who know our geeky interests inside-out.

    Anyone else, be they hipsters attempting to appropriate geek-chic or steampunk, or part-timers trying to play instant expert with our media (you got a lot of this with LOTR), or slackers going for the quick sneer at "D&D-and-no-girlfriend", can just GFTO!

    They ain't earned the right to sneer, and they certainly ain't earned the right to do so while trying to appropriate what's ours. Who are they to come in and try to reap for their profit the harvest that we and ours have spend decades nurturing and tending?!

    It comes down to a simple case of "Pay your dues". Grok us, and I'll tolerate yer snark. Heck! I'll join in. But until then, you're nothing but another taker."

    /end foam-flecked (sub)cultural identity rant

    True geek: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. ;)

  7. The bastardization of the word geek stems from many people, mostly younger G4 watchers, finding that what "true geeks" are doing (playing RPGs, video games, etc)is fun and that it's ok to do it. This was obviously not so in the 80s and early 90s when "normal people" reacted typically when they saw people doing something that they didn't understand: the freaked out and started calling us names: geek, nerd, whatever.

  8. Crap! I still haven't got the clickable link thing figured out yet. My nerdery is obsolete! I'm a neandergeek.

  9. You're all poseurs.

    *Bites head off chicken*

  10. Nerd = The True Geek. If you are ASHAMED and embarrassed to call yourself "Nerd", then you never were a true geek to begin with. You are nothing but a wanna-be poseur geek. A poseur geek could as well be Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana) because she knows how to text with a cellphone. Or a poseur geek might as well be that airhead Lindsay Lohan just because she has a MySpace page. A true geek is not ashamed to call himself nerd. The true geek knows what year Deforest Kelley died. The true geek still has a dice bag full of D20s, even tho his mom accidentally threw away all his priceless 1st Edition AD&D books when he went off to college in the late-80s. Let the poseurs co-opt the word "Geek", because the label geek was a weak mild half-strength label to begin with.


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