What does being a geek really mean?
My boss, Stephen Hunt, says we have to be more geeky as it represents what we are. As he actually emailed me, I couldn’t confuse the term with being more greeky. Unless I use a translator device, I’m not very good being fluent in foreign languages would be much use. Between ourselves, I have a feeling he’s been reading my recent editorials. However, I didn’t used the term ‘geek’ but ‘oddball’, mostly because if anything, I was a geek long before it was even applied to us and so pre-definition, so not sure if it would apply to me. Telling someone they or you are geeky probably sounds better than saying you’re oddballish.
Can I be even more geeky? Is there such a thing as a complete geek? What parts am I missing if I’m not? How can I tell the difference if I’m classed as a geek already and doing what comes naturally. After all, I don’t go around with a placard over my head declaring what I am and I doubt if you do neither. Can I assume you have similar tastes or standards and the same level of geekiness? What is a geek and do we really as qualify as one? Whatever the outcome of this editorial, don’t be afraid if you aren’t one and actually a ‘normal’. They do exist apparently. We might not fall completely into the definition or any definition come to that, so let’s see where it will lead us.
It’s even more confusing because, according to various examples on the Net, there are at least six definitions for being a ‘geek’ and two which are applicable to me and you presumably, the regular readers here. Well, that is assuming you aren’t a circus act and like stabbing odd instruments through your body or chewing glass, but then, I think we’d have a different word for that. It’s all in the context, so let’s stick with the main two.
One definition of geek which is what I’ve been discussing in recent editorials relating to being oddball and is one down or above from being ‘normal’, whatever that is. The other is being an intense expert on a particularly odd subject, which many of us are. Does that make us double geeks? How many geeks can we be at the same time? Are there geeks out there that have no interest in Science Fiction, fantasy or horror or are there just more of here than in any other subject? Already, more questions.
The one underlying denominator for being a geek is not being one of the crowd but having an intense interest in a particular subject. If you think about that definition, ‘normal’ people don’t appear to be able to find a subject that they would like to have a profound knowledge of, just for the sheer hell of it. This is aside from things like car maintenance which you would think people would have, if they drove a car. Having seen recent statistics where many people can’t do basic car maintenance, I couldn’t help feel that this is part of the bigger problem of ‘normal’ people lacking the attention span for anything longer than five minutes. Are ‘normal’ people goldfish then? I mean there’s a strong similarity. Some even gape the same way as their brains tick over in neutral. Mind you, whether that also applies to you reading this, only you can tell but after five minutes, you’re not likely to remember anyway. Not all geeky people like us drive after all so wouldn’t know much about car maintenance. If you hit your head on a wall of glass, you might not be a goldfish, just someone not realising that there’s a window on the side of your house. Mark the window or put something in front of it in future or add to your profound knowledge of an intensely painful subject. If you do have an intense obsessive interest in any particular subject other than related to procreation, then you qualify as a geek and there are a lot of subjects outside of our genre, although I suspect there are more of us within the genre.
As with all subjects, some of us are polygeeks, able to sustain an intense interest in more than one subject. Being an editor on an SF website like SFCrowsnest, that is really essential and even with subjects I’m not that conversant with, I have a passing knowledge. If anything, I’m a specialist specialist. Does that make me even more geeky or just shows something about an aspect of my hyperactivity in how I can channel my energy and how much I can recall? Then again, with my kind of memory, I can recall things whether I intentionally wanted to memorise them or not. Does that make me an unintentional geek as well?
When one looks at who else is called a geek, then in recent decades this also applies to and often used for those of us who use computers. We might not all be conversant with how to program one but we’re better than the Jack and Jill in the street who can only use it for the most simplest things. We know which buttons to press and can roam around different websites with a will, although other legal forms are available. Whether that comes from practice and experience or simply embracing something that is naturally conversant with Science Fiction only you can decide. Oddly, early SF writers didn’t get it right about computers so they couldn’t have any foreknowledge of what was to come, mostly because they only knew about the valve variety which were simply too huge to carry around even in a suitcase let alone a space rocket. Solid state changed all that and to be futuristic, they jumped into artificial intelligence and put them in big computers rather than explore the uses we put portable computers today. Then again, would they have foreseen computers being used for buying things, networking or playing games had they applied their imagination that way? Would readers have believed them? Even so, it is a major advancement that we’ve all benefited from in the past couple decades that most of us see as high-tech and conversant with our views on Science Fiction so it’s hardly surprising it’s a shared interest. Does that establish our own geekiness or just another outlet for it?
If anything, I think it establishes that whether we like it or not, our attitude and enquiring minds alone means we’re probably geeky even before we have an intense interest in a subject. It also probably goes hand-in-hand with being the odd ones out when at school and not having the herd instinct and why we’re attracted to our genre. Essentially, we’re all natural born geeks. The only difference now is that there’s a lot more of us around and we know how to communicate to other people with similar interests or read about those subjects on-line. I assume that’s why you’re here in the first place. I assume anyone ‘normal’ has forgotten why they were here and gone elsewhere by now or forgot what they were reading. After all, unless you’re scan reading, it should take you more than five minutes to get as far as this. Does being geeky make people long-winded, read long editorials or improves your concentration to see where I’m going?
Being a geek isn’t a qualification. Well, at least as far as I know it isn’t. I doubt if someone is going to come along and want to see how high a score you can make being one, although no doubt magazines must have run spot tests on the subject, I doubt if it would be seen as a qualifiable subject because of the diversity. As I pointed out above, there might be different ranges from a few subjects to many but that depends more on the individual’s other talents than any difference in geekiness. Then again, how do you qualify obsession and how much control we have over it?
When it comes to subjects, though, then we find an interesting subjective ball game and something we’re probably going to explore a little more on site in the future. In recent years, for instance, I’ve been pointing out in reviews how SF fans happen to be also fans of Peter O’Donnell’s crime/espionage heroine ‘Modesty Blaise’. Whether it’s because of good writing or because it hits our geek spot is hard to say but certainly there seems to a taste for espionage material amongst us. When you examine the lone agent against the odds, then there is something comparable to how we see ourselves with the normal ‘herd’ humans about us. If anything, such geekiness is because we see something of ourselves there, even though I doubt few of us would join any nation’s secret service or admit it here. It might also explain why ‘normal’ people don’t understand Science Fiction but get espionage tales because the former is beyond their frame of reference or they’ve forgotten the question.
Does that mean we can pick geeks out of the crowd or that they’re easy to spot because they’re like us, watching the crowd from a distance? Well, you can if you’re at a convention or even, as I once found out years ago, going to a convention, even without wearing any significant paraphernalia. I do think we’re a lot more out-going in animated conversations when we meet, although the Net does tend to project more people here are happier to read or lurk than comment on the material we run here. Then again, out of the 70 million plus hits we get on a monthly basis we might have a problem if we had too many replies but no one has tested us on that yet.
Given the choice between ‘oddball’ and ‘geek’, I think I prefer the latter on reflection as you can’t confuse a reflection with a window. It covers a wider range of subjects and usually we can use our knowledge to strike up a conversation with ‘normals’ if we’re cornered and they would have a tendency to abbreviate us to ‘odd’ than geeky. It indicates we’re knowledgeable on subjects that they might use once in a blue moon or when there’s a new SF film out and we use all the time. If you’re stuck on a desert island, we would also be the most useful people to have around for our background knowledge. Have I got it right or has my own apparent geekiness gone over your heads? It could just be all geek. Whatever, there’s plenty for you to ponder on and no doubt I’ll return to the subject after I’ve given it some thought. After all, being a geek means no subject ever truly goes away.
Thank you, take care, good night and just how much of a geek are you?
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