Monday, 29 March 2010

Geek, C'est Chic

It seems everyone likes to call themselves a 'geek' these days; everyone on the internet anyway. But what does the term mean, and is it really chic to be a geek*?

As I write this blog, there is, somewhere in the depths of Russia, a tall, bearded 43 year-old geek by the name of Grigoriy Perelman, who is faced with a dilemma. Perelman has won the $1m Millenium maths prize, for solving the Poincare Conjecture, one of the most difficult maths problems in the world, that has been 'open' (unsolved) for 99 years. But he can't decide whether or not to accept it. He gave up the heady world of academic stardom a few years ago, and now lives reclusively, with his family. So for Perelman, accepting the prize would mean unwanted media attention, expectations and embarrassment. To think of all the i-pads and kindles he might not buy with the cash, makes one a little teary.

Is Perelman a 'geek'? Not according to the recent flood of TV shows, books, magazine articles, internet posts, tweets and blogs, on the topic. Because geek c'est chic. Gone is the time when bookworms and chess champions, with their oversized cardigans and bad hair earned the title of 'geek' (or 'nerd' or 'dweeb'). They knew it was an insult but they wore the moniker as a badge of honour. What else did they have? Certainly not a girlfriend, or a pair of converse, or a taste in macchiatos. I was in maths club at school. Yes, maths club. I knew where these kids were coming from.

Nowadays, you can't go online without someone proclaiming 'I'm a geek, me'. Over and over again. Geek blogs are everywhere: '7 reasons to date a geek boy', 'the chic geek* monthly newsletter:grooming tips' and 'Den of geek'. A handy venn diagram by the Great White Snark,
tells us that a geek has intelligence and obsession, but lacks the added characteristic of social ineptitude, which would make him/her a 'nerd'. The new geeks are really the archetypal 'new media' types: they have jobs involving laptops and coffee shops, they care about their appearance, their pockets are full to bursting with ipods, blackberry's, flat whites and cash.
Of course they are intelligent-that goes without saying. Well it goes with saying one word: 'geek'.

I'm not buying into the mythology. I don't think working with new technology and being permanently attached to bits of electronica make you intelligent. Or attractive. Call me old-fashioned, but my ideal 'geek' would be someone in shabby attire clinging to a dog-eared copy of Dubliners, specs misting up in the rain. I don't care if he's never even heard of Tech Crunch. Now pass me my cinnamondecaflatte, I'm going to post this baby up and tweet it within an inch of its life.

*I had the idea for this blog and title before I saw 'chic geek' newsletter


  1. A real geek (or, for that matter, hipster) can't know it's a geek; that much self-awareness, and implied awareness of society in general, precludes, I've lost the thread, just received a worrying email. But do you see what I mean? If someone claims to be a geek, they're not.

  2. Yes I know what you mean- you put it very well.

    Also, I think there is something (subconsciously) aspirational about using the term 'geek' to identify yourself, as if by so doing you will automatically become entitled to a piece of the 'geek pie' of contemporary capitalism.

  3. Since my username for lots of things is geekyisgood maybe I should add my twopenny worth! Geek in many cases, or at least for most of the geeks I know, involves fandom or gaming of some sort, or interest in and knowledge of computers (often involving Linux). However a few of us are academic geeks - geeky about our own subjects and perhaps about one or two others.

    I hold fast on to the term geek, even though most self-professed geeks might find we have nothing to talk about to each other.

    I think part of being a geek is distancing yourself from the type of "cool" which is based around apathy and irony. Geeks care about something, in some way or other.

  4. hi geekyisgood I think geeky is good too. But in the new formation of the term, I think it is a lot more associated with ideas of 'cool' consumerism and posing than things like Linux computer programming and caring about a subject.
    You do right to hold fast onto your version of the term!