I’ve had a lot of conversations with people during which they asked me to define “geek,” so I’ll attempt to do so here. There’s been plenty of discussion about the definition of “geek” and the differences between “geeks” and “nerds,” including this oft-cited post by Burr Settles, where he analyzed the words that typically occur in tweets that include either term. His conclusion?
Both are dedicated to their subjects, and sometimes socially awkward. The distinction is that geeks are fans of their subjects, and nerds are practitioners of them. A computer geek might read Wired and tap the Silicon Valley rumor-mill for leads on the next hot-new-thing, while a computer nerd might read CLRS and keep an eye out for clever new ways of applying Dijkstra’s algorithm. Note that, while not synonyms, they are not necessarily distinct either: many geeks are also nerds (and vice versa).
Since the focus of Geek Culture is on the people who attend the sci-fi and fantasy convention CONvergence, I think it is fair to say that I spoke with plenty of geeks and nerds, using Burr’s definitions. I was very impressed with some of the people I think could be called “nerds” — people like Laura Thurston, who helped translate a play into Klingon, and Ted Henderson, who looks for new ways to use Legos to create costumes — but in the end, CONvergence is for fans of science fiction and fantasy, so it seems proper to use the word “geek” when I refer to the folks who attend the con.
That said, I already had a name for the book I wanted to write before Burr blogged about geeks and nerds. When I was thinking of a title, Geek Culture seemed right. Despite fandom sites like Nerdist, Nerd Culture just doesn’t ring true.
When I’m talking about geeks, am I only talking about fans of science-fiction or fantasy? Despite the fact that the CONvergence is defined as a sci-fi and fantasy convention, I’d say that almost everyone who visits the con would agree that there are several areas of interest outside of these specific realms that attract the sort of people who attend CONvergence. For example:
- Many geeks are interested in science. There will typically be several panels specifically on science during CONvergence (in 2013, this included “The War on Science” and “Science Resources for Children”).
- Geeks love cosplay and costumes. On the whole, the costumes you see at a convention like CONvergence are related to characters in movies, comics, video games, and other media, but I’ve also seen historical costumes (such as some men dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers) and references to other areas of pop culture (such as the BBC TV series Sherlock).
- Speaking of Sherlock, geeks often love pop culture that falls outside the realm of sci-fi and fantasy. The 2013 CONvergence had a panel on Downton Abbey (the theme of the convention was “British Invasion,” so the panel was related to the convention’s theme).
- Many geeks attend the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Outside of specific conventions, the Renaissance Festival was the most popular event that came up in my conversations with people.
- Geeks often love making things — costumes, elaborate party rooms that resemble the interior of an airship, a portable air-conditioning unit, replicas of television and movie props, you name it! I’ve seen some amazing creativity and workmanship at the conventions I attend.
This is a partial list of possible geeky areas of interest, and of course none of them refer to all geeks. The folks at CONvergence are a pretty diverse bunch, united in our obsessive and somewhat eccentric interests. I think the word “geek” suits us well.