18 Jan 2008

Geek Versus Nerd

Consider the terms geek and nerd. They’re value judgements, of course; as invalid and unfair as any other. Identifying someone by their habits is pretty much the human norm. The big problem people have usually had with geeks, nerds etc. is that they’re outsiders. Hence the terms have traditionally been used as abuse. But like other formerly derogatory names, they have been reclaimed by their rightful owners, and used as badges of distinction. Not that we ever cared about what you norms thought anyway. These two terms have often been used interchangeably by most, but I feel there is a fine distinction between them. I hope this blog will go some way to demonstrating this. Now, your humble blogger here readily identifies himself as a nerd, for reasons that will become clear later. So I could be considered biased in my description of these two groups. In my own opinion, they are like a yin and yang - two opposing yet balancing sides of the same idea. A little etymology always puts things in perspective. The word geek harks back to the days of the freak show and travelling carnival. Geek was coined around 1915, and applied to folks - often people suffering from microcephaly - who bit the heads off things like chickens, while yokels flicked coins at them. Later on, the term was applied to anyone who looked or acted a bit ‘weird’. Nerd didn’t appear till the mid-60’s, in the slang of hipsters, to a describe a cat who was not with it, daddio. It most likely originates from a Dr. Seuss story called “If I Ran The Zoo”. (Isn’t that eerily appropriate?) This is not to suggest geeks are all monsters, and nerds are all square. By the early 80’s, these two terms were being used interchangably in reference to a particular kind of person. But the two different ideas became threaded together in public consciousness, to a point where it is hard to separate them. I find it ironic that geek has come to be considered less derogatory than nerd. Many folk who are truly nerds prefer to call themselves geeks - and I understand that. Geek became fashionable thanks to the supposed ‘geek revolution’ that came along with the Interweb. Nerd has never been fashionable, although that could be changing. Still, they’re both better than “dork”, which connotes a person of low intelligence, and is used by nerds as a jocular insult. There are obvious similarities which blur the lines. Both groups are distinguished by their intelligence. Both are mainly male, although there are plenty of notable exceptions (hello Agent Scully, Lisa Simpson, and Mary-Lynn. The first is a geek, the latter two nerds). It’s the very male obsessiveness that drives these lifestyles which puts most women off. Well, that and the fact both groups are always antisocial to some extent, with personality issues ranging from mild insecurity to full-blown autism. The minds which work the hardest also crash the hardest. Photobucket Lewis Skolnick Pocket Protector Fun Fact : Many geeks are also nerds, but few nerds are also geeks. Geeks, simply put, are tech-heads. A geek is defined by their obsessive love both for and of technology. A geek is never happier than when they have the fastest, bestest, sexiest version of anything. They love their toys, and they love taking them apart only to rebuild them better. Consider this webpage, titled Geek.com. Coded in geek jargonese, it is one long examination of various tech and toys. The headline “Intel mobile chips get 1066MHz bus in May” pretty much sums up the world of the geek. They are much happier playing around inside a computer, rather than actually playing a game on one. Nerds, on the other hand, just love playing games, not messing with their machine. A nerd doesn’t care if their TV is the latest, just as long as they can watch their massive sci-fi movie collections on it. A nerd wouldn’t be able to read a page of a geek’s tech manual, but could devour the complete guide to Doctor Who in one morning. This is where they are primarily different from geeks. Geeks like facts (or data, as they would say) whereas nerds like ideas. Geeks go onto rule big computer corporations and become rich men, whereas nerds sit around at home wondering who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and Judge Dredd. (I say Vader). Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it, “[geeks are] the people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult”, whereas a nerd is merely someone “ whose IQ exceeds his weight”. Photobucket EXAMPLE : A computer GEEK fixes them, a computer NERD plays them. Spot the difference. A geek’s private space would be littered with electronic detritus of all kinds. The primary reading material would be tech manuals, programming guides, and so on. This should not imply slovenly habits (which is more of a nerd thing) - being organised, geeks tend to keep things very tidy.. They try to live their lives like they work their machines, or run their tightly scripted programs. This is why they usually achieve more than nerds. A nerd tends to be sloppy, because you’ve got no time to clean during the constant comic-reading, movie-watching, net-surfing chaos that is a nerd’s life. Nonetheless, a nerd’s collection of comics, roleplaying games, albums or whatever will be immaculately arranged. This is because these worlds are more real to them than the mundanity of daily life. The banal, mediocre hells nerds are often forced into hold little value against the collective imaginative genius of centuries. Photobucket Lewis Skolnick Pocket Protector Fun Fact : Geeks prefer the efficient reliability of machines for company; nerds seek the company of other nerds to affirm their chosen obsessions. Two of the most famous geeks in the world are Bill Gates and George Lucas. Both are worthy examples of the name. Bill, of course, is the man who made geek acceptable. He showed that a quiet little tech-crazy kid could rule the world, as long as he ran it like one big computer. The man lives for his machines, and the things they do. Lucas is a total tech-geek, from his famous love for hot-rods to his obsession with special film effects. The Star Wars prequels are a good example of how a geek mind works. These films were gorgeous, with many awesome effects and stunning visuals. There had been a huge amount of attention paid to such details. But in all this geek wonder with technology, things like story and characterisation and so on severely suffered. Compare the original films - although Lucas’ geek-tech played a vital role, it was the all-out nerdism of the fantasy world the tech created which made them great. History’s greatest geek would have to be Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace. This woman, the daughter of Lord Byron, wrote the first-ever computer program - in 1843! She was also a huge help to Charles Babbage, the guy who invented the thing you’re using right now - no, I mean the computer. She died tragically young - strangely enough, at the same age and of the same cause - bleeding - as her father. Yet the intelligence she inherited from him, and the great use to which she put it, marks her as one of the first (along with Babbage) people worthy of the name geek. So, who can we nerds boast of in our ranks? Well, how about Vin Diesel? You might think a guy like him spends all his time doing X-TREMEEEEEEE! things like killing people and leaping dramatically everywhere. But you know what? He’s one of the biggest Dungeons and Dragons nerds there is: That’s right. Mr “XXX” loves nothing more than a good night’s gaming, rolling dice and chewing pencils with his fellow roleplaying nerds. He has a tattoo of his favourite character’s name on his left arm. He’s played D&D for as long as me (twenty years) and recently wrote the foreword for an anniversary edition of the rules. Now most (normal?) people ordinarily deride “gamers” as antisocial mutants - or nerds, even. The more common stereotype is of guys like Doug and Raymond, the serious losers depicted in the brutal satire “Fear Of Girls”. But Mr Diesel is an loud and proud nerd, and I’d dare anyone to malign fantasy roleplaying in his presence. So we got Vin. Nerds also have N.E.R.D., the band who turned the name into an ethos. If anyone’s done the hard work to reclaim the word nerd from the haters, it’s this crew. The ultimate nerd, I am forced to admit, is the character of Lewis Skolnick, as played by Robert Carradine. This character probably defines the archetypal nerd, with his horn-rimmed glasses, pocket protector, and overbite. After all, he’s right there under Wikipedia’s entry for “nerd”. But the joke’s on the audience, of course; Lewis and the nerds triumph over their oppressors, and win the day. That’s too idealistic even for me, but the nerds are the good guys in the story, and I like that. Also, Robert Carradine is half-brother to David Carradine - that is, Grasshopper from “Kung-Fu”, and Bill, from “Kill Bill”. That’s right, you could say Lewis has an older (half) brother who could totally fucking kill you if you messed with his little bro. That nerd’s genes are just a half-step away from pure badass. Photobucket (Half-Brothers!) So biased as I am, I hope this has gone someway to explaining the geek/nerd dichotomy to you, or at least given an idea of (what I think) the divisions are. I’m proud to be a nerd, it puts me in the company of some amazing people and keeps my mind blazing like a firework. I respect my geek brothers and sisters, and they are welcome at our fires. Our strength against banality lies in unity. But one request - for God’s sake, a nice outfit won’t kill you. Come on. Make an effort. Just because you are geek or nerd, you don’t have to scream it at everyone. Peace out!

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