16 thoughts on “Why I do not self-identify as a geek

  1. I agree with everything you say, and I do not self-identify as a geek or nerd, in the sense that I don’t go around saying “I’m a nerd,” which sounds just about as dumb as “I’m a punk.” However, when I see other scientists calling certain scientists “nerd” or “geek,” I get a little concerned because we ought to be welcoming and affirming of certain qualities. We’ve all spent a little more time working on science or math than on the superficialities of social status, conspicuous consumption and other vacuous enterprises. That doesn’t mean that all social enterprises are vacuous, but many of them are. We should celebrate that we, as scientists, or geeks, or nerds, have certain values.

    We don’t have to value the things that are obviously detrimental to society, nor do we have to reduce all qualities of geekdom to psychiatric disorders. Some amount of social awkwardness is just okay. I used to work in a child psychiatry lab, and I heard physicians trying to medicate the nerdiness out of kids all the time. I would hear them talk about people who were just like me and my friends were in high school, talking about their habits and behavior as if it was life-threatening. I would just say “Sounds like he’s kindofa nerd,” as in “That’s okay, that’s just who he is. He’ll learn to live in his own way.” I didn’t mention that I felt like they were talking about me, the statistician.

    I also don’t “self-identify” as a Buddhist, mainly because I don’t want people to hear that and think that they know everything about me. About the only things I “self-identify” are my occupation (“I’m a scientist”) and my areas of activism: software freedom and education. But that’s because I want people to know that those things (freedom and education) are important to me. However, when people hear “software,” “science” and “teaching” the next thing they probably think is “ha ha NERD!”

    Just one note: you may not have meant to imply such, but Gates and Zuckerberg were far from middle-class. They certainly have nothing to do with it now 😉

    • I actually did not know Gates and Zukerberg’s pre-wealth wealth, as t’were. Good point.

      Some people in science and academia are less socialised; some people are on Asperger’s spectrum (I don’t mean to sound flip or dismissive, and I don’t have the studies to hand, so happy to be refuted, but… anecdotally I have found this to be true). It would be a shame if people thought this was how all “geeks” (whether scientist, engineer, etc) are. This could put a lot of people off, and lead others to emulate those behaviours because they seemed to be “how good scientists behave”. I think if you’re shy or socially awkward or Aspergers, that’s obviously not a “bad thing” – I just don’t think it’s something to emulate, or a good culture to inculcate. Lots of people don’t find those sorts of working environments much fun, and we should let those people in too! I suspect that “those people” are rather in the majority.

  2. I rather thought that ‘geek’ had evolved to have a generic meaning of “really into some activity”. So you could be a knitting geek. Or a computer geek. Or a kitchen geek. Or a math geek.

    It wasn’t even necessarily about achievement, just that you had ‘ideas’ about it that you wanted to share with others (and, with luck, it was with others who were equally interested). So by this measure, CASA would qualify as a lab full of ‘geography geeks’ and I can say that without thinking that I’m pigeonholing myself and the other researchers here or that I’m implying that nowhere else does geography like we do. Finally, as demonstrated by the fact that we we do everything from orienteering to linocutting and tennis to photography this isn’t really a defining characteristic of an individual.

    Maybe it a cultural usage thing, but in America I’m not sure geek still has the connection to the physical sciences/computer sciences that it seems to in your thinking…

      • I was actually going to post something similar to what Jon said (and am UK-based) – while I wouldn’t necessarily self-identify as ‘a geek’, I would definitely own up to being geeky about some subjects, in that I’m very interested in them and probably over-keen to talk about them.

        However, I do think this distinction might (unsurprisingly) depend on your social group; if you’re particularly ‘into’ something that’s outside what might be considered mainstream interests, you’re probably more likely to be comfortable with using the word ‘geek’ in that context. Within my friends, I can’t remember the last time I heard ‘geek’, ‘nerd’, etc used with any kind of negative connotations, although my brother – who is primarily interested in football / girls / drinking / wearing whatever is apparently fashionable just now – did so recently.

        Interestingly (or not), he’s currently studying for a PhD in biochemistry, so I don’t really know what that does to whatever vague semblance of a point I was trying to make.

      • It means HE’S A GEEK AND HE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW IT.

        Or, he doesn’t really want to identify with a stereotype he doesn’t feel reflects him well. But he’s happy to label others that way?

      • Haha 😀 well, he probably gets called a ‘geek’ by his former workmates at Jack Wills due to his current studies, so perhaps he’s just pushing back.. or is used to it being an all-encompassing, negative stereotype?

        Back to social group context, I’ve realised that he uses ‘lad’ as a positive term, whereas I am far more likely to use it negatively (as in, I’d rather not go to Wetherspoon’s on a Friday night, it’ll be full of ‘LADS’).

        I’ll be claiming the ‘#IAmNotALad’ hashtag if that takes off though, thanks very much…

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