What Does It Mean To Be A Geek?

In the beginning, the word geek was often associated with a negative interpretation, but the recent years have brought significant change to its definition. What was once used as an insult is now taken as a compliment. But what does it truly mean to be a geek?

Growing up in Asia, one of the concepts that I had a hard time grasping is the negative connotation behind the word geek.

 I grew up in a community where intelligence and good academic performance get highly celebrated. The things that other countries usually find geeky or nerdy, we find amazing. Is your child obsessed with dinosaurs? Cool! He is such a smart kid! Can your kid freakishly recall all the significant moments in history? Wow, you are raising a genius! Does your child excel in class? You must be very proud! Is your kid is a computer wiz? That is amazing! We can hardly even tell why our PC is freezing. The list goes on and on.

I have never seen anyone getting bullied for being smart growing up. It was honestly a culture shock for me to see nerds and geeks getting bullied in foreign television shows. It did not make sense to me at first, but the exposure has opened up a whole new perspective. From there, I have started trying to figure out what it truly means to be a geek.

The definition of the word geek has evolved so much in the last century. According to Dictionary.com, the word Geek describes “a foolish or worthless person” in the 1870s. In the 1900s, the word denotes a circus entertainer who performs freaky acts such as biting off heads of live animals, chickens, and snakes. The word Geek has further evolved as the decades roll by, and in the 1950s and 1960s, they were used to generally depict an “unlikable brainiac.”

This is pretty much the definition of the word geek that most of our generation get exposed to. When someone (at least not from where I’m from) says the word geek, people often picture an awkward person with excessive and obsessive knowledge about a particular thing. Normal people often find these excessive talks off-putting. When you come to think of it, geeks get socially ostracized simply because of their intelligence. Is that even fair?

I see the word “geek” in a different filter, and I honestly think this is how everyone should look at the word, too.

For me, a true geek possesses three things: passion, devotion, and nonconformity.

 A true geek is passionate about something, whether it be a hobby or an intellectual pursuit. “Geekiness” is not about an activity. It is about a person! One can be a computer geek, or a video game geek, or a movie geek. It does not matter! It is important to stress this one out because I have seen a cultural divide within the geek community. Some people within the community will define “geekiness” based on activity only. If your interest is not tech or comic book-related, then they won’t consider you a geek. I think this is absurd. Being a geek is not bound by a few selections of activities only. 

The second value is devotion. A geek has the utmost devotion to a particular activity. It drives him to tirelessly seek everything there is to know about his interest/ pursuit. He often has an insane level of enthusiasm about his interest. The excitement fuel his endless nights of research or the decades of collecting any data or paraphernalia related to them. Why do you think a geek can speak about the tiniest details about his interests? Because he dedicates most of his time to it!

Most importantly, being a geek requires nonconformity. So what if your interest will make you a social outcast? A true geek knows that some things are better than social validation. He is ready to pursue his interest, regardless of opinions from people.

With these three things in mind, I found the perfect definition that deeply resonates with me. 

A geek is “a person whose interests ALWAYS take precedence over popularity or conformity. A person who displays the willingness to bear the public shame of liking some weird thing and not caring who knows it.”

Geeks In The New Age

In the digital age, the words geek and nerd flipped into an even more socially acceptable definition. They are now often used in a positive way to describe anything technology-related. The emergence of tech billionaires like (again) Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, etc. has brought a more pleasing definition for the word. These people did not just give way to immense technological progress. They also advanced society’s perception of geeks and nerds.

In the present, geeks are now considered cool. But being cool comes with both advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious benefit is that it now allows geeks to lovingly engage in their interests, without being judged by “normal” people. Even the geek fashion style is now getting popular, which is funny considering geeks were also once used to describe an “unfashionable and socially inept person.” Nerdy and geeky glasses became trendy, and plenty of people are already sporting a geeky wardrobe proudly.

But while we appreciate the current attention shift in the perception of geeks, we can’t help but also be wary of the disadvantages of its emerging popularity. There is still bullying and exclusion. However, the pressure is no longer coming from the outside but from within the geek community itself. The community has become so divided that other geeks would discredit the “geekiness” of fellows just because they don’t engage in similar activities that they do.

 The culture war could get so crazy that sometimes, it feels like we have lost the true essence of being a geek after all. When the world ostracized geeks for being different, we end up finding support from each other. We built our little community to express ourselves freely. Now, the community has flourished, and the word geek gets used as a compliment. Sadly, some of us have turned into the very monsters we tried to run away from. Some of us dare to exclude others for lacking geek cred. You do not have to prove your geek cred to anyone, and we should not pressure others to do so too. Being a geek is a personal journey. It is an intimate relationship between you and your interest. It is never about trying to please others and proving your worth. The need to prove once geek cred is just ridiculous.

It is honestly disheartening to see where we are heading. The word geek has come a long way from being initially used as an insult. Hopefully, the evolution of the word geek does not come to waste. I hate to wake up one day to find that the word geek is already synonymous with the words obnoxious, arrogant, and ostracizing.

Hopefully, you will not end up on this dark road. Always remember the golden values of a true geek: passion, devotion, and nonconformity. Just be who you are, and enjoy the things you love without minding what other people say, whether the comments come from co-geeks or not.

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