What is a geek?

I gave a talk about The Geek Manifesto at Westminster Skeptics last Monday, together with Evan Harris, and I’m really grateful to everybody who came. Your contributions were exceptionally valuable, and I’m working through what they might mean for my project this weekend.

One question that emerged strongly, which I thought I’d share here, is the meaning of the term “geek”. And “nerd” and “dork” for that matter. Obviously, there is more than one kind of geek, and in this book I’ll be focusing very much on what you might call the “science geek” — the type of person who has an affinity for science as a way of finding out about the world. I’m using it as a kind of shorthand for a group that believes in skepticism, rationalism, the importance of evidence and the value of the scientific method.

There are, of course, plenty of other types of geek — tech geeks, film geeks, music geeks, comic book geeks and the like. What, though, are the qualities that these people share? Is it simply a degree of curiosity and obsessiveness that goes somewhat beyond the norm? Or is there something more that joins all these people in attitude?

As always, all views very welcome!

About markgfh

Mark Henderson is Head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health by supporting the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Geek Manifesto contains his personal views, not those of the Wellcome Trust. Before joining the Trust in January 2012, Mark was Science Editor of The Times, where he built a reputation as one of Britain's foremost science journalists and commentators. Mark's first book, 50 Genetics Ideas You Really Need to Know, was published in 2009 by Quercus
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4 Responses to What is a geek?

  1. Martin g says:

    I’m not sure of the available literature on ‘Geekdom’ – but if you are interested in ‘Nerdism’ here is some info I recently collated regarding ‘The Nerd Report’ published in 1980(ish) by the Homa Lab at Arizona State University. ;-)

    http://improbable.com/2010/10/08/the-nerd-report/

  2. Rachel says:

    According to my teenage daughter “Someone who is good with computers and stereotypically wore glasses. Unlikely to be religious. Probably interested in science fiction. Mostly likely male according to the sterotypical view, though there are female geeks”

    I’d add to that, that they often are more interested in abstract thought and facts rather than soft sciences and emotions. They are perceived to be (sterotypically, again) to be on the Asperger’s spectrum and have little patience or social skills for people who are not interested in their area of expertise. Their ideas of power and status are based on intellectual and technical skills. They are often individually extremely kind but can be viciously rude to people who do not appear to share their skills and values. This may be due to their unrealistically high expectations of the human race.

  3. intheminority says:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers.html

    Very good article entitled “The Geek Syndrome” from Wired magazine. Intelligently written and includes brilliant description of how silicon valley has changed the social life of the “geek”.

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