The following is one of my friend's input in to the aforementioned Slashdot discussion on the nature of geeks. I just thought it was worth repeating.


I've had it. I can't for the life of me figure out what media, journalists, and other people have against geeks. An FBI report is currently trying to characterize geeks as likely trouble-makers and future criminals -- people most likely to snap. People are more and more trying to describe the two morons who shot up Columbine as geeks. Magazines are running articles on geek cyber life and how they're supposedly out of touch with real life. Well I've got news for all of you -- you should be scared to death of geeks, just not for the reasons everyone's hyping.

So what is a "Geek"? A generally-accepted broad definition is that geeks are individuals who show a lot of creative outlet, generally are young, and are quick learners and intelligent. Pop culture though has pushed the stereotype though that a geek is a nerd, and that they are one and the same. This is silly.

By rough definition, a nerd is someone who is very book-smart, gets great grades, but is inept socially and day-to-day. Geeks as a whole are most definitely not inept socially and day-to-day. Sure, there are exceptions, but it's not the majority.

So, a geek is not a nerd. They are not interchangable. In fact, you may be a geek and not even realize it -- geeks are not limited strictly to computer-related endeavors. Geeks are in your school, workplace, church congregation, on your TV, in your magazines, and your next-door neighbors. Geeks don't even have to have ever touched a computer in their life -- it just so happens that geeks are more likely to embrace new technology and run with it and push it to their limits.

In fact geeks are basically people with sophistated humor, above-average intellect, and in need of a lot of creative outlets. And for these outlets they do things like overclock their computers, program, etc. But they also roleplay, write, draw, and other things outside the confines of computers as well. In essence, a true geek is someone who is intelligent just chooses to immerse themselves in a lot of things for their own betterment or enjoyment.

This can naturally seem very odd to outsiders. But is that a reason to point fingers at geeks, just because someone doesn't understand them?

The two students who shot up Columbine High were not geeks. If everything I've heard about them is true, they were not even close to being geeks. They were two really messed-up kids with records of trouble who happened to have computers and play DOOM and listen to industrial music.

The Unabomber wasn't a geek. In fact, he was probably the Anti-Geek because he hated technology and refused to embrace it and push it along. He was a sick man who just happened to be very book-smart but not very common-sense smart. Common-sense like "Don't blow stuff up and kill people".

Geeks don't sit in front of the computer all day chatting online and playing games if they have any sense. Sure, they participate in these activites probably ocassionally, but true geeks have plenty of other stuff to do as well.

Another interesting concept is the idea of being online for X-amount of hours a day. Some people would even go as far as to say "If you spend more than an hour on IRC you're a geek and hooked" and stupid things like that. Well the funny thing is, just because you're on IRC doesn't mean you're actually chatting and really using it. I know a lot of people who more or less happen to be on IRC while they're doing other things like research, homework, writing, programming, etc.

It's not the fact that you're online or on your computer -- it's what you're doing with that time. Most geeks are freakishly productive with their time on a computer, whereas people who are not geeks tend to be more or less wasting time.

On another note, people also seem to think all geeks have the exact same opinions. This is just plain stupid and ignorant. Just because a bunch of people who posted on Slashdot say "Linux rules" doesn't mean that all geeks are a bunch of Open-source Nazi's. The media has yet to learn that Slashdot and similar sites aren't a good cross-section of online opinion and thought. So do a lot of other people. I know I sure don't want to be lumped in with those nutcases on Slashdot who keep complaining that China is going to invade the US (puh-leeze).

So, if geeks really aren't the disturbed loners the media tries to make them out to be, why am I saying you should be scared to death of geeks? Because oddly enough it's these geeks that throughout history have made the world run and push onward. It's the geeks who are generally going to be successful inventors, the successful writers, and the people not afraid to step out there and try something different.

Why do geeks make such an impact? Because in general geeks do something right the first time, and do it well. And then they push their ideas even further. Geeks don't screw around.

Don't hate us because we're a problem. Hate us because we're the only things keeping this lousy orbiting rock interesting and advancing.

And you can quote me on that on Slashdot. Right next to the post of the guy claiming the Linux kernel is the greatest invention ever.

-- Rik A. Kyser

When using the term geek in reference to circus performers it is possible to be slightly more specific on the nature of the act. A geek was a performer who consumed unusual or unpleasant substances while on stage. Specifically the geek was often billed as a "wild man" who would bite the heads of chickens, consume broken glass, eat nails, etc. Their appeal of course lay in both providing an example of extreme behavior and in breaking social taboos regarding consumption.

Today this sort of act has, regrettably, fallen out of favor with most mainstream circuses touring the United States. In a continuing effort to provide family entertainment modern circuses, for the most part, employ mostly conventional acts involving trapeze work, trained animals, tumbling, and clowns. However some circuses still employ these sorts of older acts, including the Jim Rose circus. If you view the episode of the X-files that features performers from the Jim Rose circus you can see an example of a circus geek, in this case the gentleman with the blue puzzle pieces tattooed over his entire body.

Information in part provided by the Unix online Webster's dictionary and the Official Jim Rose circus webpage.

geef = G = geek code

geek

n.

A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance. Geeks usually have a strong case of neophilia. Most geeks are adept with computers and treat hacker as a term of respect, but not all are hackers themselves - and some who are in fact hackers normally call themselves geeks anyway, because they (quite properly) regard `hacker' as a label that should be bestowed by others rather than self-assumed.

One description accurately if a little breathlessly enumerates "gamers, ravers, science fiction fans, punks, perverts, programmers, nerds, subgenii, and trekkies. These are people who did not go to their high school proms, and many would be offended by the suggestion that they should have even wanted to."

Originally, a `geek' was a carnival performer who bit the heads off chickens. Before about 1990 usage of this term was rather negative. Earlier versions of this lexicon defined a `computer geek' as one who eats (computer) bugs for a living - an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. This is often still the way geeks are regarded by non-geeks, but as the mainstream culture becomes more dependent on technology and technical skill mainstream attitudes have tended to shift towards grudging respect. Correspondingly, there are now `geek pride' festivals (the implied reference to `gay pride' is not accidental).

See also propeller head, clustergeeking, geek out, wannabee, terminal junkie, spod, weenie, geek code.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

The etymology of the word geek is varied. Geek-n. Gék.

Some say it originates from the circus. Sideshow performers were often called Geeks, refering to their weird acts, like the oft cited decapitation of chickens with the teeth. This originates from the Low-German Geck, meaning stupid, weird, or not normal.

The other possibility of origin is from the ancient greek gekas, meaning stupid, not to be confused with the honorable congressman. In this way, geek is similar in orgin to the word cynic.

This has of course come to mean a socially inept computer guru. The modern meaning of geek is very thoughly analyzed.

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