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—Arlene R. Taylor PhD

The term geek is thought to have originally come in the late 19th century from a German word "gek" roughly meaning fool. However, its use in today's world is broad and uncertain. Many people throw this word around not knowing exactly what it means and they mix geek up with words such as nerd and outcast. The dictionary definition defines "geek" as somebody awkward (Encarta, 2002). The second definition it has is the one I will be focusing on. It is: Geek - Obsessive computer user: somebody who enjoys or takes pride in using computers or other technology, often to an extent others consider an excessive level (Encarta, 2002). While both definitions of the word could be used in a derogatory manner, to some, being referred to as a Computer Geek is a highly revered status that is not to be taken lightly.

As technology continues to advance and become a regular part of everyday life, to the average person terms such as geek are being used more and more often. People see these computer geeks as the ones behind the technology and inevitably the ones responsible for technology when it doesn't work. People praise and mock computer geeks at the same time. They praise geeks for their great works of technological marvel but continue to make fun of the amount of time they spend with their technology (Mitchell, 1999).

Before I go on any further I must differentiate between the different types of geeks so that there is no confusion as to what I am referring to when I use the word geek in the rest of this article. A failure to differentiate among geek groups could lead to a great disturbance in the geek community. Because of the broad definition of geek and the vast number of people that either claim to be or are put into this category, I will start by dividing the group into three sections.

  • The first group refers to the one that most people think about when they hear the word geek, "those people who are so obsessed with homework and their grades." This group is considered to be the group known as "School Geeks". They live up to their name. To be considered a school geek you must have high grades, and/or obsessive about your schoolwork. That is not to say that all people who get good grades are automatically school geeks, only when it gets to the point where most other aspects of your life are affected by your obsession with school. People that are typically associated with this group are also preps (Delio, 2001).
  • The second group is quite a broad group. The only reason I mention it is so that there is no confusion between them and computer geeks. This group is known as the "Car Geeks". They are overly obsessed with their cars. People don't generally refer to these people as "geeks" but in a sense they are. They can be so obsessed with their cars that their entire life revolves around their cars. When you see them they are always talking about cars and cars are typically all they are about.
  • This brings me to the stars of this show, Computer Geeks. From now on when the word "geek" appears I will be referring to Computer Geeks, unless specified otherwise. Computer geeks are the ones you think of whenever you see the new hottest technology, because the odds are that one of them designed it. They are the ones you hear about in news stories relating to technology. They are the ones you think of when you see movies where some "hacker" is on his/her computer typing madly with screens of bright light reflecting off their face, a face that looks like it hasn't seen daylight in years (Wood, 2001).

Being a geek isn't easy. You have to be able to devote countless hours on your computer and be proficient at learning new things and acting like you know everything. You usually have to be smart and you definitely have to know about computers to a degree that would impress the most casual of observers. Once you have this down then you can start thinking of yourself as having the possibility of maybe someday becoming a geek (Evans, 2001).

Many think that geek behavior is something that one learns and is a choice of the individual. Others think that it is something that you are born with that sticks with you forever. The general consensus seems to think that it could be partially both. It is thought that there are certain genes that may make one more prone to being a geek. At the same time they also think that there are certain environmental effects that can aid in the move towards becoming a geek (Wood, 2001). It has been found that you are more likely to become a geek if there is a parental figure that is a geek. But even so, most people usually aren't classified into geek status until they are over age 10 or 11. This may be due to the fact that younger children are unable to fully understand and appreciate advanced topics such as technology and computer related materials. Another factor might be that after age 10, you are able to choose more of your own options for research. You are given more freedom to choose what you want to learn about and what you want to be (Evans, 2001).

Many feel that becoming a geek is a one-time deal that once you have made the transition into full geek status that you can never go back. But there are reports that differ. There are some people that at one point referred to themselves as geeks and even associated with other geeks. Then these people changed. They start doing things that normal geeks would never do. They start playing sports that are typically frowned upon by the geek people. They may even start doing things as harsh as not using the computer for days on end; or, if they use it, just use it for such minimal petty uses as checking an e-mail message or two (Wood, 2001). A lot of times these kinds of people may have never really been true geeks. Rather they were mere enthusiasts who saw computers and associating with geeks as a way to gain social status. When they came to the harsh reality that being a geek is usually not the best way to gain social status, they sought after other methods to achieve their goal. Ultimately their goal is to be accepted by the popular group, the "in crowd" (Townsend, 1996). The only reason these people joined the geek group was because they saw geeks gaining vast amounts of control in certain areas. They also saw geeks getting good grades or promotions of some kind. They thought that if they tried to become a geek that success would surely follow.

However, the only way you can be a truly successful geek is if you are a true geek (Evans, 2001). Usually these people that were once in the geek group end up moving from group to group, sometimes never finding a place to call home. Often they will be in denial about their status and return to previous groups as a safe haven. When they return they realize that these groups have discovered their secret and are rejected (Townsend, 1996). Most true geeks are more often then not going to remain geeks for the rest of their life. As they grow old and technology changes they may move into a new field and become a different kind of geek. They will, however, always remain a geek and have attributes of a true geek. Even in old age geeks are able to maintain themselves by attending conventions and getting cool gadgets that satisfy the need for technology in their lives (Wood, 2001).

Geeks do have social lives. Some may argue this, but the facts are that by disassociating from the main cliques, they actually form their own clique of geeks. Subconsciously or consciously they group together and form a close bond of friends that is very hard to penetrate (Townsend, 1996). Non-geeks may see this group and think of them as socially "outcast" but in fact they are not. They attend social events that suite their needs and interests. These events are usually not intended for non-geeks, not because they are not invited but because non-geeks usually find geek activities dull or sometimes scary. There are instances when non-geeks will sometimes participate in events that lots of geeks attend but are not considered to be strictly geek events. These are usually outside events that require physical activity such as paintball (Pescovitz, 1995).

LAN (local area network) parties are the highlight of most geeks' social calendars. If you want to see geek behavior in one of its, perhaps, most exaggerated forms then you need to participate in a LAN party. If you are so unfortunate as to not know what a LAN party is, then allow me to enlighten you. First you need to understand what LAN means. LAN simply means local area network. From this definition you know about as little as you could as to the goings on of LAN parties or sometimes called Game Fests (Pescovitz, 1995).

LAN parties typically will take place on Saturday nights. Usually as the sun starts setting, the gathering begins. You might ask if there is something special about the sun setting—is it religious? The answer is no. Most geeks don't get out much and sunlight would damage their delicate skin, the second more reasonable explanation is that sun equals glare, and glare equals death. Figure 1 is an typical example of a medium sized LAN party. The participants will all gather at the selected location with their computers all hooked into a network that will serve as the means of communication for the night, morning and sometimes night again. At these parties there tends to be a large assortment of junk food and most importantly caffeinated beverages. After all the computers are up and running the fun begins. A game server will go up then everyone joins and starts to play computer games.

Sleeping is optional at the LAN party. Most choose to fill up on caffeine and go all night gaming. Some are even able to go all night just on the adrenaline from gaming. Usually at network parties there will arise a champion who is given "godlike" status. Along with the bragging rights comes a price. This champion usually has an ego so large that they are forced to keep playing the game in order to keep their skill up for the next network party. If there is another gamer who is very close in skill and score to the champion then the pressure is even higher because no one wants to get "schooled" by the loser (Pescovitz, 1995).

Other major social events that geeks attend are technology conventions. Conventions are a great source for seeing and learning about the latest and greatest technology. Not only do they provide the latest and greatest technology but also they provide its attendees with a brand new line of t-shirts for the next year. Geeks wear new technology shirts proudly. Not only are they stylish but also allow you to promote a certain technology that you feel is worthy of attention. The companies that provide these shirts are fully aware of geeks attraction to them and will gladly give you as many as you like because they know they are getting a supporter and a free advertisement board (Pescovitz, 1995).

Geeks, like any group of people, usually must work to survive. Geeks will usually go into a profession having to do with technology and computers. Most of the time they will end up working in a cubicle, but with the advancement of technology more geeks are beginning to work from their home office (Mitchell, 1999). The first job most people think of when they think geek is technical support. Due to the increased use of computers more people are using them that have no idea what they are doing. Because of this the demand for help and technical support has increased greatly. Many geeks flock to technical support, they enjoy being able to "help" people with their technical difficulties. Not only is the pay usually good but also it is a very routine job (Mitchell, 1999). Geeks may flock to technical support jobs but this is not entirely because that is what they like. They are the ones who are best qualified to handle technical support. When a technical problem arises most people will either ask the nearest 10-year old or they will call the closest geek and ask them to fix it.

Geeks have a natural ability to fix technical things. You can sit one down on a computer and ask them to perform most any task and more often then not they will be able to figure out some way to complete the task. Geeks have the ability to become instant experts in areas that the average computer user would have to go through classes and read help books to achieve the same level of comprehension. Average users become amazed when an average geek is able to fix their average problem in a matter of moments without any prior knowledge of the specific problem. This skill is known as trouble-shooting (Delio, 2001). Trouble-shooting is what geeks do when they see a problem of which they have no prior knowledge. The process involves a series of tests that will all help point to a bug or error that can be fixed. An all too common situation is printer problems. It is a rare geek indeed that has not had to deal with printer problems. The problem will arise and a geek will be deployed to fix the problem (Delio, 2001).

The geek will do a series of tests to figure out what is wrong. They will apply previous knowledge if they have any on the subject to try and eliminate as many possibilities as possible before performing the initial test. Then they will perform several tests ranging from configuring settings to restarting queues and hardware. Once they have fixed the problem they are able to remember what it was and what steps are needed to fix it. From that point if another printer problem arises then they can simply explain the process to the user and have it fixed without even getting out of their chair (Wood, 2001). Similar processes are used with anything relating to computers. Geeks involved in technical support are able to become experts in broad fields of computer use just from a few technical experiences. Being a fast learner is vital to being a geek (Evans, 2001).

As time goes on and technology advances, so do geeks. They are the ones who are on top of the new technologies. Geeks are the ones who strive to advance themselves to a higher level by learning as much about a specific area that interests them as possible. Geeks are more and more seen as the leaders of today's economy and society. Their innovativeness and creativity are responsible for the technologies that we use now and the ones we will be using in the future.

Literature Cited

Delio, M., 2001. "Who's Better: Geeks or Nerds?" Wired. February 2, 2001.
(http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,41422,00.html)

Evans, J., 2001. Who Is A Geek? Geek.com. No Date.
(http://www.geek.com/welcome.htm)

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2002. "Geek." Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA. 
Software (no page).

Mitchell, R., 1999. How to Manage Geeks. Fast Company. 25: 174.
(http://www.fastcompany.com/online/25/geeks.html)

Pescovitz, D., 1995. The Cutting Edge. Geek.org. August 30, 1995.
(http://www.geek.org/press/95-08-30/)

Townsend, P.R., 1996. "Geek Life." Santa Cruz Sentinel. December 29, 1996.
(http://www.geek.org/press/96-12-29/SC_Sentinel.html)

Wood, J., 2001. Geek Power. Ongoing.
(http://www.acmeworld.net/geekpower/)


Note: Harley wrote this article when he was 16 years old. His brain profile shows a double left pattern with a frontal left lead, a balanced extroversion/introversion ratio, and a visual sensory preference.

 

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