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Thinking on geeking

There was an article in the San Jose Mercury News about my daughters and their friend.  My eldest’s reactions to the article included specifying that it was her friend who self-identified as a geek and was OK with that ID.  My daughter doesn’t self-identify that way, and her reaction got me thinking.

As with other negative terms that are taken on by a subculture, the word geek is a noun that originally had a negative connotation.  However, some of the subcultures that it was used as an insult against took on the term as a positive self-identifier.  Currently, geek is a  noun, adjective, and verb that refers to a state of being and acting where you think something is so great that you lose your cool over it.  You stop focusing on how the world thinks of you and you totally immerse yourself in the thing.  Subcultures where that occurs sometimes take on the term geek for themselves.

Back in the 1980s, people passionate  about computers were called computer nerds.  We used the word geek in its larger context but applied to other interests.  I remember, and still know many, theater geeks from high school.  Back then, I was a game geek – I liked role-playing, strategic board games, strategic role-playing, and dressing in camo and shooting at each other in the woods with BB guns (before there were paintball guns and that geek past-time became commonplace.)  I have now realized which of my friends (and wife and daughters) are fashion geeks.  When a geekness achieves a certain cachet, it becomes cool in itself.

For me, the triumph of the girls’ talk at SCALE 8x Women in Open Source summit, article, and follow-on interest is in the idea that girls are finding it more interesting to be passionate about something than to be cool and aloof.  There is a safety in a cool composure, in not exposing yourself.  It is easier to hide your true feelings behind a historic guise of acting ladylike.  Even in our culture of girl soccer and vollyball champs (sports geeks), and so forth, there is a lot more cultural pressure for girls to stop being girlish and start acting like ladies.  By comparison, being a gentleman is easy.