Over OraTweet last week, I gently corrected an old friend of mine when she called those of us using Oracle’s mirco-blogging tool “nerds”. We’re not nerds. We’re geeks.
This person hails originally from Eastern Europe, so the nuances and cultural connotations of the two aren’t part of her DNA. Being the quizzical type, she asked for clarification, which I struggled a bit to describe, and eventually, she sent over this post, which does a good job outlining the differences.
Being a recovering (in my own mind) nerd, I can relate to the main difference Matt Blum points out, namely the social ineptitude of the nerd. While nerds and geeks are both smart and usually technically inclined, nerds fail at social interaction.
Plus, the Hollywood stereotypes haven’t done nerds any favors. Geeks, on the other hand, are generally portrayed in a much better light. Exhibit A, Hackers. Just saying, even if the script isn’t very, um, plausible, accurate, believable, the casting tells you all you need to know.
The difference intrigues me. I actually had a similar one over Twitter with some Portlanders that I know about a year ago, and they agreed that geeks pwn nerds.
Being a geek is a badge of honor applied to oneself. Nerd is an insult applied to other people.
Interestingly, nerds don’t always evolve (loosely applied) into geeks, and there’s no prerequisite path from nerd to geek. I suspect Chet, who played baseball at the University of Florida, would characterize himself as a geek now, but somehow I doubt he is a reformed nerd.
So, aside from social interactions, what else differentiates geek from nerd?
There must be a cool component in there too. As Matt mentions, the desirability of technical skills makes the geek less, well, nerdy. People respect the skills.
Nerds have these skills too, but without the ability to be approachable or have a comfortable conversation, they remain on the fringes. I remember one hilarious encounter with a nerd in college. He did not drink, but had eaten a peanut that had alcohol splashed on it. Don’t ask.
He spent the next 20 minutes debating his relative BAC after imbibing the tainted nut. Not kidding. His dissertation centered around the molecular structure of alcohol and its effects on his body. Wow. Just wow. I wish I had that on video. It was one of many great discussions (ahem, lectures) I had with that guy.
I picture him in a lab coat, working at some government facility, engineering bio-warfare weapons to use on me, probably revered as a demigod among his lab-coat-wearing peers, but not so much in the real world.
So, maybe a geek has generally marketable skills, i.e. making computers work is more in demand from the real world than engineering chemical weapons?
Anyway, this is an open discussion. Find the comments and add your thoughts on Geeks vs. Nerds: Bloodbath. Guess I’m in a Hollywood mood.