What Type(s) of Geek Are You?

You may have seen a certain graphic making the rounds on the geek blogs lately. It’s Wired‘s Geekster Handbook, a Field Guide to the Nerd Underground,” describing six different kinds of geeks based on their interests and some (affectionately mocked) stereotypes. The list includes fanboys, music geeks, gamers, gadget guys, hackers, and otaku, perhaps hitting the major media of geek culture in broad swaths (and throwing in one so hip and mainstream that I doubt it would’ve made this list ten to fifteen years ago).

As you might expect (this being the web and all), the comments that follow are a mix of amused agreement, nitpicking about finer gradation between computer geeks, and outright insults. I am always fascinated to read stuff like: “(shakes head) Wired has become the MAXIM magazine for techies and techie wannabe’s.” (Why is this person still reading this website..?)

My interest was really piqued, however, when other blogs started picking this up and running informal little polls to see how their readers identified themselves: See Gizmodo‘s and Geeksugar‘s. They’re both gadget blogs, though Gizmodo tends to cater especially to a young, male set, and Geeksugar to a young, female set (though I’m sure each has readers of whatever persuasion). Sadly, each of these blogs used radio buttons rather than check boxes for their polls, so instead of seeing which types of geeks people identify with, we just see a disproportionately large category for “a mix.”

Even though these are pretty specifically gadget blogs, I was interested to see that Geeksugar’s “mix” category was even bigger than its “gadget” category. And a lot of people there were keen on adding “craft geeks” to that list, too. Being one whose girlfriend knits, subscribes to Craft, and spends a decent amount of time on Etsy.com, I’m inclined to agree.

Personally, from a dissertation-writing perspective, I found these results pretty reassuring. The original plan for my dissertation was to structure it by interest—chapter on comics, chapter on games, chapter on computers, chapter on sci-fi movies—before I realized that part of my central argument is that geek culture and geek identity don’t really break down so neatly.

That’s not to say that some other typology is necessary, but just that there are plenty available. Consider, in the way of contrast, this student newspaper article that Church sent me, describing five levels of geekdom: the gateway geek, casual geek, community geek, tweak geek, and orthodox geek. As geeks are “no longer confined to subculture, stereotype,” this typology is categorized more by level of involvement with geeky interests (especially games) than by any one specific interest. (Tech interests with a professional bent are all kind of shuffled aside under “nerd.”)

I suppose this represents two ways of classifying geeks: within geekdom, and between geekdom and the mainstream. I always find it fascinating how many ways people offer to classify and define geeks and nerds, establishing boundaries and distinctions. I get asked what the difference is between a geek and a nerd so much that even non-geeks are clearly pretty concerned about the question. Personally, I’m not willing to proclaim that there is one real or authentic definition for ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ that supersedes all others, but I think that typologies like these offer a glimpse to outsiders—or a source of reflection for insiders—on how we construct identity.

10 thoughts on “What Type(s) of Geek Are You?

  1. You both make good points.

    Part of this quandary could well be rooted in the nerd’s unyielding need to classify and catalog. Likewise, it could also be necessitated by the non-geek world’s urge to place the whole of geekdom in a series of clearly marked boxes.

  2. For those who do identify as one of those categories, I’d be interested to see how they view the other categories (more or less geeky, cooler, inferior, whatever).

    For the record I’d identify as a mix. Giving up any one of those stereotypes would feel like loosing a part of myself.

  3. I think you’ve got your definition right there, or at least part of one: Anyone who cares how we construct identity is a geek.

    Which is awesome. I’ve only been reading your Studies for a few weeks, but they’re always interesting, and phrases like “how we construct identity” get me passionate about figuring out why/how people/things work.

  4. Am I the only one that sees a striking similarity between the groups in this Wired piece and the characters in Diesel Sweeties?

  5. P.:
    This makes me happy to hear.

    Church & Z.:
    Fair enough.

    Either you just cracked the code for the webcomics world, or R. Stevens already cracked the code for us.

  6. P.:

    Is that you Paul?


    Or someone working at Wired spent an afternoon reading DS instead of working on a story and had to write something fast. Of course Wired would never have such low standards for journalism. 🙂

  7. Tela:
    Excellent question. I think they’re missing because it’s harder to identify them as a consumer group to be marketed to, which is what Wired does. All the rest of these—even “hackers,” who presumably get their computer supplies and black hoodies somewhere—can be explained in terms of demographics to market to based on entertainment preferences. Even if that’s not exactly how they might describe themselves, that’s kind of how Wired imagines its audience, I think.

    Still, they could’ve stuck someone in there with an xkcd shirt and a telescope.

    I started peeking at the source for their polls to set up my own, but gave up when I realized two things.

    One, the results would not be anything I could actually refer back to in my research, as the readers of my blog could be a self-selected group based on interest in the geeky things I write about most. (I tend to write about a variety of presumably overlapping geek interests, and if you’re only interested in a couple of those, I imagine you’d go elsewhere on the web. Also, I tend not to write deeply about technical things at all, so I imagine I’m missing a lot of the Make/2600 crowds.)

    And two, I actually don’t like coding and I have other work to do, so I got bored and got back to writing.

    I suppose if I could host such a survey elsewhere, someplace a little more neutral, and ask just a few more detailed questions to make it worth everyone’s while, that could be an interesting little exercise. Maybe I’ll do that for when I’m ready to update the dissertation and pitch it as a book…

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