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 interestâ€”chapter on comics, chapter on games, chapter on computers, chapter on sci-fi moviesâ€”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 outsidersâ€”or a source of reflection for insidersâ€”on how we construct identity.