In the lift at work:
“Hi, you’re @loulouk aren’t you? I’m @xxxxxx. I thought I should introduce myself, I keep hearing your name around the people I work with”
“Oh yeah, I’m the dork”
“You’re in a room full of them”

Later in the day in Tibits:
“So what are you nerd about then”
“Trains, gadgets, the internet….um everything!”
“Star Wars or Star Trek?”
“Star Trek but only Next Gen”

Yesterday I wore a t-shirt with the word Nerd on it. In big letters. In white on black. I didn’t actually give it a second thought, I work somewhere where it’s okay to be one, I mean mostly it’s full of geeky people with the odd nerd thrown in but I knew it would be okay to wear it and I knew I wasn’t scheduled to be in any meetings within anyone outside of work and it’d be fine.

But the reaction of other people has caused a bit of a rethink on that assumption.

I wasn’t always a geek. Or perhaps I was. I do know that it was at the point where I first say in front of a box that let me talk to other people in front of other boxes and to read what they thought and did that I discovered I definitely was a geek. Geek is a word. It’s just a word. But it used to be an insult and now it’s a compliment and there’s just no arguing with that when there’s geek tours, geek bands, geek chic and geek conferences.

So I tried to think about what geek meant to me and why I wore a tshirt with nerd on the front and why I felt totally comfortable with that. And I think it’s something to do with the venn diagram. This one:

I just don’t think it works anymore.

If it did Dorkbot wouldn’t exist. Which is basically a bunch of people who like doing super creative things with electricity all over the world, gathering together to tell each other about the new super weird and wonderful ways they’ve found to make electrons dance.

According to that venn, they’d not have the brain cells to rub together to generate electrons, never mind play with them.

Take /dev/fort – a bunch of gathering together, essentially sequestering themselves away, having fun, writing code, eating food and being…social? By choice? With other ? That’s their leave they’re using up. That’s because it’s fun. And fun doesn’t look like what it used to look like either. By the venn, they’re geeks. I’d argue they’re not. But even I hesitate to call them nerds because we didn’t define it yet, and how can I know whether I’m insulting them or not if they don’t have a nice neat little label?

And then there’s the other thing. The complicated thing which says that when you’re clearly part of a group of people who have historically been on the end of some abuse (and believe me, it was absolutely definitely totally not always cool to know what # was on your keyboard for), it’s sort of okay to self label with something that if someone else labelled you with would prompt feelings of…mild irritation.

But what if it’s not clear you’re a member of that group? If you’re a girl and you’ve been on the end of the whole ‘you’re a girl, you’re wearing that Spiderman tshirt cos it’s cool not cos you’ve read all the comics and seen all the films not just the latest ones cos it had some fit bloke in it’. Cos believe me, that happens. And as it happens, no I haven’t and yes I have. I hate comics. Bite me.

So for all kinds of ridiculous complicated socially expected reasons we seem to be in need of a revision of labels. Because if watching Big Bang Theory makes you kinda geeky, it’s a crowded room I’m in all of a sudden. And I’m reasonably sure spending weekends at sci-fi conventions isn’t really considered a mainstream activity (thought when a convention in Wrexham of all places sells so many tickets one year, they’ve got to double admission the next to the size of the MEN arena I start to wonder) and nor is loving spreadsheets and missing working with them, or thinking up new and interesting ways to draw maps of random things.

So here’s the thing. Can someone come up with a way of explaining that social ability doesn’t define nerds, geeks sometimes aren’t super-intelligent to the level that the name used to imply, dweebs are dressed by their mothers in their twenties and dorks? Who knows. That defining by intelligence presupposes an agreement on what intelligence is, super logical doesn’t necessarily imply social aversion, wallflowers can be cool and some people consciously dress in a slightly different way that intends to misstep rather than accidentally doing so? That tribes exist but they’re evolving more towards a complicated amalgamation of sub-genres and interests, some combinations of which definitely put you in the dweeb category and some of which firmly sit you in the dork box?

Because I can’t. But I do know, in a way I can’t really explain, that I am the right person to be wearing that Nerd tee.

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