Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Geek Within

Today on Radio New Zealand National I’m gonig to talk about several things, including ACTA, copyright and, of course, Pompeii. My main topic will be about what it means to be a geek. You can read my speaker notes below.

I’ll be on air after the 11am news. After the broadcast you’ll be able to download the audio as ogg or mp3.

The geek within

Q: Nat Torkington used the term “geek” about himself a few weeks ago.

A: He did indeed. It’s one of those terms that was used perjoratively but is being reclaimed, with a certain amount of pride, by those it was used to insult.

Q: Where does the word come from?

A: An old Germanic word meaning to croak or to cheat, and it made its way into the US carnival and fairground circuit around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, where it was used to mean some kind of human freak who would exhibit himself as part of the their show.

Q: What type of person do you mean by a geek?

A: I mean someone who is capable of sustained periods of concentration on a specific, usually technical, topic. That’s what I think is the defining characteristic of a geek – it’s the desire and ability to focus on something for hours or days on the end to the exclusion of – some would say the detriment of – everything around you, from relationships to work mates. And that’s quite important to what geeks achieve – which is building pretty much all the technology we use in our day to day lives. It’s a state of what some psychologists call “flow” where the matter you are focusing on becomes the totality of your attention and you really ignore everything else. Lot’s of people and jobs do that, of course, but with geeks its combined with a deep technical knowledge of their subject, usually colouring their whole outlook on the world.

There are a few characteristics:

  • Lack of conformity and respect for authority
  • Respect for ability
  • Music – many geeks are musicians of a high order.
  • Religion
  • Geeks aren’t just technologists – they appear in a range of technical disciplines such as law.
  • Story about
  • New Hacker’s Dictionary
  • Different terms for geek. Nerd. In the UK: Anorak. A modern term: Technosexual

While it’s been fashionable to laugh at geeks that’s becoming less so.

Find your inner geek, also celebrate geekiness in others.


Geek – a badge now worn with pride. In New Zealand, geeks have their own Internet domain.

posted by colin at 8:25 pm  


  1. I think you’re using it to mean what used to be described by the term “hacker”. Though we seem to have been fighting a losing battle over the past couple of decades trying to stop that term being taken over to refer to cyber-criminal types.

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 10 December 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  2. I sse the terms as a little different in emphasis. Both suffer from ambiguity.

    Comment by colin — 10 December 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  3. Well, I don’t think anyone has managed to pin any unsavoury or criminal connotations on “geek” yet—fortunately.

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 10 December 2009 @ 4:48 pm

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