The Meaning of Being a Nerd. Or a Geek.

Definitions of the terms “nerd” and “geek” show them to be close enough to be synonyms. Both imply a lack of social finesse, the sort of stereotype we’re familiar with in pop culture. The other parts of the respective definitions are as follows (taken from a Google): Nerd–an intelligent, single-minded expert in a particular technical discipline or profession.  Geek–A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest.

I guess, if you’re a nerd, you have to be good at whatever it is, but if you are a geek, you only have to be enthusiastic. I’ll use them that way for our purpose here. Nerd will denote ability, and Geek, enthusiastic devotion.

Both definitions bring to mind the usual suspects, the computer nerd, the gamer, the science fiction fan.  I would suggest, however, that nerdism and geekism casts a far wider net than that.

Keith Richards is a nerd and a geek. Read his biography, and how he talks about sound, how it changes according to the room, how technology ran amok in the 80’s, with a million microphones and people laying down tracks in separate rooms, and how it detracted from the sound. He says, “You don’t…need a studio, you need a room.” He says elsewhere (could’t find the exact quote) that a musician not only plays an instrument, but plays a space, a room. Never mind the drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, this is a guy who has spent his entire life playing and listening. He is a sound geek and a room acoustics nerd. He is always looking for a new space to make a different sound in.

Turn on Holmes on Homes on HGTV. Mike Holmes neck is as big around as his forehead, and with his Canadian contractor drawl, he may not seem like a nerd. Watch him go through a house, though, and listen to him take the inventory of the previous contractors and inspectors who’ve worked there. Watch him rip apart the wiring, the plumbing, the carpentry. Listen to him insist that it should be done perfectly. Mike Holmes is a construction nerd and a do-it-right geek. How refreshing.

Geeks have passion beyond the ordinary, enough to set them apart. They surprise, annoy, and threaten those who don’t care so much.

I love ’em. I’ve always been drawn to people who are extremely good at something, and who value that something greatly. In the early heyday of public television, in the days before cable, I gravitated to  the televised community college courses shown on our local station. I never took any of the courses, but I watched and admired.

Once upon a time, a writing instructor, the same one who asked me what I wanted most in a novel (see “To Be Transported,” my post from a few weeks ago), asked on another occasion, this time at a post-class get-together, what I wanted from an author. I’d not thought of that question before, but my answer came easily.

I want, above all, for the author to be sincere. Even if I’m not a fan of what is written, and even if it isn’t very good, I can respect the effort and the author if I believe the work came from a sincere place, if I believe the author was a geek for the story. If the story is formulaic, pot-boiler junk cranked out to make a buck, I don’t care. If you have writing skill plus sincerity, then I’m in heaven.

Show me you care. Not about me, but about the thing you are a geek for. Show me your hard-won nerd expertise. And then I’ll think you’re fabulous.




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