Geek Redefined

Definition of “Geek:”

Circa 1970 (Merriam-Webster): a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake.

Circa 1990 (common usage): a nerd who loves computer code and techie gadgets.

Circa 2007 (Wikipedia): an individual who is fascinated by knowledge and imagination, usually electronic or virtual in nature.

Wow, geeks have come a long way.

Time was when “geek” was synonymous with “dork”….a nerd with bad clothes and a worse haircut, with no social skills, who entertained himself by programming stuff on a computer. Imagine sitting in front of a computer all day!!

Now every information worker sits in front of a computer all day, occasionally weeping and wailing when their PC jams up. We often plead with geeks to help us. We need geeks and darn it, we like geeks. We want them around during the business day. Best Buy proudly flaunts the Geek Squad as a service advantage.

To be a geek has become a good thing. Now we apply it to anyone who is knowledgeable and maybe a little obsessed with something. Business Week lovingly refers to “manufacturing geeks.” USA Today has deemed turf scientist Trey Rogers the “Lawn Geek.” There’s the “Weather Geek.” There’s Geek.com. Even the Wall Street Journal uses the word freely.

Geek Squad Baby Geek

Some geeks seem to defy business gravity and get rich. You won’t hear anybody these days saying: “Yeah, those Google twins Sergey and Larry…real computer geeks…what a couple of losers.” Could Geekdom even become sexy? Power and money are intoxicating, and some geeks wield a lot of it.

Computer wizardry not-withstanding, one disappointing fact remains: the engineering profession in general (which includes geeks) continues to have a huge PR problem. Little jabs are frequent, such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus flippantly dissing and dismissing engineers on Jay Leno’s show recently. More importantly, there’s the fact that fictional writers completely ignore the profession – there hasn’t been an engineer role model in a television show (even acknowledged as a character’s incidental profession) since the widowed father of My Three Sons (Ed McMurray) back in the 60s. What a great guy “Steve Douglas” was.

Meanwhile, however, the press can’t ignore the savvy geeks who cash in quickly with ingenious enterprises such as YouTube and MySpace. When news stories tie Web 2.0 and IT engineering with business creativity and success, perceptions begin to change. This is a good thing. Long live the Geeks!

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