Are geeks the new 'cool'?

Are geeks the new 'cool'?

While campaigners in Sweden are petitioning to change the definition of ‘nerd’ from 'simple-minded and laughable person' to something more positive, a question arises - have the words ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ lost their derogatory connotations?

When we say ‘geek’ these days, we tend to think of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – people who have made billions with their high-tech miracles, and are greatly admired by many.

Referring to some celebrities as 'geeks' nowadays is a frequent occurrence, while geek-themed books are on must-read lists

Even Chris Kluwe, who has been voted the “sexiest man of the year”, has publicly identified himself as a ‘nerd’.

We wanted to know how Labs participants defined the term ‘geek’, and whether they thought being a ‘geek’ has become cool.

Here’s what we found…

The responses of our Labs participants showed that there is definitely a shift in societal attitudes towards ‘geekiness’, as most participants gladly identified themselves as ‘geeks’.

Those who identified themselves as geeks defined being a ‘geek’ as being technology-savvy, academic, actively using social media and modern, which are evidently not negative connotations.

However, some participants did not identify themselves as geeks, and defined a ‘geek’ as someone who spends all of his/her time in front of a computer and ‘speaks, breaths and lives’ for technology. 

Has it become ‘cool’ to be a geek?

We also asked participants whether they think it has become cool to be a ‘geek’.

Most thought that is has become ‘cool’ to be a 'geek'.

A number of reasons were given, one of them being that ‘geeky’ interests changed from academia to more widely acceptable subjects such as gaming.

Others added that people are realising that by doing well at school they are increasing their chances of getting better paid jobs.

A parallel was drawn between being a ‘geek’ and being successful.

Participants said that people such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs as role models for younger generation.

However, some participants did not think it has become ‘cool’ to be a geek, saying that people who could be considered ‘geeks’ are still ridiculed for their niche interests.

Some participants mentioned that it has become a trend many follow, but that it is not ‘cool to be someone you are not’. Plus, others thought that to dress like a geek has become cool, while to actually be a ‘geek’ hasn’t. 

Participants who identified themselves as geeks 

  • Interestingly, most Labs participants identified themselves as geeks. Their definitions of a ‘geek’ mentioned niche interests, knowledge of technology and social media, as well as not following mainstream trends and interests.

I am one. I played DnD at school, I larped, and I know how to filk. I was an early adopter of computers and electronic communications (usenet, BBS, etc) way before the media started talking about the world wide web. I am a nerd dyed in the woolDee D, Yorkshire

“I've always been quiet and interested in academia and I have a detailed interest in specific subjectsAnon 

“Because I enjoy going into the depths of analysing movies and films; I also know a little too much about Doctor WhoAnon

“I like niche things and some things that are traditionally considered geeky and I often value these things over social life. I read, use social media, like technology and "geeky" stuff like sci-fi, genre fiction, fantasy and more” Anon, London

“I have quite specific interests, some of which aren't really appreciated in popular culture Anon

“I am fascinated with a particular area of interest, beyond that of the 'man in the street'. Such interest can focus on the trivial rather than the important” Anon

“I like niche things and some things that are traditionally considered geeky and I often value these things over social life. I read, use social media, like technology and "geeky" stuff like sci-fi, genre fiction, fantasy and moreLondon

Persons interested in science and technology, comics, anime, gaming. Geeks are people who have an interest in 'fringe' topics but have better social skills and can be modern and cool” Anon

Participants who did not identify themselves as geeks

    • Many participants who did not identify themselves as geeks defined geeks as very technology-focused.

    “Somebody who spends all there time on computers. I work with them (have done since 1978) but I go home and go out to do some gardening to get away from the dammed things. Speaks, breaths and lives for technology without looking at the other wonderful things the world has to offer” Ian H, Warlingham

    • Some believed that being a geek has become a trend and a fashion statement more than a lifestyle, and is more mainstream these days than standing out from the crowd.

    The meaning has become blurred. It has become trendy and fashionable to be a geek so more people think they identify as one. It is especially frustrating to see so many people wearing those large fake glasses - stop it now!” Nigel, Holmfirth

    • Other participants associated being a geek with being good at maths and science.

    “I do not have the skills or mathematical knowledge to consider myself a geek or nerd. Wish I did though” Anon

    “I'm not cool, but both of those I associate with people into maths or science, which I'm awful at” Anon

    Participants who thought that being a ‘geek’ has become cool

    “The usual interests of geeks has changed from academic to more widely acceptable pursuits like gamingAnon

    “I like to hope that people are finally realising that being an idiot at school and gaining few qualifications is not cool. However it may just be my perception as my peers have changed greatly in the past few years to those who are much more educated” Katy, Glasgow

    “Rise of the internet - people who are able to use computers are now able to have very successful careers and earn a great deal. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have become "celebrity nerds" and are role models for the younger generation. I think that there is an idealised version of a nerd though; someone who is just quiet, not particularly sociable and studious is never going to be considered particularly cool. It depends on the definition of geek or nerd” Anon

    “To a certain extent it's become more mainstream so more people are doing it. Not everything "geeky" is now cool, but there's a level of cultural acceptance and curiosity about things that has made it cooler” London

    “I was bullied all the way through school for being a 'geek'… Now people need my skills and I earn more than those that put me down. Finally society might be starting to realise that what is important is dedication, skills and intellect and not physical strength or how many women you can sleep with” Anon

    • Some participants said that TV shows featuring ‘geeky’ characters have added to making being a ‘geek’ more mainstream.

    The likes of Doctor Who and The Big Bang Theory have popularised geekiness with the general public” Alexander, Somerset

    Programmes like the Big Bang Theory have popularised nerds, and the fact that computers have become more common place. Plus, some high flying nerds (Steve Jobs et al) have removed the stigma Hove 

    Participants who said that being a ‘geek’ has not become ‘cool’

      • Some participants believed that it has not become cool to be a ‘geek’, as many people are still ‘ridiculed’ for niche interests.

      “People are still ridiculed if they don't share popular opinions, interests etc.” Anon
      • Some thought that there is a difference between what it’s like to be a ‘geek’ in reality, and in TV shows, as people who are introverted and have ‘nerdy interests’ are judged. 

      “There is still a big difference between what TV and films would like us to think is a nerd and what a real one is. In real life there is still a lot of prejudice against people with nerdy interests and we still aren't very open about it. As real nerds are often introverted, we do still get some stick just because of thatAnon
      • Others believed that being a ‘geek’ has become a label, and many are only pretending to be one as it is a trend.

      “It's became this label, and people are trying to fit to this label, while it's become popular, I would not call it cool to be something you're notCalvin T, Huddersfield

      “I still think that the majority of people do not accept geeks or nerds but think that 'geek-chic' is definitely becoming popular Anon

      “It has become "cool" to dress in a particular way that is associated to the stereotypical image of a nerd or geek because this suggests you are wacky, and therefore (apparently) creative and spontaneous. It hasn't become cool to be a geek or a nerd; there are simply some young people who feel that it is cool to play up to an image of being wacky or weird and, presumably, the way to do this is to conform to a fashion trend Liam

      Do you identify yourself as a geek? Has it become 'cool' to be one?

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      Authors

      Ema Globyte

      Writer and Contributor to YouGovLabs and Public Opinion

      Works in the London YouGov office