geek is a relative term

barCamp Schedule

So, hurrah. BarCamp. What a great experience :)

Lots of smart people all together, and so friendly! The whole weekend had a great energy to it and the guys who organised it should be heartily congratulated.

One thing bothered me a little tho, and that was the ‘geekiness’ demarcation.

Apparently if you’re into UCD or Usability or – heaven forbid, marketing, you’re not a geek. Only uber-programming types are nerds apparently. And, just maybe, Flash-ers…

It’s kind of strange… because in my non-BarCamp life, I get the geek/nerd label all the time. Gosh, I thought just turning up to BarCamp was a pre-qualifier.

I though I’d look it on on Wikipedia. Here’s what they’re currently agreeing to:

… a person who is fascinated, perhaps obsessively, by obscure or very specific areas of knowledge and imagination, usually electronic or virtual in nature.

I think it’s fair to say that definition covers just about everyone who attended BarCamp. Not just the ones who cut code. So, perhaps let’s not use the term in an exclusionary way.

I’m not sure where this idea has come from that people who don’t do the hard core technical stuff for a living are somehow afraid of people who do.

Or that we find the incomprehensible.

Or that we don’t want to and enjoy hanging out with them.

Or that we couldn’t learn something from them.

Or that, who knows, they might even learn something from us.

I can only speak for myself, but I think that’s rubbish.

Can we stop it please and just all play nicely because I thought that the diversity and the togetherness were two of the best bits of BarCamp.

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14 thoughts on “geek is a relative term

  1. That’s funny, because I was talking to obviously a different group of people this weekend and we were saying how everyone at the event was a geek – just with different passions!

  2. OK, so it was me that was making this distinction (or at least I was one of them, and I just happened to be saying it, frequently, in front of the majority of the attendees!).

    I would say the following in response to the points made in your post:

    Regardless of what you want to call it, it was definitely possible to put everyone into one of two groups – maybe I should have said ‘programmers’ or ‘software engineers’. Or, if we can’t agree/suggest what to call it I will define the two groups. Basically it cames down to the people who would be really interested in AJAX frameworks, XSLT techniques, object orientated programming, etc and those who wouldn’t.

    I would genuinely be delighted if you (or anyone else) can suggest a better term for that kind of person.

    Now before anyone says ‘well, why do we need to label people like this?’ I would say it is important because I felt that through those two groups of people we ended up with two different types of subject matter. Sure there is a crossover – and usability people can be interested in AJAX frameworks and programmers can/should be interested in UCD… but the fact of the matter is that they are still two quite different ‘tracks’ and what I wanted to capture for next time is that maybe we should recognise the two subject types (and thus two audience types) and at least create tracks or even hold separate events in addition to a combined BarCamp.

    My second point is that I would agree that the geek is relative. My wife Sofia (who doesn’t work in the tech industry) is labeled a geek at her work because she plays videos on her PSP and owns a laptop. She’s not a geek by the definitions we probably would use.

    So yes it is relative, and I think my use of the word is relative to the event. Everyone who turned up is geeky to a degree – by nature of the event. And if I offended anyone by not including them as a geek, then I’m sorry and it wasn’y intention.

    Like I said, if you can suggest a better term then please let me know!

  3. This is one of those things I’ve found very hard to change over the time I’ve been going and running geekdinners.

    In my terms Geek is anyone with a passion which almost borders on obession. I’ve tried a few terms but geek just seems to work the best. Although it does conjure up weird views and sometimes bad stereotypes.

  4. There are 2 kinds of people in the world: people who divide the world into 2 kinds of people, and people who don’t!

    Leisa, if it makes you feel any better: YOU’RE A GEEK! My God, you were blogging from BarCamp!!?? ;-)

  5. I was chuckling on the way home from barcamp about how I was seen as a marketer – everywhere else i am the geek ;)

    It reminded me of the time when I used to visit London from Tamworth and everyone thought I had a brummy accent. On my return to Tamworth, everyone thought I had a London accent. Believe me when I say that is a lose lose situation ;)

    it seems everything is relative :)

    ben: it struck me when you referred to the programmers (etc) u were really talking about people interested in mashups – so maybe u could called them the mashers ? :) though i think the important thing was that we understood who you meant anyway..

  6. Hi! I pick a text of you about bloggers and i translate into spanish to everybody could read it. I think, it’s amazing this text and it can’t be just in english (in spain we are not very english-learners). Thank you for you auto-permision.

  7. hey everyone, thanks for the interesting discussion.

    I think I was more perplexed than offended by the not-geek thing. Labels are always weird things and I can understand how there are lots of different readings of ‘what a geek is’ depending on the context.

    obviously I was one of the minority who was kind of expecting a reasonably diverse crew at Bar Camp. Looking at the kind of people who get pulled into BarCamps and FooCamp in the States – it’s a really diverse mob that includes techy geeks of all varieties, as well as lots of design types, marketing types, sociology types, academics, content people, business people… or are the non-geeks just the ones that I read about and that skews my perception?

    afterall, the explanation of BarCamp on the wiki is:

    BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from attendees.

    that doesn’t say that it’s mostly techy geeks and some others.

    why should there be only one non-techy stream? Afterall, I think what I do and what marketing people do are significantly different. And if we got some visual communications people along, where would they sit?

    I guess it depends on the purpose of BarCamp – whether diversity and cross pollination is a big important part of what BarCamp is. Or whether it’s more about getting time to spend with likeminded and like-skilled people who you can learn from. (not to suggest that you can’t learn from the others).

    Which, as it happens, is pretty much exactly the question that you were asking on Sunday, Ben.


    I was just reading a bit about DesignCamp this morning actually. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting on SocialText to design whether or not they’ll grant me a login so that I can access the wiki and take a look. (no, I’m serious. I have to register and then, after a few days, they’ll get back to me apparently).

    anyway – I reckon DesignCampLondon might be fun and interesting. But I’d still go back to BarCamp :)

  8. not sure if i was very clear looking back on what i posted :) I am very much with leisa here – the different groups was what made barcamp for me – and is definitely a major reason why I would want to come again.

    So is designcamplondon only for designers?

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