What is a geek?

By Mark "The Red" Harlan
April 5, 1999

Awhile back, when I was working in my overpaid hi-tech job, I was passed a copy of the nerd test. At first I was amused, but soon became borderline apoplectic when I learned I had outscored the large majority of my pals. To be clear, I beat those whose idea of "fashion sense" was wearing t-shirts tucked into jeans with a belt, freaks who spent all of their off-time (and a suspicious amount of work time) playing computer games, and lost souls whose sole idea of socialization was fighting about Java protocols over Internet Relay Chat. I even outscored my office mate who once owned a set of Spock ears. The only guy I did not outscore was a hardware engineer that spoke Polish, wore a cat suit the day after Halloween and consistently drooled on himself at lunch.

I was thrown into a massive depression that not even an excessive amount of business partner antagonization could cure. How could I be more nerdy than the unwashed mouth breathers I knew around the office? Why did I get penalized just because I can remember things like Avogadro's number off the top of my head? I mean, I had a life. A real life. I had been to Moscow without the proper tourist visa, I had flown the Goodyear blimp, I swam from Alcatraz, I took seven years to get a four year college degree, why I had even had sex once. And what about those people around the office? their skin was so translucent from CRT atrophy that it was like walking around with an army of "visible men" whenever we went out to lunch.

In heavy denial, I refused to accept the verdict of my electronic jury. "It doesn't matter what that test says," I thought, "I'm not a nerd." I'm not a nerd. I'm not a nerd. I refused to believe it.

At the absolute lowest point of my depression I was whimpering to a friend on the phone when I noticed my work extension -- 4335 -- had a double vowel in it when using the letters on the keypad: EE. "Hey, that's pretty good," I thought, "I wonder what it spells..." and as I sat there looking at it, the truth hits me: GEEK. My phone extension spelled "geek."

"This is horrible," I thought, "it MUST spell something else. So I sat playing with different combinations. Hmmm ... what else ... what else? HEEL.

That's just great. Geek and heel. This must be some kind of a sick sign. God's little way of saying, "you suck." I sat there feeling psychologically trapped. Mentally cornered. Virtually caged like an animal for slaughter.

And then I thought, "Wait a minute the word 'geek' is interesting..." It originally was a term used to describe old side-show folks who bit the heads off chickens. And it feels a little rough, a little alien. You know, if a nerd was talking in a movie theater, you'd probably slap him silly; but a geek, well that's a different matter. You might move down a few seats. You might hope he doesn't notice you. You might want to leave the theater altogether. Because in essence, a geek is unpredictable at his or her best and savage at worst. A nerd with fangs. A geek is the guy who took chemistry just so he could learn how to build better smoke bombs or the chick who dropped some loser because she could beat him at Space Invaders.

So i embraced it. I said, "Yes, I AM geek. Hear me mumble, or whatever." and things suddenly jumped into a fine focus. What once was uncertain now had a pure dodecahedral sort of clarity, and better still, I was no longer ashamed to admit the shape was dodecahedral. Sure, in my paranoid existence, the fight hadn't changed, it was still me versus the universe; but now the tables had turned and the universe would be rated as a slight underdog. To paraphrase Videodrome, it was the point where I now clearly had a philosophy, and that was what made me dangerous.

Furthermore, I have a certain sort of reassurance in being a geek: I feel that i'm not alone. I don't mean in the absurd X Files way, but more in the fraternity-but-without-the-booze-and-goofy-greek-letters sense. There are others out there, I can feel it. Probably lots. Kindred spirits in an otherwise boring world.

And what's funny is this means YOU are rapidly approaching a decision point in your life -- namely, are you a geek?

Your answer to the question means you can view this Web site one of two ways. You can definitively decide you are a geek and, finally, join your brethren (and sistern?) in our wild soiree. For those of you who fall into this category, I say, "Welcome Home," and offer you the best spot on my couch.

Or you can view this as a grand Internet sociology experiment -- a chance to live amongst strange, brutish apes without having to actually touch them. If this description fits you, remember to keep your hands behind the barriers and don't feed the animals.

Whatever the case, don't get stressed out by the name. Think of Geek Radio as a publication by geeks, for the planet; and since you're on the planet, this Web site is for you.

Welcome to Geek Radio, Josh Carter and I are truly glad you're here. If you like what you see, tell two friends; if you don't, tell us.

... And whatever else happens over the coming issues may you ultimately never think about the word "geek" in quite the same way you did in the past,

Mark "The Red" Harlan
Publisher and Head Geek
The Geek Radio Network





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