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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Are We Geeks And Nerds? Hell No!
October 12th, 1999

In September, the New York Times cited the Mac Observer in its technology pages. The Times noted how cool the site was from its Mac Observer Spin to its opinionated columnists. Then, something got my attention... I have a problem with a word they used in whole of the article. Geek...

Do not get me wrong, I am flattered to see such an influential newspaper stating that our site rocks. You have to appreciate this type of recognition. What makes me a little tense is not the article by any means, but it pointed out to me the way "geek" is used throughout society. It seems politically correct to use geek (or perhaps nerd) when someone is knowledgeable about technology. To understand its meaning better, here is the definition from Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

Geek: 1. An uninteresting, ineffectual, socially inept person; a nerd. 2. A person thoroughly devoted to one usually technical interest, study, etc., often at the expense of social interaction (computer geek).

Therefore, when you look at it, the word geek suggests a negative connotation. We picture the geek as a person who stares at the screen all day long, who rarely goes out to see some friends, probably lives on bad food, and is a society misfit. The kind of character that Sandra Bullock played in the movie The Net in 1995. The person whose life is the computer.

This is a vision of the past! Yes, if you know DOS perfectly and think that UNIX's interface is friendly, you may in fact be a geek. With today's Mac however, you do not have to spend your life in front of the computer to understand your machine. When you read this, keep in mind that the Mac OS and Windows hold more than 90% of the operating system market together.

The user interface is a big key to this and the Mac OS sports the best. Even in Windows 95/98, you can become friendly with the interface. Of course, this comes from the influence of the Macintosh and it will probably never catch up with it. Even there, you still benefit from a better visual feeling of what goes on inside the box than if you have to type command lines and look at a long list to know the state of your directories.

You do not have to be a geek anymore to use computers. You just have to learn faster than most people do. Then, you can do as much as the traditional geek did in the past.

Sure, you can argue that we celebrate geeks nowadays. After all, according to Forbes, Bill Gates' fortune amounts to 90 billion dollars. The richest man in the world remains one of those dreaded people who make money with technology. In reality, geek remains negative in the mind of the masses. We have to replace that word with techie. At the very least, we should not use geek on just anybody who knows about computers.

Take me as an example. I would prefer techie to geek because I used to hate computers before 1994. Why? DOS. I thought this was for people who had nothing better to do than to figure out how the darn thing works. Then I discovered the Macintosh... and I learned that when you know how to push and click on a mouse and type on a keyboard, you can use a computer to its fullest potential. I thought computers were too complicated before I got in front of System 7.5 five years ago. Now that I know about computers, am I a geek? Hell no.

Since the implementation of friendly user interfaces in mainstream personal computers, a new wave of knowledgeable people have gotten involved with this type of technology. They are techies. They are normal people who make a living from it or use it as a hobby without devoting their souls to it. They work with computers like the mechanic repairs cars from 9am to 5pm or the amateur plays with engines when he has time on his hands.

The difference counts. You can be normal and use computers now. You know it and you cannot deny it. A charming female acquaintance in the Mac industry - she knows who she is - comes to mind as I say this. I am sure you have examples too.

If you insist on using geek, it might be because you prefer to attribute a negative connotation to someone's superior knowledge of technology instead of just acknowledging it as is. Computing is almost like any other field in 1999. You do not adopt a life style when you become savvy.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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