. What’s the difference between a Nerd and a Geek? Since the book came out, it’s a question I’ve been repeatedly asked and have repeatedly failed to answer. But it’s an interesting one, so I thought I should give it some thought. So I did.
I ought to point out that I have no Absolute Knowledge on what separates the two camps and that what follows is just my humble opinion. So, if you’re a Geek or a Nerd and you disagree or you’re offended…well, I’m sorry. So let’s have a look.
I think the real difference between Nerds and Geeks is the Belief System. Recently, I bought a book about the scientific principles behind superhero powers. The cover looked great, the title was great, the blurb was great – but it bored me to death. There’s no doubtung that the author went into extraordinary detail to make his points, but I just couldn’t get on with it. And this, I reckon, might be where we start to find our answers: I would contest that I am a Geek and that the author is a Nerd.
Why? As a Geek, I am prepared to invest myself fully in a world where people have superpowers and, for the time I’m reading a comic or watching a film, embrace the concept without question. A Nerd is the guy who might read the same comic or watch the same film and then be able to tell me why it’s not possible; not necessarily with any contempt, but as a matter of pure fact. For example, in Doctor Who, I know that when the Third Doctor said he was going to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, it was going to get him out of trouble. I didn’t need to know how or why: I knew that the neutrons’ polarity was going to be reversed and that was all that was needed. A Nerd would be able to tell me whether or not this was possible in the first place and what its consequences were likely to be.
But does this mean that Nerds are spoilsports? Not at all. If Geeks are the Dreamers of the Impossible, then Nerds are the Architects of the Possible. There’s been some hoo-ha about the recent creation of some medical tools just like the ones Dr McCoy used in Star Trek. Geeks across the world will have been clapping and cheering that a dream has become reality, but I’ll bet you my last Tribble that it took a Nerd to make it so.
So why are Nerds and Geeks so often confused? By my reckoning it’s because, to the untrained ear, they do sound similar. Get a Geek to buy into a concept like, say, Star Wars and they will learn the lines, research the mythology and buy the merchandise. A Nerd may enjoy the film just as much, but the challenge for him would be to prove why the Millenium Falcon can’t fly or that lightsabres may well be a possibillity in the next 5 years (here’s hoping; I want a red one). But they way that the two groups express themselves isn’t poles apart. A Geek will be able to quote the lines, tell you in which scene the Stormtrooper bumps his head or how to wrestle the ears off a Gundark. A Nerd will use jargon obscura to explain the flaws in the theory of jumping to hyperspace or why midichlorians are not as far-fetched as you might think. To those who’ve just enjoyed the film on a basic level, this kind of talk borders on insanity.
I think Geeks are the artistic aspect and Nerds are the technical; Geeks dream the dreams and Nerds make them a reality or tell you why it’ll never happen. If I had to throw my hat in the ring, I’d say Geeks are the romantics and Nerds are the realists, but each is as valid as the other. In many ways, we need each other: Geeks to dream it and Nerds to make it.
I’ve been quoted as saying (because I did) that Geeks see beauty where others don’t. I still think this is true, but I think Nerds see the practical application for that beauty.
And which am I? I’m a Geek. I dive head-first into books, films and comics without wanting to know about the whys and wherefores: I know Spidey can climb walls and that the Hulk was made out of gamma radiation. But I’ve got this idea for gravity-defying boxer-shorts… I need to meet a Nerd to get them off the ground.