Geek Conversational Behavior

13:13 Mon 15 Mar 2010
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While not a scientific study, this list of geek behaviors present during conversations strikes me as fairly useful both for “geeks” and “non-geeks”.

That being said, I favor the trend of moving the terms “geek” and “nerd” to be more generic, so that instead of referring just to gaming/computing/math, they refer to any consuming interest, e.g. “politics geek”, “knitting geek”[1], or “sports nerd”. Many of the behaviors in that article are exhibited by people who don’t fall into the traditional “geek” category—the classic example here is sports discussion, where individuals socially distant from geek stereotypes will go into great technical detail, using plenty of jargon, with a focus on completeness and accuracy.

So some of these behaviors are connected to a certain personality type[2], but others are connected to strong interest in any given complex subject (strong interest in complex subjects may itself be restricted to certain personality types, but not to the traditional geek ones).

I know I have a bunch of these, and so do friends, but certainly not all.

Since you’re probably dying to know, these are the “geek” conversational behaviors I think I exhibit with some frequency:

  • Obsessing over correctness and completeness. Yes, definitely. It’s a struggle for me to let factually wrong statements go by without any comment. I’m actually better at this when those statements are part of a political argument with which I disagree strongly—I can more easily file that away under “not worth it”. I also have a tough time with letting word misuse/poor spelling/etc. go by, and that’s due to a combination of altruistic desire to educate and a passionate desire to maintain the integrity of language (that subject is probably worth several posts in itself).
  • Preferring exact numerical responses. Yes, generally, although not usually with money, which I’ll normally round.
  • Using technical terms without checking for understanding. Sometimes. I think I’m actually fairly good at this. On the other hand, I think I occasionally use words that other people consider obscure without checking for understanding; that probably qualifies here.
  • Rapidly enumerating long lists of items. I think I do this sometimes, but not all that much.
  • Showing a lack of interest in outward appearances. Yes, definitely, but only in certain “modes”. I have some design geekery in me, and when the design geek switch is on I care a great deal about appearance and design. When that switch is off I care only about functionality. (In many things functionality and design are fundamentally intertwined, of course.)
  • Evangelizing their favorite technologies. Yes, absolutely. You should all be using open source browsers, Vim, and version control. And reStructuredText. I don’t generally push too hard on this one, but it’s there.
[1] I suspect that one stands out; of the three examples, it’s the one I’ve never actually heard—I came up with it while thinking about activities that could clearly be “geeky”. It’s quite likely to provoke the most dissonance, and I think there’s a whole pile of gender (and status) issues hiding under that dissonance. But knitting is clearly a technical realm that people get very into, and as such is entirely capable of sustaining geekery.

[2] I’m not sure to what extent I believe in personality types, but that’s another discussion.

5 Responses to “Geek Conversational Behavior”

  1. Niall O'Higgins Says:

    Your geekiest blog post yet!

  2. Tadhg Says:

    That seems unlikely to me.

  3. Helen Says:

    Tadhg, I’m astonished that someone as warm and socially competent as you could think that that article applies to you in any way.

    And the article really gets my back up, too, and the one about social rules it links to even more. The assumption is that geeks are noble, elite creatures equipped with a superior form of knowledge and a drive to enlighten the world, whereas the rest of the world is still enmired in hypocritical social customs, pointless superficiality and general pig-ignorance. Geeks must bow to our debased conventions if they’re forced to associate with us little, fluffy-minded people, but otherwise, they can and should subsist in a world of self-congratulatory isolation.

    Can’t stand us-and-them argumentation. We’re all people, and we all need to be kind to each other and to ourselves. It’s not that hard.

  4. Mollydot Says:

    I’ve heard “knitting geek” a number of times. Often from people refering to themselves. So the suprise was seeing your footnote :-)

  5. Tadhg Says:

    Mollydot: Good to hear it—I’m quite happy to be wrong on that one!

    Helen: While I’m not going to argue against my being warm and socially competent, it seems clear I exhibit some of the behaviors in that article, notably the one on correction. I think this has been influenced by spending a lot of time around people who regard correction as part of an educational exchange, but it’s still something that it’s useful for me to be aware is regarded quite differently by much of the population (admittedly, I knew this before reading that article).

    I didn’t read the assumption of geek nobility in that article either, although I’ve definitely seen it in other articles. For example, the paragraph about geeks loving to convey the sophistication of their technical prowess seems to me to cast them in a fairly harsh light in that it asserts that they’re being driven by ego and not by any desire to help their listeners.

    That being said, I do know the attitude that you’re referring to, generally mixed in with the concept that “geek pursuits” are entirely meritocratic, that their communities are rational, and that they’ve transcended the need for social convention as a result. Which is utter nonsense (although it must be said that a lot of social convention is utter nonsense also). It’s possible that I come across that attitude so often in my online haunts that I simply screened it out when I read that article…

    I agree absolutely with your last paragraph, naturally! Part of the point I was trying (and failing, it seems) to make in my post was that the behaviors listed weren’t necessarily “geek” per se, but just indicative of a certain context and interest level in a subject, and that the whole “geek”/“non-geek” distinction was actually a pretty weak one, much less about core personality traits and much more about a very specific set of cultural groupings that chance has brought together in this society.

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