Contemplation: Distinction Between Geeks and Nerds (Or Thoughts on Labels in General)

xkcd offers us a helpful venn-diagram on the perceived distinction between the terms “geek” and “nerd.”  I find it an entertaining piece, first and foremost, because as the center area in the diagram clearly states, anybody expressing strong opinions on the matter one way or another, deserves their own special categorization.

But here is a further question: does a distinction between geek and nerd matter?  I suppose it does on a recipient level (that is you are called either a “geek” or a “nerd”).  If one of the two carries a higher negative connotation, then logically, people will likely gravitate toward the other label.  However both have potential negative connotations, and so maybe the tendency is outright denial of either label whatsoever.  The other thought is that currently there seems to be a reclamation of terms “geek” and “nerd.”  People are actually gravitating more toward them, in that there is something hip and cool about self-labeling with one or the other.  Does this self-labeling diminish the negative connotation and the potential distinctions between the two?

Really perhaps it is a bigger question in regards to labeling itself. The connotation (negative or positive) of any label depends significantly upon perspective.  Applying a label on somebody means that you have a strong idea of a type of category that they fall into.  Receiving a label from another means that you can have a strong idea of what they think about you.  Interestingly it seems that more often than not we do not get to choose our own labels.  We may try to shape our personality or character to achieve the classification of a desired label, but it seems likely that often times such efforts do not succeed, or are undermined by others countering the labeling effort.

Interestingly I think that the efforts of individuals to reclaim a label as their own often leads to the development of distinct sub and counter cultures.  I think that the term “goth” might be one of the best examples of such.  There are certainly a good number of individuals who self-identify as “goth,” as I am sure there are a good number of people who do not think of themselves as “goths” but are labeled as such nevertheless.  In this consideration though, does the reclamation actually negate any negative association?  Again, it is a matter of perspective.  The in-group, self-proclaimed goths, will likely insist that the label of “goth” is not negative, however, anyone outside the group will likely continue to associate a negative stereotype, regardless of any validity one way or another.  In many ways this in-group/out-group dynamic will continue to shape and mold a label both in negative and positive connotation.  The in-group will likely always feel misunderstood by the out-group, and with due cause, because the out-group really will misunderstand the in-group.

The furthering complexity of labels lies in that we are all likely to receive labeling at some point.  How do we, at any time choose to interact with the labels applied.  I see the options being something like; indifference, acceptance, or denial (with probably additional degrees of all the three).  When I think of the labels that have been applied to me, I generally think that I react to them with an overall indifference, knowing, that really a single label does not holistically represent me one way or another.  But I have also embraced some labels and outright denied others. 

In college I was often refered to as being “crunchy” which initially bothered me (partially because I was never really sure what specifically it referred to.  Maybe the hemp necklaces?).  However I have since more or less dismissed it or, to a degree, embraced it (I kind of like the label of neo-crunch).  The one that currently irks me now and again is “hipster” mostly because I feel like there is any lack of definition, and so when somebody tells me that I am a “hipster” my natural response is “What the fuck does that mean?  Is it my glasses?  It’s my fucking glasses isn’t it?”

Basically I think that people dislike to be labeled because it takes away a personal sense of self and our ability to define who we are.  Attempts at reclamation allow for a sense of control in the self-definition, but it does not necessarily alleviate any negative connotations associated with a label.  Our culture values the sense of self, and as such, we each strive at defining who we are to the best of our abilities.  However often times the control of “self” is invested in outside sources, beyond our personal control.

And as a closing, I figure this entire blog post puts me right smack-dad in the middle of that xkcd venn-diagram.


~ by Nathaniel on June 1, 2010.

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