Potential problems in the rise of ‘geek chic’?

Today there was a fantastic article written by one of my tutors, Alice Bell, published on the Times Higher Education website about “geek chic”. It’s official! It’s cool to be a nerd these days – celebrate your geekiness with pride people!

However, I think what Steve Cross, head of Public Engagement at UCL, said is right:

“The new geek culture is people who are already interested in science getting together and celebrating it. This is distinct from public engagement involving scientists connecting with people from beyond academia and science, listening to them and talking to them.”

Cross hastens to add that this does not mean that one activity is more important than another – merely that we shouldn’t confuse them. The real challenge is to find ways to reach beyond the usual suspects.

What Steve Cross articulates here echoes my own worries. I’m concerned that the banding together of ‘the usual suspects’ into the new ‘geek chic’ might also carry with it a certain pressure to look or act in certain ways to be part of the crowd.

It’s certainly something I’ve experienced. Lacrosse used to dominate my life – almost all of my time was dedicated to training and matches, and I was awarded 3 Oxford Blues as well as being part of the national squad for a number of years. I’m proud of what I achieved – I worked incredibly hard to get to where I did.

Although sport is no longer such a large part of my life, I feel that my identity as an elite athlete doesn’t always gel with my identity as a nerdy science communicator. Sometimes when I reveal my prior incarnation as an athlete to fellow nerds, they look at me with some bewilderment, as if to say, “But you’re a self-confessed nerd?”

Why do some hobbies seem to fit better with being a geek than others? Arts, crafts and even jive dancing seem more acceptable than being an elite athlete. I look forward to putting this point forward at the upcoming Talkfest on ‘Science and Hobbies’.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the rise of geek chic is a bad thing – but we should be aware of its potential problems as well.

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4 thoughts on “Potential problems in the rise of ‘geek chic’?

  1. I came late to exercise. When the dr made it compulsory (osteoporosis) I thought carefully about what I needed and sought out a trainer who would speak to me in geek terms. My first had a phd in sports science, my second has no degree but was trained by the first. The result is geek work outs in which all the discussion is in terms of ‘body engineering’ rather than health/weight/competition/team or any of the other things that alienated me at school.

    Dont get me wrong: what works for most sporting types is just fine, but if sports teachers in my day had been expected to reach the sand standards as, say, english and maths teachers, Ie find ways to reach everyone, they would have been in big trouble. They were too often trying to teach a mindset rather than a skill set.

  2. obsessive attention to detail and facts – a characteristic of “the geek” pervades all aspects of life. one can be a football nerd, who knows the exact date and time Glen Johnson signed for Liverpool in 2010, or a food geek who organises their spice cupboard into geographical regions.

    my eldest brother is a Team GB triathlete whose attention to his training regime is fastidious and unnerving. he updates a spreadsheet with his food intake, training times and sleep pattern every day using a gadget the size of a 10p coin and his mobile phone to collect data.

    “geek” is a personality type that can appear in all aspects of life.

  3. inevitably, i have been informed that Glen Johnson signed for Liverpool in 2009, not 2010.

    i also note i repeated myself. the perils of headache-induced-short-term memory problems (a.k.a. a hangover) and commenting on a smartphone that does not allow you to scroll up and read what you wrote two paragraphs ago…

    “geek” is a personality type that can be applied to many different activities and interests.

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