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.