Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

May 23, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. I'm working on a discussion topic to post, but in the meantime, send in your errant thoughts now.

Last week in the chat, someone submitted this comment:

The concept of 'real geeks' and 'fake geeks' or nerds really fascinates me. When did the concept of 'culture' get co-opted to mean 'us vs. them?' I know that's not what you are implying, but the endless 'nerd' wars kind of infuriate me.


I've been thinking about this -- "real geek" vs. "fake geek," and this is what I've come up with:


For decades, "geek" was a derogatory term. The things that "geeks" liked -- comic books, regular books, Star Trek -- were the things that "cool kids" mocked them for liking. Eventually, though it took a while and has only happened in the past five or so years, geeks reclaimed that word. They self-identified with it. As an insult, it no longer had any power over them.


But the co-opting was too successful. Cool kids began seeing headlines proclaiming "The age of the geek" or "geeks rule the world." Being a geek was now a cool thing. And the cool kids, who were used to doing the cool things, thought, "Hey. I am a geek too. I have seen Star Trek. I read Harry Potter."

And this is true -- they were performing the activities previously associated with geekdom. However: had they earned the right for the label? Had they been entrenched in the culture for long enough to know what the term actually meant on an emotional level?


Example: If I learned to speak French, very very well, could I then move to France and say, "I am French?" No. Not for a long time. For years, at least, I would be an American living in France who spoke French. I would not have the right cultural references; I would not have the right emotional touchstone to be French.


I think this will not always be true. I think that, as culture catches up to language, the people who identify as geeks will not be so possessive of the title. But that time hasn't come yet, and that's where the so-called "nerd wars" come from: Because the people who have always been geeks are annoyed by the come-latelies.


That is my theory. Now please refute, debunk, or extrapolate on it.


(It's 2 p.m.! Let's go!)

When will Americans be able to read your novel?

Americans can read it June 6! They just have to buy it from a British Web site, like Amazon.co.uk. Sorry, guys -- there's no American publishing date in the forseeable future. And the only way I'm going to get one is if enough people buy the British publication (which comes with all sorts of special doo-dads, like "color" being spelled "colour") and show that there's interest in the States.


If you buy a hard copy of the book, from any outlet, I will sign it for you.


If you're not sure whether you want to commit to the shipping fees, you can go to my publisher's Web site and read the first three chapters for free.

help - I get overly stressed out when folks endorse some skill of mine on linked in, like i need to reciprocate or something. Except I don't maintain my account all that often, so I am not even sure what is included in endorsing someone. Is it bad form to not return the favor? Is there an option for not allowing endorsements? 2nd question - my father, who is retired, is thinking about singing up for Linked In - if he does that, is it okay for me to um, ignore, the invitation? (I can see it now, lots of "discussions" comparing my account with that of my siblings, not fun).

Working backwards:

1) Yes, it's okay for you to ignore your father's invitation. Just tell him that you prefer to use the site under its strictest definition -- as a database for your business contacts. Since he is a personal contact, he doesn't belong there.


2) I don't think that a one-for-one exchange of endorsements is necessary. But, when you do log onto the site and see that someone has endorsed you, it would be nice to shoot them a message saying something along the lines of, "Hey -- I don't use LinkedIn all that often, so I just now saw your endorsement. Thanks so much for that -- let me know if there's something I can do for you, and I hope you're well."


That will allow you to better figure out what they're looking for and if you're comfortable providing it. Make sense?

Yes, I'm that guy, the last person 13-40 who wasn't on Facebook, and who joined last week. My biggest question so far is, who do I "friend"? Current friends, check. But I have a lot of people who I've lost touch with over the years. College friends? HS friends? People I had two classes with in HS and might or might not say hi to in the hallway? The correct threshold to qualify as a friend-able person is very unclear to me.

For now, just friend the people you're currently friends with. The other ancient contacts will probably come out of the woodwork and friend you themselves.

And I'm only giving you this advice because it seems like you're still trying to figure out what kind of friend collection you'd like to have. It's a lot easier to cull people by not friending them to begin with than it is to cull people by un-friending them down the line. If you were dying to know what everyone was up to, I would say, go hog wild and friend everybody.

Other advice for a newcomer, chatters?

Sorry. You would never, ever, ever BE French. No French person would ever in a million years acknowledge you as anything but a foreigner who settled in France.

Look, I was trying to give the French the benefit of the doubt. (I'll also never get to be a Washingtonian, despite living her my entire adult life).

But of what the difference between a nerd and a geek? Please explain that for me.

I use the terms interchangeably. Although, if you were forcing me to examine this closely, I would admit that maybe I saw geeks as more focused, passionate nerds. Nerds with increased technical knowledge or skills. I don't know why I would make this linguistic difference -- it's certainly not anything I've ever seen expressed.


Someone here has got to have a better explanation for me.

The very nature of geekiness precludes its being cool. Being intelligent and tech-savvy alone does not imply any kind of geekdom. Bill Gates will always be a geek because he's a bit socially awkward and acts a little weird. Steve Jobs wasn't a geek because he was cool and not by virtue of his tech-savviness. Further analysis welcomed.

Intriguing. I have never thought of "geek" and "socially awkward" being mutually dependent, mostly because everyone shines in a different setting. I never feel socially awkward in a small setting of four or five people hanging out playing a board game at someone's house; I often feel socially awkward at large parties. But the "cool" social butterfly might turn into the socially awkward dork at a Settlers of Catan house party. 


It's all about knowing, and being comfortable with, the social codes of any given setting. I'm sure Bill Gates doesn't come across as geeky in the settings he's most comfortable in. It's just possible that those settings are not "giving interviews on television," which is when we mainly see him.

What about people who endorse you for one of your skills but have not basis whatsoever to know how well (or poorly) you are? Maybe because my linked in contacts are both personal and professional but when somebody endorses me, I often think "What the heck? They have no idea how good I am in that." Given that, I have never endorsed somebody for something as I don't want to be "blamed" for getting a job based on my endorsement and then fail at that job.

I think this is right. And if you're ever called on it, you can feign slight surprise and say, "Oh wait -- but that endorsement is for project management. Did we ever work on a project together? Maybe I'm blanking."

"Egg-head" or "slide-rule boy" became nerd, which then became geek, but like all evolutionary processes, the terms existed side by side for a while.

Let's go back to slide-rule boy!

Suitable for Facebook, too. "Why didn't you accept my Friend request on FB?" "Oh, sorry, I'm almost never on FB so I didn't see it." Don't acknowledge that you saw it and decided to ignore it. What pushy people don't know won't hurt them. Or start them whining.

This works 90% of the time. It doesn't work if you have a lot of mutual friends and they know you're lying, because they see you commenting on other people's posts.

(But even then it could work, because the other person would have to be -really- bold to call you on what you do on other people's Facebook walls.)

A nerd is someone considered overly intellectual, with particular, often unpopular interests, and relatively poor social skills. A geek is a circus performer who bites the heads off live chickens. Now I for one have been biting the heads off chickens since BEFORE it was cool, so all you chicken-biter-come-latelies can step off.

You are both a nerd and a linguist, I see.

Nerds has conotation towards being very good academically and interested in learning. Geek tends to be more used for those interested in technology and sci-fi. Geeks do not necessarily have to be, but almost always are, good academically.

Intriguing. I'm going to post a few of these definitions as they come in, because I find it really fascinating to see what other people have come up with.

To me, a geek is someone who likes the traditional geek stuff (comic books, video games, anime, Star Wars, etc.). A nerd is the same, but also rocks at academics. So, all nerds are geeks, but not all geeks are nerds.


I see a difference between the two, and think you've basically nailed it. Nerds are the technical folks... experts in a scientific field, technology, etc. Geeks are the passionate fans of comics/sci fy, etc? In the Venn Diagram of life there is room for the two to overlap.

Oh wait, that's not what I was trying to say. But that's an interesting interpretation.

Thus ensuring that the horrific rate of sexism in the STEM professions continues? (See Harvard Business Review study for the rate of seriously bad behavior among slide-rule boys.)

Oh come now. You know me well enough to know that "slide rule girl" could be equally applied. I should like to be a slide-rule girl.

I'm the original poster that you mentioned in the intro. I guess my problem with the "real" and "fake" geek/nerd has more to do with the fact that the line is completely arbitrary, and often based on gender (see: "fake nerd girls" meme). Shouldn't you be glad that the "cool" kids are finding what you enjoy enjoyable and that they can't mock it because, well, "they" like it too! Also, everyone has to start somewhere. So what if it's watching the reboot of Star Trek. Maybe they'll go on to watch the originals and cosplay and go to conventions and learn more. I find also it hypocritical that the exact people who were ostracized are ok with turning around and doing the same thing to people they don't feel are "good" enough for their "culture." Don't even get me started on the gender aspect of this sort of discussion Clearly, I could go on and on about this (and I'm probably not being anywhere as cogent as I'd like to be…)

No, you're being very cogent, and everything you say describes exactly how people -should- behave. But I think we both know that sometimes our better selves get overruled by our emotions.


And personally, I'll admit that I was a little irked when a friend -- who had ignored my suggestions to read Hunger Games for years, who said they were dumb and childish -- read them, fell in love, and announced she would be holding a viewing party for the first movie.


In your world, I should have been really happy that she discovered them. Instead I just though about how annoying it was for her to conveniently forget years of mocking, and then decide she was the expert who owned the Hunger Games.


And, frankly, I think it does play out like this sometimes. It's like like, "Oh, I've discovered Star Trek is cool; maybe I can learn more about it from you long-time fans." It's like, "I'm the expert now!"

Playing board games in itself is not geeky. If your social life consisted of nothing but playing board games, now that would be geeky, regardless of how you felt at large parties.


Why did you join FB? That question should help you figure out who you want as friends. If you joined because all your current friends are there and you feel out of the loop on their lives, just friend that group. If you joined because your high school doesn't do reunions and you are curious what everyone is up to, seek out those people. There is no right or wrong - you get to make up your own rules.

I like this advice -- using your intent to guide your behavior.

Pretty simple actually, a geek is someone passionate about a thing. Any thing. Music, card games, sports, needlepoint, genealogy, whatever it is. A nerd is a certain type of person who is bookish, usually but not always smarter than average, introverted and often has superior technical knowledge in the features of modern life (esp computers). As to the original question you are in someways right on target. Many people want other to earn credit, often in terms of having to face social consequences as they did to "understand their suffering." It is a revenge of the uncool thing.

Interesting, thanks.

Monica Hesse is a geek.

Wait, really?

In certain fields, yes. I've worked with computer scientists and engineers and you'd be amazed at the percentage of them that loudly proclaim their contempt for anything as useless as the liberal arts. "Who cares how you spell something?" is their cry, despite the fact that computer code has to be perfectly "spelled" or it won't work.

And yet I, a liberal arts nerd, do not care how you spell something, either. Shunned by every community.

"Stray" is currently five pounds, 24 pence as an Amazon UK presale...or about eight bucks before S&H. I might have to order it. :)

The shipping and handling will about double it for you, but yes, it's not an expensive book!

Archaic meaning. Don't fall into the prescriptivist trap of insisting that that's what it means today.



(And be right back; someone just told me there were free donuts on the giveaway)

*Faire* (to do) is generally a better verb/compound verb for life than *être* (to be). I think a lot of problems in society come up from constructing an identity through activities. In this particular case, I think the distinction would be a lot clearer if someone said "I do geekdom." "So do I!" "No, you enjoy geeky entertainment occasionally. You don't embrace the culture."

What a wonderfully nerdy comment this is!

Geeks like anime. Nerds don't.


My husband calls our son "King of the Nerds" or "King of the Geeks" interchangeably. While husband does not really understand or identify with the role, son is an 11yo who revels in it and loves nothing more than playing games with friends or family (board games like Carcassonne, Monopoly, Risk or online with XBox), reading, or playing on the computer. And he's popular with the kids - when we arrive for field trips, all I hear are kids calling his name because they want him to sit with them or play games with them. Does the fact that he also loves to play outside, hunts with his father, wrestles, and drives race cars preclude him from being a geek/nerd? I think not. His latest collection? Pens. All different types of pens.

Your son sounds delightful.

but surely the fact that I just google-image-searched "nerd geek venn diagram" puts me somewhere on that spectrum, right? And sheesh. That's a lot of returns.

Oh, well done!

Why does this whole topic make me want to go back and view the first "Revenge of the Nerds" movie to compare the original definition of nerd with the current one?

That's your assignment for next week. (And wait a minute. Didn't I give all of you an assignment for this week? What was it? Did anyone do their homework?)

That would solve the shipping problem...

Kindle edition exists...but I think you have to buy it from a device coded for Europe. I could be wrong. Someone try it and see what happens.

Would you discuss your inspiration for your book?

I would be happy to! But I probably shouldn't coopt chat-time for it. Maybe when the release date is closer, I can do it at the end of a chat or something. (Next two weeks)

Where do Goths fit into this equation? Buzzfeed had a charming collection of goths doing fun activities (soccer, mini-golf). I missed that whole era and am confused about whether they're lumped into this discussion or completely separate.

Venn diagram. I think they might overlap, but they also get their own category.

This show provided the best presentation of real geeks in their natural habitat. They pre-dated mainstream use of computers. Neil wasn't what I'd call socially awkward. They're just goofy. Now I'm really thinking about how I would summarize the traits they all shared that made them geeks... hmmm...

Not so. You are both so clever and witty that I'm afraid I have a hard time telling you apart (a mistake I never make with, say, Dave Barry & Gene Weingarten).

Wait. Really?

What about geeks who were in the closet, but recently came out? People who suppressed their geekiness because it wasn't cool, or simply because they didn't have an obvious/convenient outlet for it? Or were more private about it (close friends and family), but didn't broadcast it to the world? I think there's a spectrum here...


I definitely think the OP has the right attitude towards this; however, I see it kind of like music. Who among us wasn't disappointed when that band we used to love to go watch at the bars around town blew up and got huge. Now instead of watching them with a tight nit group of fans and acquaintances, for a small cover charge etc., we now have to fight scalpers, high ticket prices, a mass of people we wouldn't normally want to be around, etc. to go see a show. Many of the things that have driven us to the scene (be it a band, or Star Trek, etc) have changed... that will leave the best of us feeling a little jaded. I'm not saying this is the right attitude to have, but it's perfectly understandable, no?

Better explanation than what I gave. It's not right, but it's understandable.

How...How...yeah, I can totally support that. My anger springs from mad jealousy.

I'm back already. You barely noticed I was gone.

This is key. He is an enthusiast, not a nerd or a geek.

Enthusiast! A new term is introduced.

I agree. But, I think what you describe about your friend is a rather stark intepretation of the real vs. fake nerd/geek. What bothers me is the more subtle, "you aren't doing it right" nerd-dom. Also, people who consider themselves 'real' nerds acting as know-it-all experts aren't much better people to me.

Oh no, they're quite insufferable. Know-it-all-ness in any form is not an attractive quality.

but this geek vs. nerd conversation is the most boring thread ever. EVER.

Give us another topic! I'm not a dictator, people, just a spirit guide.

He might also be an aficionado, but I think enthusiast fits better because of the changing nature of his enthusiams.


I'm a pretty happy mid-30s girl who is not socially awkward with a strong circle of great friends. I love most Sci-Fi things (Dr. Who stumps me and while I can appreciate the creativity of Steampunk, not my thing), love history and all things academic, and do most of my shopping at thinkgeek.com. I love that my friends are all smarter than me and we can hash out theories of why WW1 started then move on to why the Nats bullpen sucks then onto some girl's awesome pair of shoes. I was also the girl picked on in high school and college and I had no idea how much that has impacted me than last summer. While at a party with my now ex-boyfriend's co-workers - all of whom are in their mid 20s, I overheard the girls joking about what a dork/nerd I am and how I'm not just lame. It was a gut punch because most people do like and I've been told I'm really funny and should have a blog dedicated to the weird stuff that happens to me. But still - I really felt like the 14 year old with glasses that people use to hit in gym class. So I do embrace my geek and my intelligence, but I was amazed at how the same words from similar tormentors could still rock me. And for the record, by the next day I had shrugged it off and carried on.

I think we should be best friends. You sound amazing! That is all.

My dad is about 65, and he's been on Facebook longer than I have. He's seriously creepy online, though you'd never know it in person. When I first joined FB, he had like 200 Eastern European women as friends, all softcore pr0n posters. He friended all of my childhood friends and left comments on their posts about how much he liked big "shoes" (do these euphemisms cross WaPo chats? His Likes were a list of porn sites. And "Your Father answered the question "Who are you incest with?" with "Sister-in-Law" (Aunt Josie????? What the frog?!?!). So, I made sure that he knew that all of his friends and family could see this, and he quickly took all this stuff down from his wall, de-friended the internet hawties, and behaved for maybe a year. Now his profile is back to what it was, except worse. I am horrified, squicked out... and entertained. He's awful. My dad is AWFUL. And now he's an anecdote among my friends. Aside from submitting him to Failbook, what do I do with this trainwreck?

Oh my word. Oh. My. Word.

Really, he's nothing like this in real life? How has this changed your relationship with him? Because you obviously can't un-know everything you know about his inner life now, can you?


I don't have any advice for you, because you seem to be dealing with it in the only way you can -- with humor. Does he want to friend all of us, so we can see the trainwreck?

Cupcake, I really need your help! I recently Googled images associate with my name (fairly common, although generally for women 30 years older than myself) and was flabbergasted to see a very well endowed topless woman as the second image. It's not me (luckily, none of the top results were photos of me) but is there anything I can do to move that image down? Like click on other random images associated with my name?

If your name was something really unusual, I could see why you'd be concerned. But anyone Googling around for you is going to know that Judy Taylor, or whatever, is conceivably a name owned by many people. I really wouldn't worry about it.

Dictators vs. Spirit Guides. Discuss.

One comes to you in dreams, the other comes to you in nightmares?

My sister and I were known as "the geeky [ourlastname] girls because we were (still are) smart and knew a lot. We weren't particularly into gaming or anything (technology did not exist back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). Our friends who played Dungeons and Dragons were nerds.

As always, John Green knows all: "Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can't-control-yourself love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they're saying is 'you like stuff.' Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, "you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness'." See also: Wil Wheaton.

I think this is a job for Carolyn Hax. Please come back tomorrow at noon. Please. I really want to know what a pro like Hax would advise, because I can't think of anything besides moving to another country and changing your name.

I don't think she'll advise anything different than I did. Except maybe to have him screened for a health problem, if this is really new behavior. I mean, what can you do? You've told him everyone can see what he posts. You've told him it's embarrassing. Short of throwing his computer out of the window -- he's a grown man, he's not doing anything illegal, and he's made it clear that your squicked-outedness and his own humiliation is not enough to make him stop being the joke of Facebook.

 Sorry, don't know if I can insert a clean hyperlink.

But I think I inserted one for you?

In Roman times they didn't mind voting an Emperor in as Dictator for Life, what they didn't like was calling him a King. Today we have the exact opposite feeling.

I imagine that the distinction had to do with bloodlines? A king or queen is typically succeeded by his or her offspring. In saying, "You can be dictator for life, but not king," it was really saying, "We trust you. We don't necessarily trust your kids."

For laughing so hard at the poster's description of his father's facebook page. Wow.

Who among us does not want to see that man's Facebook page immediately. (OP, are you still here?)

I wrote my admissions essay on this. I think my theory was that Nerds tend to be obsessed with useful things, like academics, computers ect. Geeks tend be into things that are entertaining but won't ever make you money except for really special instances.

Would love to know what college this is.

Have you re-told him you can see all this stuff? Maybe he thinks he got the privacy settings to where you and others can't see all that...squickiness, and then re-added it accordingly. Also, please do post to Carolyn Hax tomorrow if for no other reason than to keep this topic going. I am rivited. (I do recognize I am an awful person for this).

True -- maybe Dad thought he had fixed the privacy settings.

Whatever, you're all just a bunch of dorks. O'Doyle Rules!

These people are jerks, which is a totally different category from geeks or nerds. Anyone can be a jerk.

but we always say, "geeks have social skiils and nerds don't"

When two equivalent terms coexist, people try to impose artificial distinctions upon them. It happened with "flammable" and "inflammable," although few accept this artificial distinction. (I don't, so I don't remember what it is.) Eggheads and slide-rule boys and nerds were acknowledged to be the same thing, just differing (i.e. "cooler") terms for it. Geeks are nerds are geeks.

Does that mean that after that date you should be referred to as a British Author?

I don't know. I think we have learned from this chat that I could live there forever and still not be considered native, right?


But in the meantime, I'll see you here next Thursday at 2. GSTQ.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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