Sorry, You’re Probably Not the Geek You Claim to Be

How Temple Magazine got "Philly geek" wrong.

How far the now-mighty geek has come. Formerly a term for a circus performer who would bite the heads off chickens and eat bugs, “geek” now represents all that is sexy and cool in our tech-driven society (thanks, Internet!). And this week, thanks to Temple Magazine’s semi-viral infographic, we got a look at what your average Philly geek looks like.

Sort of. Coming to us as part of a profile on the guys behind Technically Philly, the gatekeepers to all things geeky in our fair city, the Philly Geek infographic amalgamates the growing geek-chic fashion into an average Joe Nerd. The subsequent Tech Philly reader-submitted “#LadyNerd” does the same for the female geek set, substituting the dude’s iPad for the apparently more feminine Kindle Fire. The result, in each case, is something that’s sleek, cool, and endlessly employable on looks alone (minus, of course, the GG Allin-inspired half-beard).

Unfortunately, though, these are not the geeks you’re looking for. With nerd-essential additions such as a “no comb hairdo,” “button-down plaid shirt,” and “lunch from Han Dynasty,” what seems to have emerged is closer to your average twentysomething in Philly rather than our up-and-coming technical elite. At worst, thanks to the R.E. Load messenger bag or skinny jeans in combination with a soy latte (“in a reusable tumbler,” natch), Temple Magazine’s version of a geek ends up looking like the tired hipsters of yesteryear.

Trust me, I like Han Dynasty, a pint of Kenzinger and Wired just as much as the next millennial employed by a website, but an appreciation for fine Chinese food, local brews and proper journalism does not a geek make. These are simply things that people in their 20s—or just, you know, Philadelphians/people generally—enjoy. Tossing the tech-geek label on anyone rocking skinny jeans while simultaneously carrying a U-lock (and a SEPTA pass?) might be just a little preemptive.

But then, that seems to be the point here. Five years ago, anyone caught in skinny jeans with a bike lock stuffed into the rear pocket would unapologetically be labeled a “hipster.” With the amount of cultural co-opting going on as geek culture makes its way even further into the mainstream, it’s starting to look like geek is the new hipster—at least in Philly. Because, apparently, appearing to be an expert in a tech-related or obscure topic is now cool. Actually being one, though, is another story.

So what exactly does a Philly Geek look like, if not the exceedingly average, skinny-jeaned representation in Temple Magazine? Look no further than Geekadelphia’s “Geek of the Week” column, which features a new Philly geek maven each week. The site itself is run by Eric Smith, the geek’s geek of Philly ever since he sold his ex’s engagement ring for a suit of Master Chief armor to much viral success.

If you didn’t notice any coffee cups from Elixir, semi-invisible cats, or copies of Crush IT! lying around, don’t worry about checking again because they’re not there. What you probably did notice, however, is that virtually none of the featured geeks look anything alike—either in appearance or accessories. Hell, even if you aggregated each geek’s appearance into some sort of Uni-Geek, it’s doubtful that the result would even come close to the Temple Magazine archetype. It makes sense, though—these people are real geeks. Even if it doesn’t come across in the fashion.

This is what geeks are in Philly or anywhere else. They’ve dedicated their lives to a particular topic or set of topics, using that fascination to pore over endless notes, web pages and books to gain an encyclopedic knowledge of comic book making or board game design or, yes, even tech fields like website design and programming. In our burgeoning hyperlocal, tech-centric communities, geeks are the wise men of their unusually topic-focused tribes—masters of the domains they’ve chosen to inhabit.

What Temple Magazine has shown us, however, doesn’t get across the message of “expert in his/her field” so much as “young person.” Unless everyone my age is a geek—which would be welcome news to me—it would seem that you can’t judge a geek by their clothing and accessories. What you can judge them on, though, is their perseverance, intelligence, and devotion to a topic that borders on obsession. Those things in combination have driven society for hundreds of years, much like geeks themselves. That type of drive doesn’t come from plaid shirts or extra tall boots.

Buy, hey, at least you’ll look smart.