New name needed for the geek elite

Now that geekhood includes anyone who owns an iPod, it's time to come up with an alternative term for the artists formerly known as hackers

The three epochs of geekdom may be measured in party decades. In the 1980s, if you said you were 'in computers' people backed away. In the 90s, they pinned you to the wall and demanded to be told what sort of PC to buy. This decade you still get pinned to the wall — but this time, they're doing the talking. Everyone has something to say about wireless, broadband, mobile tech and DRM. Everyone is a geek. So where does that leave those who were there first?

ZDNet's The Essence of a Geek investigation has pried open the origins and implications of the word "geek". It found a general increase in levels of technical literacy in society that underpins the idea that "we are all geeks" to some degree. Yet others argue that this does not mean that everyone we are having these discussions with actually qualify as "geeks". As one poster on the discussion around the original Geek feature on tech site Slashdot remarked: "Knowing how to use technical things in the prescribed manner does not make you a geek, any more than knowing the exits on an airplane makes you a flight attendant".

So the question stands — what makes a true geek? And should we be shy of a term that supposedly represents the majority of workers in the IT industry? The word itself is not new — even Shakespeare recognised something similar — but it has only recently escaped being essentially perjorative.

But being a geek should be about more than just being a technophile. As another Slashdot respondent put it: "Geeks just don't just use technology, they understand how it is put together and desire to change or 'hack' it for their own purposes."

So if the word geek has been usurped to mean someone who simply likes technology, maybe we should be looking for a more accurate and flattering term to describe inspirational, creative technologists such as Steve Wozniak, Gary Kildall, Bob Metcalfe and Tim Berners-Lee — and, by immodest implication, those of us who understand, appreciate and try to emulate what they do.

We would love to reclaim the word "hacker" but it's gone the way of gay and socialist, changed beyond redemption. Popular options are unappealing: digerati, leet (from the word "elite" and spelt 1337) and the deeply unsavoury otaku (Japanese for 'the sort of nerd who uses a dating simulator') are all best left to the next generation.

We're open to suggestions. If you have a replacement for geek — or a good reason to can the whole idea — our Talkback facility awaits below.

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