Geek: The Next Generation

Just as there are different generations in mainstream culture, there are absolutely different generations in geek culture.  It can be pretty easy to peg the age of a fellow geek just based on their interests or references, just as you might with music or sports references.  Don’t believe me?  Ask someone what their first game console was.  Most big Buffy fans will tend to be between the ages of 27 and 45, but most likely in their mid to upper 30s.  And I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been able to spot a sci-fi fan whose interest goes back to the 60′s and 70′s.  

Shallow, maybe, and there are always exceptions, but when you’ve spent your life around geeks, they certainly aren’t all the same.  Identifying the general “geek generation” is just another way to internally identify.  It can even be helpful in empathizing or understanding when it comes to discussions or disagreements, because just like in mainstream culture, there are generation gaps that cause frustration.   Here are just a few I’ve encountered:


The gap has been most frequent in recent years with the popularization of geek culture as a whole.  Some people get annoyed because they feel certain “new-school” geeks haven’t earned their cred, in a sense.  They found their interests in spite of the fact that those interests weren’t popular; maybe they were even ridiculed for them.  Maybe those interests were their safe haven.  Now, the idea that someone might latch on to their interest precisely because it’s popular is absolutely foreign to them – so they might meet it with bewilderment, annoyance, derision, or worse.

Now, obviously everyone is different, and everyone found their way to their hobbies and interests through their own unique journey.  Not everyone was ridiculed for being a geek; the majority of the bullying I personally experienced was much worse in elementary school, before I fell into geek interests.  You can’t pin an exact age on such a thing.  But, sure, liking the Star Trek franchise was certainly considered more “nerdy” twenty years ago, and formerly geeky stuff has become more mainstream as time goes on, so most of these people tend to be of a certain age.

Women are from Venus but not ‘real’ aliens

I may be alone in this opinion, but I suspect a cousin of this phenomenon is found in that Argument that Won’t Die, the one that involves women: Girl Geeks, Girl Gamers, whatever form it’s taken this week.  In the past, certain areas of geek interest tended to be dominated by men: comic books, video games, science fiction, etc.  While there were always some women present, the overall focus certainly wasn’t on finding a date.  Just as some found geek interests to be a haven from cruel classmates, some (male and female) enjoyed finding friends with common interests, instead of being focused on image or getting dates.

Now enter many more women – more visible in their greater numbers, more diverse because the very interests themselves are more accessible to the mainstream.  The old stereotypes of geek girls are smashed left and right.  And just like the “newbies,” almost any girl is now viewed, by some, with suspicion: Why is she really here?  Has she invested as much time in this as I have?  She’s clearly not coming at this from the same direction I have, so how can she truly appreciate this? 

Sure, maybe some have an anti-women sentiment, but I think it’s more complicated than that: I think at least one element is a generation gap.  While I grew up with mostly male geek friends, I know a lot of guys didn’t know many, if any, girls with common interests “back in the day.”  And some of them aren’t saying “Ew, girls have cooties” now – they’re saying “Get off my lawn, I don’t adjust well to change.”  Yes, either way they’re going to have to get over it and keep up with a changing world, but at least viewed this way it’s less… depressing.  At least, that’s what I tell myself when I read comments that say a female actress could never competently play the Doctor.

Brave New World

The good news is that, in my opinion, such issues will fade away.  Those who adjust slowly will hopefully eventually catch up.  Those who insist on being stubborn and negative will at least be a fading voice in a geek population that continues to grow.  In the meantime, comic book movies are summer blockbusters.  A fantasy TV series is the most downloaded in the world.  Pretty much every kid under 25 grew up playing Pokemon.

Yes, some kids will always pick on others, for whatever reason.  But to me, the fact that geek interests are now more mainstream does not mean that those outlets have been removed from those kids who need a haven.  Instead, they’re even more accessible.  There might not be only one other kid in a school who’s interested in tabletop gaming or cosplay – there might be dozens.  Perhaps with less of a sense of having to “prove yourself.”  There might not be that one geek girl who acts weird and territorial when other girls come around, because she’s always had an equal number of male and female friends.

Am I overly optimistic?  Maybe.  But this is one instance where I wouldn’t mind a bit of a generation gap.

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