Earlier this month, Burr Settles analyzed Twitter for the use of ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ in status updates. Settles, a data scientist at Duolingo, compared these terms to popular words and hashtags associated with them. He concluded there was a tendency to associate ideas with nerds and stuff with geeks:
The distinction is that geeks are fans of their subjects, and nerds are practitioners of them. A computer geek might read Wired and tap the Silicon Valley rumor-mill for leads on the next hot-new-thing, while a computer nerd might read CLRS and keep an eye out for clever new ways of applying Dijkstra’s algorithm.
Whether or not you buy this interpretation, one thing that stood out for me was one word — “culture” — as the most geeky association. There is no Nerd Culture.
Geek culture isn’t about a garage hobby, or simply a way to generate small talk at the water cooler. Geek culture is an approach to the things we don’t yet know, the experiences we try to create, and the language that brings us together.
The articles on the GeekDad blog are a great indicator of what matters to geeks: making, gaming, coding, computing, comics, digital media, gadgets, science and community. This week, my kids invited a dozen or so of their friends from school to sample all of these at a summer boot camp where they will learn how to be a geek.
Our family Geek Camp is a couple years old, originating as a way to kill some time while watching a friend’s kids for the week. My wife initially had the boys experiment with iMovie effects and make a music video or two. Last year, the event expanded to include a few more kids and a field trip to Indiana University, to learn about 3D video cameras. We’re turning things up to eleven this year by doubling the participation again and adding more project tracks. Video production remains the staple activity, but we are also encouraging kids to try game design and some basic web programming.
What makes this week particularly special for me — Geek Camp is what I do for vacation, after all — goes beyond the chance to interact with some cool kids and their computers. It is also about the context in which this takes place. I’m fortunate to live in a town with generous tech-happy neighbors. Inspired by a great hands-on session by Chris Eller last year, we made the ask of a few other local geek resources for 2013.
Will Emigh of Studio Cypher will provide guidance and play testing help for our game design track. Hillary Elmore Cage of Code Together set us up with her team collaboration coding software, Squad, to facilitate learning the basics of web programming together. Members of a digital co-op, Blueline Media Productions, will give tips and feedback on how to shoot and edit a video. We will also be making three field trips: the local library for a 12-hour Comic Book Day, Bloominglabs hackerspace for lasers and lock picking, and a return to Indiana University’s Cyberinfrastructure Building to hear Eller talk about large displays before getting a tour the 46th most powerful computer in the world.
As rigid as that appears, our structure is intended to be the scaffolding for self-directed learning. In hour-long blocks throughout the day, my wife and I will throw 5-10 minutes of knowledge at campers, to prime their brains. The kids determine what they want to do and how they might go about acquiring the knowledge they need. Along the way, we’ll inundate them with techie concepts like daily scrums, design critique, and finish day.
This week on GeekDad, I intend to share the progress of the camp by highlighting experiences from the activities we’ve lined up. Since this gig comes with fewer breaks and more housekeeping than my day job, my apologies in advance if my grammar deteriorates along with my hours of sleep.