Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Geeky vs Hardcore

I've recently heard computer programmers being described as both geeky and hardcore (sometimes simultaneously). After pondering a bit on what both terms mean to me, I've concluded that both terms are indeed appropriate descriptors for many stereotypical computer enthusiasts. Curiously, the set of qualities which evoke the use of the two words have a very strong intersection.

After perusing various definitions from sources such as Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary, I've come up with the following definition summaries (note: I am ignoring how hardcore is used to describe a music genre, and rather am focusing on its uses as a general adjective).

A geeky person is someone who is obsessed with or focused on a subject area to that's considered outside of mainstream. These subject areas tend to be intellectual by nature. Examples include being a hacker geek or a music geek.

A hardcore person is someone who is intensely or relentlessly focused on a task or goal (this is taken almost verbatim from the first definition on Urban Dictionary). It is typically associated with physically oriented activities (e.g., hiking or camping), but has been increasingly used to refer to programming and other technical activities.

Those who are better versed in language than I will already know that the word geek originally referred to a carnival performer and shares its roots with the word freak. As such, it has historically been associated with non-mainstream activities that are low status.

On the other hand, hardcore is used to describe admirable activities that require such extreme endurance or resilience that it necessarily falls outside of mainstream (since otherwise it wouldn't be that extreme). As such, it has historically been associated with high status activities. This doesn't seem to have changed much.

I'm not an expert on sociology or cultural psychology, so I can't comment very deeply on what this all means. But at the very least, one might plausibly interpret this as evidence that we as a society are placing more value in technical skills. And as such, I do find something comforting from this ongoing merging of the two definitions.


Parisa said...

When describing the stereotype computer enthusiast, it seems they are always* geeky and that hardcore is a descriptor of competence or measure of dedication.

* Yes, some areas of CS are probably generally regarded as less geeky than others, but to a non-CS person, I doubt the subtle difference matters.

Yisong said...

But can one really be considered geeky without showing a sufficient amount of dedication? After all, the type of enthusiasm that personifies geekiness requires a certain amount of dedication, right? Or do many people just fake that?

parisa said...

This topic came up during a work lunch today and I cited your geek definition as necessitating the topic of focus be outside mainstream interests. Others disagreed, and actually, the example in your definition (music) is definitely not outside of mainstream interests. So now I'm reconsidering this part.

Yisong said...

Ah I see. I cited music as an example because music is something that can get quite technical and a music geek is someone who gets really into the technical details of music.

Parisa said...

Fair enough.