Inside Higher Ed on Two Bits

Posted by ckelty on July 16, 2008

Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed has just published a very nice review of the Two Bits ("It's all Geek to Me").

Particularly clever is his distinction between nerd and geek:

We have, by contemporary standards, a mixed marriage, for I am a nerd, while my wife is a geek. A good thing no kids are involved; we’d argue about how to raise them. As a nerd, my bias is towards paper-and-ink books, and while I do indeed use information technology, asking a coherent question about how any of it works is evidently beyond me. A geek, by contrast, knows source code....has strong opinions about source code....can talk to other geeks about source code, and at some length. (One imagines them doing so via high-pitched clicking noises.) My wife understands network protocols. I think that Network Protocols would be a pretty good name for a retro-‘90s dance band.

I never really thought of it this way--and I'm not sure the distinction would hold up to scrutiny--but the intuition is exactly right. Something about being a nerd of any description has been confronted recently by the demand to become a geek. You might have been a book nerd, or a music nerd or a gardening nerd or a hotrod nerd before, but now you are expected to be a geek too. It's part of the general invasiveness of information technology, and it's also why i think understanding free software is a good thing to do if one wants to know why and how this has come to be.

The review goes on to discuss the book and McLemee, for a nerd (grin), gets it almost all right (nitpick: free software is the older term, by 15 years). It's a pleasure to be reviewed in a magazine I think so highly of as well.

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