I have come across a question a great deal, and I am continually surprised at how many people ask it or are not sure of the answer. To me, this question was clear at a very early age, but there are those who are unclear or believe the reverse is true. The question I am referring to is of course, ‘What is the difference between a nerd and a geek?’
When the question is asked, I would estimate about half of people would respond with, “What is the difference?” There is a difference, but not one as large as the difference between oil and water or night and day. But there is a difference, and a relatively significant one at that. Just like the difference between DC and Marvel, Superman and Batman, Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans, DVD and Blu-ray, tap water or bottle water (or still water). The difference, in my expert opinion (and I have gained this expert opinion through experience, other media and relatively credible sociological observations by myself and others), is that a “nerd” is someone who spends his/her time gaining knowledge on things that exist in the real world such as science, physics, medicine, sociology/anthropology and/or history. A “geek” is someone who spends his/her time on gaining and learning about things that do not actually exist in the world, but represent it in various media such as TV, movies, art, comic books, cartoons, anime, video games, and/or computers/cyberspace.
To further illustrate this difference, let us actually look at both nerds and geeks separately. A nerd is someone who spends all their time learning and learning. They love knowledge and continue to develop their minds toward this goal. An archetypal, or stereotypical, person who would be considered ‘nerdy’ is someone like a librarian or historian. They read and study as a hobby, and love to learn more. Things that are considered nerdy topics, like previously stated, are science, physics, medicine, philosophy, history, math, sociology/anthropology, and psychology. While the love of knowledge is definitely not a criticism, it is the fact that nerds choose to learn and read over actually interacting with others is where the problem arises. Nerds are people who are incredibly book smart to the point where they have either very little or no interpersonal skills. They spend all their time learning, and since reading and studying is hard to do as a group, it makes it difficult to make a nerdy thing a social occasion. Socialization is a kind of obstacle and when forced to interact with non-nerds, then they make things awkward by drawing things back to their books or science. So really, a nerd is someone who studies so much that they do not know how to act around people who are not nerds themselves or have written things that nerds read.
This differs from a geek because geeks are people who love the fantastical or non-real world and spend their time reading, writing, watching and/or interacting in these worlds. They invest themselves in things such as comic books, video games, TV/movies, music, and surfing the internet. They love watching or reading about people who are more than just normal, and they love following the stories of these extraordinary people and envying them. Comic books are not the only geeky thing out there, as many people fail to realize. Movies and TV do count, including even the ‘girly’ ones. Gamers (people who play video games) are also geeks and they fit in with the computer geeks because most games now are played online rather than using systems. Another branch of ‘geekdom’ is fictional literature; usually people think that only sci-fi/fantasy are the books for geeks, but people who love reading books from the fictional section of book stores are geeks too. Those who love Jane Austen, and the like, are geeks as well as those who like poetry. The key difference from nerds is that geeks usually stick together and can be quite social with each other. A great example are comic book conventions, which have thousands of geeks in one big place where they spend lots of money together, interact with each other and compliment one another on costumes. Geeks like to live in the world that they watch or read about by the media, and they love to find others to join them in loving this world. Geeks like bringing in new people, and enjoy having a strong base of geeks to rely on. While this makes them capable of interacting with other geeks easily, it does provide a bit of a problem for them to socialize with non-geeks. But having TV and movies on their side, geeks are more capable of finding common ground with non-geeks to have a decent social interaction than nerds.
Another defining difference between nerds and geeks is that geeks know computers. Computers, either in improving them or fixing them, are the domains of the geeks. I mean, the Geek Squad from Best Buy should be all the proof you need for that.
It should be noted that while geeks and nerds are different people, there are those who can be both. It is possible, and is happening more and more frequently. For both sides, a love of reading has to exist. I mean, the things that they read may be completely different, but they do love reading. If you were to watch The Big Bang Theory, the four main characters on that show are examples of this nerd/geek hybrid and it is completely believable that this can and does happen.
Getting back to the question, there is a difference between nerds and geeks. Nerds are bookish, more isolated and like learning about the world and its aspects. Geeks are passionate/loud, tend to group together and adore things that ‘could happen’ or ‘would be cool to have happen’. Both do have trouble interacting with non-nerds or non-geeks respectively, but at the rate people are being introduced to their media there may not be any non-nerd or non-geeks left. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between nerds and geeks.