The largely interchangeable––and rather derivative––labels of “neek”, “nerd”, “dork”, and “geek”, have formed the artillery of a fervent school-ground battle. The antithesis of cool, high-functioning sociability, the neeks of this world have been relegated to the periphery of social acceptability. Yet the definition of such a loaded term remains abstruse; originally connoted with computer science and fandom culture, the term neek can now be applied to someone who demonstrates an interest in just about anything that is deemed to be culturally deviant––particularly areas of academia.
Given that the majority of readers are studying at St Andrews––having, most likely, applied to Oxbridge in the interim––I reckon I’m in good company when I admit to facing such accusations on a regular basis. Never fear, however. For too long, us neeks have been the victim of a misdirected witch-hunt, the likes of which Heinrich Kramer would be proud. In truth, the neek community has the upper hand; far from being a badge of shame, the title should be worn with pride. There, I’ve said it: we’ve already reclaimed “bitch”; the time has come to reclaim neek culture.
Now, before you dispel me completely, I ask you to––briefly––endorse my neekish disposition and take a moment to unpack the term. A conglomeration of the words nerd and geek, neeks are defined by a genuine––and perhaps rather over-enthusiastic––interest in culturally off-beat topics. Particularly in school, this was presented as a mark of deviance, invoking disgust from self-identified “cool” individuals. Given the questionable popular tastes of my contemporary school-goers––I’m thinking The X-Factor, loom bands and inexplicably “flexible” rulers, here––I rather think that neeks have been treated unfairly. Were you to (bravely) revisit the accepted childhood canon of Disney Channel shows and Now That’s What I Call Music albums, you would surely agree that, by comparison, a neekish interest in other topics is far from incomprehensible; if nothing else, neeks should be applauded for sheer independence of thought.
In fact, despite what neek-shamers would have us believe, the pejorative connotations of the term are almost entirely unfounded––particularly when it comes to issues of popularity and so-called “cool”-ness. Perhaps it is by virtue of independent thinking, or simply the fact that––believe it or not––their acquired information is often rather interesting, but neeks are far from the boring archetype that is all-too-frequently insinuated. It’s no coincidence that shows of the ilk of QI and Sex Education consistently glue us to the screen, or that Stephen Fry has been invited to the conjectural dinner party of practically every sound-minded individual. Given the option, most adults would far sooner engage in an in-depth, culturally niche conversation, rather than listen to the tedious, regurgitated monologues of those whose knowledge is limited to media soundbites, Twitter posts, and Daily Mail headlines. Apparently, beyond the boundaries of the education system, the term loses all offensive credibility; rather like a fine Roquefort, neeks become more consumable––and more dangerous––with time.
It would be equally churlish to deny the relative economic prospects of those who were once scorned as social outliers. After all, the defining characteristics of verified neeks include originality of thought, a propensity for genuine curiosity and––for those who wear the label with pride––something of a disregard for the opinion of others. It comes as no surprise, then, that many of the highest earners (Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc.) undoubtedly shouldered the same accusations as many neeks in their youth. As Bill Gates rightly said: “Be nice to nerds. If you are not one, chances are you will end up working for one”.
In fact, if you are reading this with the determined impression that you are exempt from allegations of “neekhood”, it would perhaps be appropriate for me to issue a warning. While the closeted existence of school and university life may have convinced you otherwise, it is no exaggeration to say that––counter to common (mis)conceptions––neeks are very much in command. Those who deigned themselves too “cool” to engage critically and interestedly in the world around them, whether from a lack of curiosity, commitment, or fear of social censuring, are quite literally at the mercy of those who they once scorned.
The irony is not lost on me that the (effectively neek-driven) companies of Google and Facebook facilitate the very mainstream culture that once sought to marginalise them. Streams of veritably “cool”, categorically un-neekish, social-media posts––ideally accompanied by an assuredly high “follower to following” ratio––feed the commercial success of those who proved resistant to juvenile social pressures; simultaneously, those who conformed to the socially accepted, ostensibly “cool” cultural norms have been ensnared within a futile, unthinking tedium of––apparently “sociable”––endless scrolling.
I have therefore resolved to wear my neekdom with pride; for those who deign to voice their antagonism, you can find me in the Library.
Image: Matias North, Unsplash