Nature or nurture?

I’ve been pondering what it is that makes a person a geek. It’s definitely an identity. But is geekiness inherent, or is it acquired? Which came first, the chicken or the easter egg?

It’s interesting that most geeks can point to one or two events that sealed their geekdom. That seems to be an argument for “nurture” rather than “nature”. For me, it was when my family bought our second computer when I was 10. Because my dad had a new computer to use, I was given nearly total control of the old one. It was that moment that sealed my fate as a computer nerd. I learned to use MS-DOS from the command line, because that was all there was. My father helped “educate” me by messing with the computer. I found out about the autoexec.bat file because one day I booted the computer only to see, in four inch high ASCII text art, the words “Justin is a dork.” So I learned how he did it, and I changed it to “Justin is so cool!”, or something a little more flattering. Perhaps I should have left the original statement, since it was more true than I could have known.

Usually this self understanding takes time to acquire. I had a conversation the other day with someone still finding his geek identity. He was tentative to classify himself, and would only list things that he had dabbled in. He had an interest in games, like most males over the age of twelve. He had done a bit of programming, but mostly for class assignments. He said this almost with a sense of shame, as if without a passion or an area of expertise, he had no identity as a nerd.

The younger generations seem have nerdiness ingrained in them. This predisposition toward nerddom seems to be an argument for an inherent geekiness. But perhaps this, too, is a learned attribute. Youth today have been exposed to technology their entire lives, and it shows. One prime example is my fourteen year old brother. He has had his own computer since the age of nine. He started hacking Windows installers around the age of eleven. He currently has a boot loader with at least six OS choices on his desktop computer. He takes things apart and forgets to put them back together, leaving his corner of the living room a scrapyard for interesting electronic components. He seems to be a natural geek.

It’s hard to determine whether nerdiness is inherent or acquired. Whether or not the predisposition is there, nerdiness is aspired to and acquired by many. “Geek” is a badge worn with pride by everyone from tech-savvy teenagers, to script kiddies, to old-school mainframe era “hackers”. It is an identity, and a world-view. It is an integral part of my personality.