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Geeks unite: Carleton prof explores social side of geekdom with new book

For Benjamin Woo, being a geek transcends lonely visits to the comic book store; it's a culture unto itself, a not-so-secret society where like-minded people bond over obscure genres, characters and collector's items.

Getting a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture dispels myth of geeks as lonely basement-dwellers

Benjamin Woo, an assistant professor at Carleton University, is the author of Getting a Life: the Social Worlds of Geek Culture. (Naomi Librach/CBC)

For Benjamin Woo, being a geek transcends lonely visits to the comic book store; it's a culture unto itself, a not-so-secret society where like-minded people bond over obscure genres, characters and collectibles.

Woo, who identifies himself as a geek, is an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Carleton University and author of Getting a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture.

Childhood nostalgia is a key element of the culture because it often provides the icebreaker when geeks first meet, Woo said on CBC Radio's All In A Day.

"That was often the way that people were able to make a connection and fall back, as I say, on things that they already know and are familiar with that can substitute for the hard work of making small talk," Woo said.

Buying in

Exploring the culture doesn't necessarily have to cost you, Woo said.

"Even if you hang around in a comic shop  — maybe you don't buy anything, but you browse a little — you look at what's available, you chat with other customers, you chat with the clerks and you start to learn something about what it means to be in this culture."

The same is true of comic conventions, known as comic-cons, where it might cost you to get in, but you don't need to spend money once you're there.

Peer pressure

Still, like in any group, geeks can feel peer pressure, too.

"There were points where you did see some specific kinds of obligations that came up around participating, so a feeling that you had to support an adaptation of your favourite character by going to see the movie on opening weekend so it would register as a successful film, or being sure to go to your comic shop and pick up the books that you pre-ordered so that that would free up some cash flow for these small businesses that you rely on as providing a space for your community to gather," Woo said.

The culture is in the middle of a positive shift, Woo said, going out of its way to include women and racial minorities, groups that may have once felt excluded.

In geek culture, everyone is welcome.

CBC Radio's All In A Day

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