Competing to be crowned Geek of the Year

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As an example of the type of local geek culture that the Philly Geek Awards were created to celebrate, Eric Smith points to the response to hitchBOT’s recent ill-fated visit to the city. No, not the act of wanton destruction that greeted him — which has of course been used to illustrate Philly’s less-than-welcoming attitude — but the way that the local community rallied to condemn those actions and attempt to get the mechanical wanderer back on the road.

“I feel like the geek culture here in Philly is very supportive,” says Smith, co-founder of the Geekadelphia website. “It’s about trying to bolster everyone up instead of competing and tearing one another down, which is what I really love about it. Everybody’s chiming in to try to do something fun and good, and that’s what geek culture is all about here in Philly.”

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The Geek Awards will celebrate their fifth anniversary this weekend with a black tie ceremony at their usual venue, the Academy of Natural Sciences. Awards will be presented in a variety of categories including Scientist, Startup, Game, Social Media Project and Comic Creator of the Year, among others. Presenters will include Joel Hodgson, creator and original host of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and Steve Morrison of WMMR’s Preston and Steve Show.

For the purposes of the awards, Smith defines a geek as “someone that is fiercely passionate about one particular thing — or even a couple of things — to the point where it becomes part of who they are and what they do. And sometimes they use it to give back to the community that’s inspired them and pushed them to this point.”

Geek of the Year

The ceremony’s most-coveted award is always the Geek of the Year prize, which stresses that altruistic side. This year’s nominees are Jon Geeting, engagement editor at PlanPhilly, the independent news organization covering design, planning and development in the city; Ather Sharif, founder and researcher at EvoXLabs, who works to make the Internet more accessible for people with disabilities; and Alexis Jeffcoat, who’s made Laurel Hill Cemetery an unlikely geek hangout.

Beyond Comic-Con

While the line between geek and mainstream culture has become blurred with the explosion of superhero blockbusters and horror and fantasy TV hits, Smith insists that the Geek Awards help spread the word about less-recognized purveyors of true geekdom.

“You don’t go to Comic-Con and hear about startups or web development projects,” he explains. “We still spotlight comic books and video games, but we’re trying to keep in mind that there’s more to it than just the latest Marvel movie.

“Although I do love those.”

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