A while back one of my cousins posted about the concept of a Geek and how it is different from a snob, with a real life example.
We were out one evening at a pizza parlor with some friends and their friends, and one person in the party was the son of a winemaker. One of the women, who wanted to drink some wine, asked him which wine he recommended. None of them, he said. Period. He didn’t even offer up a suggested beer or cocktail, and this woman either had to drink nothing, or ignore his advice. What a snob.
I thought it was an interesting read, I also thought it was an interesting choice of terms. I personally often think of Geek as a noun, and sometimes use it to describe myself. In that context I’m usually thinking of it in terms of expertise with respect to computers. I think however that she’s using it more as an adjective: Wine Geek, Cider Geek, etc… I too use Geek in that way sometimes: Board game Geek.
For me the difference really is that Geek when used in this way implies enthusiasm and if not a certain minimum level of expertise an aspiration towards it. Snobbery on the other hand has an implicit negative connotation. The inherent difference being that by calling someone a snob you’re making the value judgement that they are being condescending in the offering of their opinion (which may be based on just as much expertise as one offered by a geek). So realistically it’s the way in which the opinion is offered, and not the opinion itself.
I think the problem of distinction is exasperated by the sphere in which the example is presented: beverages (or more generally food). Not everyone has the same tastes, and perhaps more interestingly not everything tastes the same to all people. So even if one were talking about wines, you could have a much better made wine that was actually technically of higher quality, but it doesn’t mean that you would actually like it more, or at all.
Take that to the sphere of technology instead and there are definitely clear external metrics which can objectively classify something as better than something else, and the subjective element although still present is less important, and less likely to be problematic.
Getting back to the central question though of whether or not one is a snob or a geek, I think that it’s not actually a difficult situation to avoid. Geeks are valued for their knowledge; Snobs are derided for the manner in which they share their knowledge. So if you want to be a geek and not a snob you share your expertise but in a non-judgemental way.
If you find yourself asked to recommend a wine (and you have appropriate expertise) then you can indicate that you personally wouldn’t choose any of the ones that are offered, but that wine X is probably the best of the bunch (or would probably make the best pairing with what they’re having for dinner).
That said a geek is also permitted to have the courage of their convictions. By this I mean it’s totally alright to recommend against any of the choices if you have a good reason. Ex: I honest believe that YOU would not be happy with any of the choices, or that you would later regret making one of those choices. That’s not snobbery, that’s conviction (and well intentioned).