Growing up, the words “nerd” or “geek” have always had negative connotations. It was never a compliment, a personality quirk to be praised: no-one ever said “I wish I was as nerdy as you” or looked for a nerdy person to befriend. To some people, being a nerd or a geek means someone unlikeable, unpopular and strange, often someone very intelligent, and with unusual interests. “You’re a nerd” was a rock kids would hurl at you in the playground if you did “too well” in a test, or if you read books in your break time and put your hand up in class too often. It was the reason you ate alone, and had no partner in physical education lessons. There is even a Wikihow page for “How to do well in school without being recognised as a nerd”. All the signs point to how wrong it is to be a nerd, how unpopular, how unpleasant. The nerds are the teenagers who weren’t invited to parties and had few people they could talk to about their interests without being ridiculed. Being a nerd somehow became synonymous with poor social skills and spending time alone, a book in one hand and a Star Wars lunch box in the other.
But something is changing. Enter Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, and The Vlogbrothers, all real, nerdy, successful role models. Enter Youtube, a platform for boundless enthusiasm for games, books and pretty much any other nerdy interest you can imagine. Enter Game of Thrones, making it ok, if not almost normal to avidly discuss dragons, knights and the fate of the Seven Kingdoms (although I’ve been told I do still take the dragon-enthusiasm too far for the less nerdy amongst us). These are all things that as a teenager in school might have made you regarded as childish and just outright strange, that you would never dare to mention for fear of being mocked endlessly, but now, people are talking about them openly. Felicia Day founded Geek and Sundry, a production company which amongst other things, allows tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people to watch Wil Wheaton playing tabletop games via YouTube, or Matt Mercer hosting Dungeons and Dragons sessions. The Vlogbrothers specialise in “raising nerdy to the power of awesome” and have over two and a half million subscribers on their main channel. I just spent minutes of my life watching Felicia Day hilariously playing Skyrim – yes, watching her playing Skyrim, not even playing it myself (and I do not regret it one bit), and she has written a book called “You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost)”, which resonates so much with a lot of nerds.
The word “nerd” is being reclaimed, not by bullies, but by the nerds themselves, proud to admit all those things they might have been teased about when they were younger. No longer will “nerd” be considered a derogatory term, a weird sub-species of human with glasses and nasal spray. Self-confessed nerds are popping up everywhere, talking with pride – not shame – about all the nerdy things they’ve done lately, like painting figurines, writing fanfiction, and LARPing. Despite all its evils, the internet has allowed nerds to find each other, to fill tumblr pages with gifs of whatever they please, and know that someone, somewhere is interested in the same things they thought no-one else would be. We’re no longer limited to the people we meet in the classroom or the workplace, and with the realisation that there are others like us, confidence grows, making it easier to be a nerd in the real world, and not fear the repercussions.
Maybe Bill Gates, (and undoubtedly many others), was right. “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” Nerds hold the key to technology, to innovation, science, mathematics and literature. Nerds are different, and that’s their biggest asset. Slowly, nerds are realising that we have nothing to be ashamed of, and that the nerds won’t always be the odd one out, alone in the corner. One day, they’ll be the odd one out on the cover of a bestseller, or leading the next major scientific breakthough. Nerds are too often underestimated. You may think nerds are too shy to be your boss – they’ll never function in the real world without their games and books. Maybe they’re quiet now, but if nerds are anything, they’re smart. Nerds will listen, and they’ll notice things, and they will grow in confidence, become bolder, and smarter still. Nerds are the key to the future. And I think we’re finally beginning to acknowledge that.
Venn diagram from Yashodhan Talwar on Flickr
“Nerds like us are allowed to be un-ironically enthusiastic about stuff…nerds are allowed to LOVE stuff, like jump up and down in the chair, can’t control yourself, love it.”