If you are a nerd yourself, or if someone you love is a nerd, or if you want your child to grow up to be a nerd, watch this video of Star Trek actor, writer, and self-described professional nerd, Wil Wheaton addressing the Calgary Comic Expo.
Wheaton says it.
It’s not what you love, it’s how you love it.
Nerd is a whole methodology. What was once an epithet hurled down school corridors now binds people together across all sorts of pursuits. Nerds have the same method to their individual madnesses.
It no longer denotes just one thing. Nerd is an approach, not a discipline.
Wheaton says he lumps nerds and geeks together.
In my experience, if there’s a word preceding nerd or geek to indicate the obsession of choice, the two are interchangeable. A Star Wars nerd is a Star Wars geek. A mythology nerd is a mythology geek.
Unmodified, nerd has more of an academic emphasis. A geek can do poorly in classes and, on evenings and weekends, invent Facebook. To a nerd, this willful disregard for academic success would be a betrayal of something deep and holy. Geek also implies something to do with technology. You could run into an Ancient Greek scholar and call her a nerd. It would be less natural to call her an unmodified geek. Unless, of course, she bit the head off a live chicken. (And since the memo has not penetrated everywhere that ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ are badges of pride to be embraced across disciplines and genres, you might want to avoid this in any case.)
(Merriam-Webster backs me up on this a little, with its definition of nerd (an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits <computer nerds>) and secondary definitions for geek, once you dispatch the carnival performer (“2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked” or 3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>”) although the examples don’t help much.)
In either case, the pejorative is wrong. And by the time Wheaton’s addressee grows up, it may have vanished.
This is the age of nerd, and the sooner Merriam Webster picks up on it, the better. Nerd Prom is the name applied to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner that happened Saturday night in Washington. Already, the term sits awkwardly. When Nerd Prom first earned the appellation, it was supposed to be self-deprecating. Jon Lovett quipped on Twitter that “Referring to the
#WHCD as “nerd prom” is a way for people who aren’t (sic) self-depricating to act self-depricating.” Now it’s practically a double boast.
Nerds rule. Revenge of the nerds? What for? After all, the Internet exists.
Internet culture is nerd culture.
Spend hours staring into a high-tech device, fixating on your personal obsessions, speaking little? That’s everyone’s typical Tuesday. We even force Twitter on hip, happening people like Lindsay Lohan.
This speech encompasses a certain kind of nerd nostalgia. A nerd is made in the days when a person is reviled and persecuted and has evil uttered against him or her on account of a peculiar dedication.
As it gets more mainstream, it loses a bit of the deep and vaguely noble loneliness that used to go with it. That was the whole joy of conventions — the relief of discovering that you were not the last known lizard of your description, and that you might be able to mate, socialize and correspond with others of the same stripes.
The singleminded dedication to any particular subject, the careful assembly of a menagerie of facts, pictures, tidbits, even the anticipation and the conventions — this is Internet currency.
Scratch almost anyone and find a nerd. The cheerleader. The prom king. The football star. We are all living in the world nerds made, one of solitary, single-minded devotion and periodic bursts of recognition. On the Internet, people ask over and over: Does Anyone Else Like This? Does Anyone Else Think Like This? And the answer comes back yes, every time
Nerd used to be a lonely word. No longer. Perhaps those high school corridors will never be free of hostility. But who cares for offline life? Will it even exist after 2045? The loneliness is gone. We never thought for a second we were the only ones. We all spend so much time alone together. That’s the Internet. We have nerds to thank for that.
Long live the nerds. And the geeks, for that matter. And Wil Wheaton, for saying it so well.