The word “nerd” conjures up various images, mostly negative. A 70’s-era poster summed it up: a boy about 10-12 years old with taped-together horn-rimmed glasses, a large satchel, and a pocket protector in the front of his plain shirt. You were supposed to laugh at him.
Today, nerds are more popular than ever, or so it seems. Some parts of popular culture celebrate the nerd. At a science fiction convention that I attended a few years ago, one young lady carried a purse with the words, “I only date nerds,” on the side. I wish I had asked her to expound on this subject, but did not wish to offend.
Actually, the celebration is premature. Most people still misunderstand and fear nerds. Some people still hate them. This article will discuss interesting features of the nerd life and help you better understand us.
First off, a bit of nerd humor from the Internet: “Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman [E. E. “Doc” Smith] her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.” – Junot Diaz
Some people use the term “geek” to refer to people like me. I greatly prefer “nerd.” To me, a geek is a circus performer who bites the head off a chicken.
Believe it or not, you need nerds. They can be quite useful. A society full of nerds would have some problems, but a small number helps a lot. Nerds can create new paradigms that can change the world (for example, Albert Einstein). Nerds are more likely to solve the big problems than the rest of society. Nerds will not resort to violence as much as other people.
Why do people fear or hate nerds? There are a lot of reasons.
Humans have an instinctive fear or phobia of different people.
Nerds have quite different interests from the mainstream society. We are more intellectual and less interested in athletics. Nerds are more likely to hang out at the campus library than the football stadium. This trait is not universal; you will find some nerds who also follow sports.
The general society sees nerds as having undesirable features:
Bad social skills.
Very little interest in personal appearance or hygiene.
No skill in attracting romantic partners.
Most nerds are male. You do find some female nerds, but they are well camouflaged and difficult to observe in the wild.
Most nerds are well behaved by the standards of overall society. However, some younger nerds are known to rebel against the norms of conventional behavior. Some nerds will use tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other controlled substances; the percentage is probably not as high as the overall population.
As noted earlier, nerds live much of their lives in the world of ideas and imagination, and not as much in the real world of objects and actions. We sometimes look like we are off in a different world. Many years after leaving high school, I ran across a former classmate. She told me that most of our fellow students thought I came from a different galaxy. I believed her because that was how they treated me.
Almost all nerds are very intelligent. You can be intelligent without being a nerd. These people fear and loathe nerds at least as much as the general population, if not more so.
So many stereotypes abound concerning nerds and romance. I will write a separate article to cover that subject. For now, here are a few points of interest:
It’s true. Most nerds are not very good at finding romantic partners.
Remember that most people dislike nerds for all the reasons noted above.
Nerds do not need mental health therapy. They can become depressed over their lack of social status, but this is not an essential part of nerddom. Unfortunately, most therapists will try to drag the nerd into their standard group therapy situation. It rarely helps.
Nerds really need social skills training. They need to learn practical skills to attract a partner. Yet nobody will provide this training—not even the late-night TV hustlers. Is it too humiliating for an adult to admit that he or she needs the training? There is a gold mine waiting for the person who can teach nerds proper romantic skills.
It is difficult for nerds to meet each other.
We are already talking about people who have trouble with relationships when opportunities arise. Lack of opportunities only makes the situation worse.
Some organizations try to help, but the results are spotty.
Social media helps to a limited degree, but is not truly a substitute for live meetings. Besides, not all nerds are adept at using social media tools.
It would help if local businesses would sponsor social activities aimed at nerds. I would love to see “nerd night” at a coffeehouse or tavern. I suspect it would draw at least a small crowd. A library would be another natural meeting place.
There are some other things you need to know about nerds.
We are not as openly social as most people, but that does not mean we hate others. We are social in our own way.
Our brains process information differently from other people, so it may take us longer to respond to a question. Therefore, we will probably not be the fastest talker in the room. On the other hand, our answer may be better than others once we come up with it.
You should not look down on us or make fun of us because we are different. What if society was mostly nerds? How would we treat you?
Many of us are desirable romantic partners, even if our qualities are not immediately obvious. We will care about our partners and consider their needs and desires. We can use our wits to make a living, even if we are not always motivated solely by money. As Bill Gates put it, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
In future articles of this series, I hope to explore the different ways that nerds deal with the world around them. We need to go further into the subject of nerds and romance, and I also have an article in the works about a nerd talking to other nerds.
Before I go, I want to encourage other nerds to be proud of themselves. We provide a most necessary element to humanity. Life would be less interesting without us.
Just before closing, more nerdiness from the Internet: “Nerd—one whose unbridled passion for something, or things, defines who they are as a person, without fear of other people’s judgment.”—Zachary Levi
I bought a T-shirt that says “Nerd” on the front. I wear it from time to time. If you’re a nerd, say it loud. Say it proud.
M. Lee Rogers