Before the proliferation of the Internet, there were Nerds. Nerds are people who are intently interested in one or a few things, usually computer, video game, mathematics, or science/science fiction, to the extent that their interest is detrimental to their popularity and social standing. Nerds have been stereotyped as unfashionable outcasts, and generally being a nerd has meant being uncool. Now there is a new kind of intently interested person, but one who retains their social standing and can be incredibly cool – the geek. I feel our class should discuss how the Internet’s rise in popularity has brought about the rise of the Geek, and the death of the Nerd.
As we discussed in class, with the negotiation and incorporation inherent in Hegemony (as postulated by Gramsci), it is not at all uncommon for a subculture to become appropriated into the mainstream culture. Nerds in the past have been decisively a separate sub-culture, though not one that is rebellious in the traditional sense. The rebellion of the “old school nerd” is not composed of expressing an attitude difference, like punk, for instance, but an expression of intelligence as more important than popularity. Most of us remember the image of a nerd with suspenders, taped up glasses, and a pocket protector, a la Steve Urkel of Family Matters, or more recently Katy Perry’s character Kathy Terry in her music video “Last Friday Night”. These representations are certainly comical, but they are so because they no longer represent modern reality. The nerd of the pre-internet era cared more about technical and unfashionable pursuits more than image. This sub-culture has been fading because of the Internet, and has morphed into something else more palatable – the geek.
Geek, by contrast, is not a derogatory term, per se. Geeks differ from nerds in that they are intensely interested in subjects, but don’t pursue those interests to the detriment of their social standing or popularity, in fact, in some cases, their geekiness contributes to their popularity. Of course, there are computer geeks, but there are also food geeks, eco geeks, film geeks, and many others. The internet has taken society from a telephone based communication system to one where anyone, at any time, can connect with other people all over the world, and with laptops, smart phones and tablets, from anywhere in the world. The computer, which was once only in the realm of the nerds, is something that everyone is now expected to have some level of proficiency in, in order to maintain social media and other social interactions on our devices. No longer is the barrier for entry into the tech world reserved for the nerds; everyone of every age has access. This means that if you have an interest in something, no matter how obscure, the Internet is waiting for you to connect you with infinite resources and other people that share your interests. Even if no one in your physical community wants to discuss your topic with you, there’s a whole global Internet community available. Thus, people don’t have to be “alone” in their obsessions. If you’re passionate about something, there are lots of others out there who are interested and value your knowledge. It’s now cool to be “into” something, whether it’s crafting things, computers, cooking, etc. Being a geek means being passionate about something, or several somethings, and so this desire can be met without having to sacrifice social standing.
So where did all the nerds go? Those people no longer have to feel ostracized for their interests. People from all walks of life play video games and are computer literate. Traditional social and gender stereotypes are being broken down. Anyone can “geek out” about anything. This means you can be a geek about things that aren’t traditionally nerd topics, like science and math. For example, I personally know some soccer and hiking geeks, and how many nerds would have been associated with a sport other than chess? Because you can be a geek about so many topics, this blurs the definition even more. Being a nerd is now reserved for the most extreme hermit-like, steadfastly antisocial tech geeks. The internet has brought about the rise of the geek culture, a globally connected diverse group of passionate individuals, and the fall of the nerd, in his ungainly clothing and lack of social graces. This phenomenon is one we could discuss at length, as it is constantly evolving. It is one that affects everyone in our culture today, and thus is important to analyze and understand, and also perhaps to anticipate it’s future.