In Defense of the Nerd

My wife often makes comments (mostly positive ones) regarding how we are in the midst of raising the most nerdy of children possible, usually after my children do something quite fantastic, like getting excited over me finding a rupee while playing the original Legend of Zelda, and yelling out “RUPEE!” over and over again each time.

I have to admit responsibility over their excitement over things that would have, when I was a child, placed them into the unpopular crowd, labeled with such monikers as nerd, geek, or whatever. But through some magic of fate, it would appear that such terms have become more ones of endearment than scorn.  And I’m pretty happy about that.

Historically speaking, it seems that being a nerd has always been connected with a concept of social isolation.  In a sense this may be somewhat accurate as nerds were generally outcasts of sorts, forced to live outside of the popular crowd, but I take issue with the idea that being a nerd is, by definition, anti-social.  Considering how many nerdy things revolve around being social, such as table top games, pen and paper games, and, well, games in general, since that’s a big recurring item in nerd culture, I don’t see how one can consider nerd as inherently non-social because so many of their hobbies require them to be social by their very definition.  The hobbies (once again, historically speaking) may have caused the nerds to be shunned by the many, but I don’t think that the hobbies themselves kept them isolated.  One simply has to look at the plethora of options available for conventions from books, superheroes, movies, and board games, to name a few, and you’ll see that not only are nerds not limited to anti-social activities, but they seek out other like-minded people to share their interests with just so they can converse at length about the mechanisms involved in propelling a interstellar star ship.

However, although a nerd is typically defined by the hobbies they pursue, I believe that nerdiness is actually about the passion, not the hobby itself.  Nerdiness is passionately loving something so much that you want the world to know of your love for that thing.  Of course, for it to be traditionally nerdy, it must fall outside of conventionally “cool” things, which is how sports fans are somehow capable of avoiding the term, although they may spend their time memorizing the ERA for every single pitcher in the American League.

Of course, if we’re talking about the lack of social acceptance of the hobby as a defining quality of nerdiness, we find ourselves at an interesting time for determining how to categorize nerds.  When I was a kid, comic books, Star Wars, and Star Trek were considered quite nerdy, as well as computers and video games and, well, anything else that I was interested in at the time.  Today, these are all giant money makers.  The biggest money makers, in fact.  Comic books are the source for almost every recent box office breaker of recent history, Star Wars and Star Trek both have ever-growing franchises that the public at large can’t seem to get enough of, and computers/video games, well, check a pocket, you’ve probably got both on hand in the same device at all times.

In other words, these things that I have been teaching my children about, these things that were the same things I was deeply interested in as a child (not to mention as an adult), these very things that defined me as a nerd when I was younger, are the things that appear to be pretty darn far from nerdy nowadays.

That’s the thing about being a nerd.  It’s not about whether the thing you love is popular or not.  It’s that you love it which makes you a nerd.  It’s about finding something you love and sticking by it no matter what, even if it does a Phantom Menace on you.  Whether you love comic books, Star Wars, the Green Bay Packers, or a great hamburger, you are defining yourself through your interests.  And nerds stick with what they love and will defend it to the very end.

That’s a trait I think we could afford to see more of today.