Nerdium Perpetuus

In view of the discussion here and here, I feel I ought to remind readers of an earlier post entitled “The Rise of the Nerd” I wrote on the subject of nerds, geeks, the terminology, and the media portrayals. Somewhere in there is a serious point, which keeps getting missed in all of this jolly fun:

(1) Nerdiness is in decline, you would think, since everybody ends up being a nerd (by at least one main popular definition) after a while by adopting their practices (the fact that you are reading this or any blog is just one of myriad examples).

(2) Nerdiness will likely continue forever, though (at least for a very long time), because -frankly- people feel threatened by, inferior to, and are afraid of people who have technical knowledge, especially (but not only) in the scientific realm. The response is to paint them as outsiders, to marginalise them, undermining the perceived threat. This, sadly, will continue for a while. The process is to continually redefine what is the province of the nerd, and what is not. So while, for example, it is no longer nerdy to blog (or even know about blogs), it is still nerdy to, let’s say, know how to significantly change the appearance of your blog, or know about technorati tags. That will continue…. until everybody learns how easy those things are. Etc, etc.

A big extract from my earlier post:

For years, action movies stuck to a very specific division of labour. Your action hero did the “action” stuff…you know, shooting and hitting and the getting of the girl (yes, the action hero was most often male). Meanwhile, from time to time there would be a point in the plot where some technical knowledge was needed. Then the socially awkward technical person (Geek, Nerd, whatever) would be on the set for a while, and they would hack into the computer, make the modifications to the car, shut down the reactor, etc.

Then several years ago things began to change. Did you notice it? Action heroes began to start learning our skills the skills of the nerd. It became ok – cool even- for the muscle-bound hero to know some technical stuff! I remember one key movie that for me at least represented the high-visibility turning point. It was the 1996 movie “Eraser”, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time he was sort of the CEO of Action Heroes, Inc, right? There’s some scene in which he’s fresh from shooting up everything in sight, with a cannon on each arm, etc, etc, and then at a climatic moment (I forgot the plot details which led to this), he sits down at a computer to do some crucial task or other! [ … ]

And here’s the point:

Of course, several of you are thinking “what’s the big deal?”. Perhaps you’re too young to remember how it was. That’s because now everybody in the movies uses computers routinely, sending email, surfing the web, checking message boards, grabbing files from other remote computers…. and, just as in society at large, Hollywood caught on to the fact that everybody is much more comfortable with the computer. A little technical knowledge in computers is no longer the province of the nerd. We’re all nerds now. And so nerdiness is a little diminished, as a result. Of course it then just gets redefined, since there must always be an outsider, to allow the insiders to better define themselves. So even the biggest action stars started using computers alongside their guns.

… and later… about seeing Mission Impossible III:

At some point, Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, is in Shanghai with some of the rest of his Impossible Mission Force buddies, and they are trying to figure out how to get into some super-secure building (part of the skyline to the right) in about 30 minutes. Cruise is hell-bent on doing it (for reasons I won’t go into in case you want to see the film) and starts planning a daring approach. He starts drawing the various buildings, noting the distances between them and their heights, and then he starts writing equations! He’s trying to figure out something or other to do with swinging from one building to another, and he’s -I repeat- writing equations. And mumbling to himself a bit as he calculates, if I recall correctly!

[ … ]

Now come on. You have to admit this is a turning point. Tom Cruise is riding as high as an action hero as Arnie was a decade ago. Him writing equations now is just as significant as Arnie sitting down to scan the hard drive on the PC back then. Who knows what will happen over the next ten years, then? Action heroes might be doing linear algebra, differential calculus, applying theorems in number theory, all to save the world of course….. between explosions and shoot-em-ups of course.

You can read the rest at source.

-cvj

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11 Responses to Nerdium Perpetuus

  1. Dissonant says:

    …thus finally fulfilling Heinlein’s vision:

    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    Robert A. Heinlein

  2. Moshe says:

    Plan an invasion, butcher a hog, …, fight efficiently, die gallantly? I’d really rather be a nerd…

    (amusing case of the macho-nerd is the way I read this…)

  3. Clifford says:

    Hi Moshe:- “Should be able to” should be not read as “is willing to”. (Although I’ve seen some hog-butchering in my time…. 😉 )

    -cvj

  4. spyder says:

    I don’t see how you really have redefined this aspect of the issue at all though; the socially awkward technical person… ?
    Nerds have never been limited to the sciences and to technological skill sets; and i am from the very old days. Nerds and geeks could just as easily have been people studying the Classics or {heaven forbid}Philosophy ( the beatniks versus the bikers versus the surfers–as was the scene in my high school days). It was the social awkwardness that demarcated the boundaries of the labelling, and if we are to accept that techno-savvy nerdism has reduced the apparent disconnect of the socially awkward, this certainly is still not true for the folks on the other end of campus. Are not terms such as “arty” “goth” “freak” merely connoting the same message of socially awkward, consumed in arcana to the point of isolation geeky and nerdiness?? It seems you are arguing that through technological and scientific accomplishments of various media celebrity heroes, the nerd/geek is no longer socially awkward. I would think that if you visited local high schools, you could get any number of social clique members to point out the nerds and geeks.. and that for the most part such labelling would retain all the social awkwardness, isolation, and at this point: video gaming networks, yearbook production, the chess club, etc. Not much has changed at all.

  5. Clifford says:

    Hi Spyder!

    I don’t see how you really have redefined this aspect of the issue at all though; the socially awkward technical person… ?

    I don’t understand what you don’t understand. Help! I did not claim to redefine anything.

    Nerds have never been limited to the sciences and to technological skill sets

    I agree. I don’t believe that I said that it was. See my point (2).

    It seems you are arguing that through technological and scientific accomplishments of various media celebrity heroes, the nerd/geek is no longer socially awkward.

    The “socially awkward” part is largely irrelevant. You seem to be very hung up on that. What I was arguing was stated clearly (I thought, sorry if not) in the two points right at the beginning:

    (1) Nerdiness is in decline, you would think, since everybody ends up being a nerd (by at least one main popular definition) after a while by adopting their practices (the fact that you are reading this or any blog is just one of myriad examples).

    (2) Nerdiness will likely continue forever, though (at least for a very long time), because -frankly- people feel threatened by, inferior to, and are afraid of people who have technical knowledge, especially (but not only) in the scientific realm. The response is to paint them as outsiders, to marginalise them, undermining the perceived threat. This, sadly, will continue for a while. The process is to continually redefine what is the province of the nerd, and what is not. So while, for example, it is no longer nerdy to blog (or even know about blogs), it is still nerdy to, let’s say, know how to significantly change the appearance of your blog, or know about technorati tags. That will continue…. until everybody learns how easy those things are. Etc, etc.

    The socially awkward aspect is irrelevant.

    -cvj

  6. Sara T. says:

    A few more points about nerds/geeks.

    * We are often protrayed as being introverts, but that is inaccurate. Many of us are extravertedly nerdy!

    * Don’t forget “band nerds” (the classic scene at the end of the first “Revenge of the Nerds” movie at a football game when people own up to nerdhood, and the whole marching band walks out to join the nerds!

    * Love the Heinlein quote. An author who influences me though he annoys the h**l out of me, too, e.g. “Podkayne of Mars” and other such sexist cr*p. But I digress, that quotes makes me re-proud (is that an adjective?!) of that fact that I love airplanes and I love Barbie (TM) dolls!

    😎

  7. spyder says:

    Thank you for your clarification of your post Clifford. I do suggest that “nerdiness” will always be with us from the perspective of the hierarchical arrangement of social status within the adolescent “confined” population (by confined i refer to the institutionalization of high schools framing a restrictive environment upon large groups of adolescents in which they only have one another to use in the never ending quest for mammalian/primate social arranging). What was techno-nerdie or science geeky will be some other aligned social behavior that will castigate a segment into that clan. There is so much work to be done to create participatory parity.

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