Am I Still a "Nerd"?—An Exploration of Geek Culture
When I was in 5th–8th grades, I was having a terrible time. I was being bullied, and I kept getting into real, ugly fights whenever I wanted to fight back against the bullying. It was endless. It was insane, and it was frightening. I had a couple of low-key, introverted friends, but I was missing a sense of purpose and identity.
I felt like the world was divided into "haves" and "have-nots" in terms of popularity, and I was always doomed to be the latter, on the bottom of the popularity heap.
But then in high school, gradually my perspective came to change. I went to another school in another town. It was much bigger, and the kids were friendlier.
There was more to do in a larger town, and more types of people you could be. That was when I really got introduced to the concept of cliques. Not just as "groups of friends," but as categories of humans divided up by shared interests, missions, values, and sense of identity.
How I Discovered Geek
In my high school, it suddenly wasn't either "be popular or be a freak and a loser" anymore, with the latter implying you were a deer to be hunted by popular kids for sport. Instead, there was actually a diverse range of hobbies and interests represented, and all I had to do was figure out which group was the most "me." I did a lot of things at first. I kind of tried out a number of them. I hung out with everybody freshmen year, having little sense of direction.
But, what I came to realize was that the hobbies I got the most fun out of ended up being what people would call geeky or nerdy, and that wasn't a bad thing. I did scholastic bowl, science olympiad, environmental science club, book club, and anime club. I got more engaged with "nerds," talking philosophy and science, and gradually phased out interactions with non-nerd groups like the skaters, theater kids (my mom's clique), band kids, stoners, jocks, popular pretty girls, and so on.
I knew that whether it was in real life or online, if someone also identified as a "geek" or "nerd," I would get along with them and have much more basis from which to derive friendship. This gave me more confidence and let me come out of my shell more. I'll admit, it also made me feel superior to others. Less superficial, more mature, more rational, smarter. Discovery of the emerging identity of "geek culture" in the 00's (I was in high school from 2004-2008) gave me a better outlook about myself than to simply see myself as an unwanted pile of refuse, which had been my previous identity.
But did I take it too far? Are there issues with identifying this way? Am I still a "geek" or a "nerd" almost ten years later as a supposed adult? Was my sense of superiority to others wrong (short answer: yes, it was)? Did this "geek culture" thing mean anything substantial? Today, it just seems like something that is being used to sell products.
One problem is, geek culture is built around an often false sense of intellectual superiority. This didn't come from nowhere; many geek hobbies involve challenging the brain more than many ordinary hobbies. D & D, Magic: The Gathering, hardcore gaming, computer programming, science projects, and so on demand mental energy to do. If you don't like thinking, a lot of geeky hobbies won't be fun for you.
But, this mentality makes two errors: discounting the mental aspects of other hobbies, and assuming that all things "geeky" are mentally stimulating. I realized how wrong this was when I took an online class in makeup artistry. People would probably not see makeup artists as big intellectuals, but the choice and application of makeup specific to each client's needs was something that I found took a lot of brain power. On the other side of the coin, many "geek" labeled activities these days are soft-core, mass-marketed, and don't mean anything intellectual. Game of Thrones, as much as I like it, is not intellectual just because a lot of fantasy literature is, or because fantasy literature is generally kind of obscure. Game of Thrones became so popular largely because it isn't as intellectual as most fantasy literature. It's not highly conceptual, and it's not so far removed from the real world that people have to stretch their imaginations in order to participate. It's a good story, but liking it does not put you mentally above the average person.
Another thing I have to say is, my geek smugness kind of led to my downfall in college. I thought I would ace college without putting the work in, and yeah, I didn't. I can't even pass a basic mathematics course. I had come to cling to my identity as a nerd so much, thinking I was going to be some kind of prodigious veterinarian or doctor. Yeah, no. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache by being more realistic about my abilities. I also should have gone to community college right from the start, and saved myself a ton of money. But noo, I was too good for that.
Another problem I'm having with geek culture nowadays is that it doesn't seem counter-cultural at all in the way that it used to be. On the internet, everyone is a nerd, and nerdy products are marketed to everyone. Kids wear MineCraft shirts. Old ladies post memes about Schrodinger's Cat. The same people watch sports and Game of Thrones every week. More people are learning programming skills every year, and technology is a bigger part of everyone's lives every day. Comic books are not a weird little niche; they're the default flavor of big blockbuster action movie now.
There's no longer a line that separates us from the so-called "normies." I can't draw such a line, because it's not really my job to say who can and cannot call themselves a "nerd." But the fact remains that the identity itself doesn't mean as much anymore. It used to mean, I'm part of a small, outcast, but proud, group of weirdos who obsess about weird things no one else likes or cares about or has even heard of. But the internet and Hollywood have shone bright spotlights on the once-obscure signs of geek identity. Letting people "out" themselves has been great, but it also takes away the part of our identity that used to be cool because nobody but us knew about it.
Should an adult really define themselves in terms of a high school clique anyway? I think that's probably a bit limiting. I don't want to let go of my identity, but I want to recognize that I can move beyond its limitations and arrogance, and see the fun in activities that don't have anything to do with being geeky; for me, that means makeup, art, crafts, and music.
I truly love video gaming and anime still, and science fiction, fantasy, I might even get back into role-playing or tabletop gaming at some point. But, I vow to not look down on other people who don't share those hobbies or interests and to see the good in other things as well. So in short, yes, I'm still a nerd. But, I consider myself more evolved and mature about it than I was in high school (and I think others should be, too). I hope other people can also learn that you don't have to take a pre-packaged sub-cultural identity so seriously.