The Nerds Are Coming
I remember when the designation "nerd" was an insult, a put-down, a slight, a word used by those who did not possess a multi-syllabic vocabulary to mock those who did. The term was used to deride those who had committed the crimes of making the honor roll, knowing the answers to the teacher's questions in class, or actually reading assigned material. TV and movies conspired in this ostracism of the unfortunately bright, portraying nerds as wimps who wore pocket protectors and eyeglasses held together with tape (I never met anyone under the age of 40 who wore a pocket protector).
I remember being called a nerd more than once. I never quite knew how to respond. What did they want me to say? Did they expect me to deny it? Even if I wanted to deny it, the evidence was irrefutable. I couldn't help it if I got every answer on the test and the extra credit questions correct. Really, does a score of 115% mess up the curve by that much? Nor could I hide the fact, as bizarre as it may have seemed, that I thought reading was fun. And yes, I admit, I found gym class about as enjoyable as running around with feral cats in my pants.
I wasn't even sure I wanted to deny my nerdiness. I mean, did I really want to be like those jocks who were attempting to ridicule me with their limited verbal skills? The most joy they got from reading was when they could finish the puzzle on the back of their Captain Crunch box during breakfast. Sure they enjoyed gym class - it was the only class they could pass without getting someone else to do their homework. I'm not condemning wanting to be accepted, or even having the herd mentality. But, if you're going to join a herd, why join the stupid one?
Things are different now. Much like women in our society who now have the right to smoke Virginia Slims, we nerds have come a long way, Baby. It is now no longer a crime to be a nerd. In fact, in some circles, it's cool.
This radical shift in long-held societal norms can be blamed on the advent of the personal computer. When personal computers first came out, not everyone owned one, because only nerds knew how to use them. This was fortunate for most nerds, as it gave them something to do with the time that most people waste on friends and hygiene. However, computers became easier to use. So easy to use in fact, that normal people began to invade this nerd's domain. Soon, almost every household had a PC or Mac. Businesses had embraced this revolution even more quickly, some putting a computer on almost every desk.
But there was a problem. Sure, computers were easier to use now, but what if one wanted to do something on them besides play Solitaire? What if a business wanted to actually connect all of it's computers together? Who would fix them when they broke, or froze up? This development was monumental for nerds everywhere, for now, being a nerd had a wide-spread practical application. Nerds now performed a role in society besides filling Star Trek conventions or being contestants on Jeopardy. Now, nerds were necessary. Indeed, during the dot-com and tech boon of the 90's, being a nerd could be quite profitable.
Nerds are now among the most successful people on the planet. Take Bill Gates, for example. One would be hard-pressed to find a bigger nerd than Mr. Gates, but he now owns approximately half of the planet. He's married to an attractive woman and seems to have a happy and stable family life. Yet, imagine what his life would be like if not for the advent of computers. He would probably come every night from his job at the local Radio Shack to a lonely apartment, with only his collection of Star Wars action figures to keep him company.
I don't know if the current crop of nerdy children are ridiculed the way their predecessors were in my time. But if they are, they can at least take solace in the likelihood that those who are mocking them now will probably be working for them in the future.