Thursday, February 20, 2003

Nerds and GEECS

Remember these dorks? Yeah, me neither.

As an adolescent in the late eighties, the era most definitively immortalized by John Hughes movies and John Cusack's early film career, I was neither smart enough nor disinterested enough in the pursuit of popularity as a full-time occupation to be truly considered a nerd. But I identify with nerds, an inevitability when one teaches media and web design, and when one, due to a pedagogical belief that students will rise to the occasion most successfully when treated like adults, most prefers those students who are more intellectual than not, more adult than not in their thinking.

Now, along comes Paul Graham with Why Nerds Are Unpopular, a long but eminently readable treatise on adolescent nerd-dom currently making the bloggiverse rounds -- if popdex is to be trusted, second only to evhead's musings on google's purchase of Pyra Labs, blogger parent company. Graham's thesis:

Nerds aren't losers. They're just playing a different game, and a game much closer to the one played in the real world. Adults know this. It's hard to find successful adults now who don't claim to have been nerds in high school.

For those who have been living under a rock with cheerleaders for the past few decades, geeks are a specific subset of nerds, distinguished within the larger nerdgroup for their interest in things technical and physic. GEECS, in true nerd form both a recursive acronym and a homonym for the descriptive term, stands for GEECS for Electronics, Engineering and Computer Science, although the long form of the acronym does change over time as technologies change. The group's strength and numbers wax and wane, but it is most famous for first bringing the internet and later email onto campus; these days, the students continue to toy with their own server, and meet not-regularly-at-all to discuss all things geek. Of the several of my students that read this blog regularly, most belong to this small club.

There's no question that W.N.A.U. holds true for much of the predominantly tech-oriented blog community. But I was curious to see if Graham's detailed treatise held water today, so I forwarded the link to the NMH's GEECS club. The essay in question isn't technical; it's social science, much like the cyberstudies I proclaim to practice, so I wasn't sure if they'd be into all that reading. But I am pelased to report that, so far, the response has been very powerful. They like the piece; it resonates. Seems Graham's thesis is as true today as it once was. Seems that nerd-dom hasn't changed much since Graham and I were in high school.

And that kinda makes me happy. It also makes me miss some of my favorite adolescent peer groups, much like the one Graham describes: the token asian student, the kid in the fedora, the girl with the neck brace, the kid who never washed or changed his clothes, me. Like Graham, I moved on to the freaks group -- an overlapping group of equally smart kids who tend to dress much cooler, skip class for McDonalds runs in illicit senior's cars, and furtively smoke behind the gym door between classes -- by mid-high school, and, for a while, toggled between the two groups, but I miss it, and I think of the kids who think I'm cool, not nerd-like at all, I I wonder if they're missing the whole idea of it all, and I've never wished I was still a nerd more.

Incidentally, I'm toying with the idea of an eventual (really long term) blogserver and internal template here at NMH, for classroom use; I snuck the article to them under the radar by pretending I was asking them about this possibility, and the few GEECS kids who responded seemed to like the idea of getting involved if and when we decide such a thing would be useful and desirable. I like it too. I can keep my socialsci status, and not have to learn RSS after all. It's a fulltime vocation just studying the stuff; better let the next generation of nerds and geeks do the dirty work if and when they can: arguably, it's the only way they'll learn.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:49 PM |

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