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Where the geeks at?

Blake J. Graham | Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The athlete is easy to spot. She moves with terrifying precision to translate an object from point A to point B with her hands, feet, head or some other tool attached to her body. She does this with unseemly cool, not acknowledging the pressure of those who watch, nor crushed by the expectations of her teammates. Her talent is on display because her talent of grandeur is indivisible from her person. Wherever she goes, even the misinformed can gather – she is an athlete.
Geeks, nerds, dorks and dweebs seldom wear their identities so proudly. But I have it on good authority – you are likely a geek and it’s entirely the Internet’s fault.
Fret not. Don’t be so offended; sit back down and kindly stop threatening to choke me. It’s quite all right to be a nerd. This isn’t grammar school. I promise no one will throw a ball at your head for reading a book on “American Stamps Throughout the Ages” during recess. It’s quite vogue to be a nerd these days, so keep your chin up.
Geek Chic is a thing these days, making nerds, dare I say it, sexy. You’re a hot commodity for at least another 18 months. The highest-grossing blockbusting films are based on comic-born heroes. Horn rimmed glasses are fashionable, and pale dudes with massive egos can create a social network to spite girls who didn’t like them and make billions of dollars in the process.
Nerd language is vague and hard to wade through. It’s hard to say what a geek is, but common knowledge would point to it being anything but good. While vaguely attributed to a line in Dr. Suess’s “If I Ran The Zoo,” “nerd” gained popularity in the early 1950s as an alteration of the slang “nert,” meaning a crazy or stupid person.
Preceding that term by a couple decades, “geek” came into use around 1916 to refer to a sideshow character at the circus who would perform strange and spectacular feats, like biting the heads off animals. These words have evolved over time – I don’t accuse you of being dull or having carnivorous desires for snake heads. The essential point is that geeks and nerds circa 1950 were people on the fringe of society. Today we still hold that location on the fringe, but rather than be the rejected flock from society, it is us who do the rejecting to create our own normative standards of living, being and interacting.
Geeks don’t exist on the fringe for the sake of it alone, but rather are pushed there by two important qualities – obsession and intelligence. It is the combined product of the two, which creates the geek you likely are. Geekdom comes in many flavors and varieties depending on where the obsession lies. There are computer geeks, book geeks, fishing geeks, sport geeks, electronic geeks, indie-rock geeks, gadget geeks, hiking geeks, thespian geeks, fitness geeks, binge-drinking geek, photo geeks, Harry Potter geeks, language geeks and so many, many more.
Until the year 2000 and access to the Internet became widespread, the title of geek was reserved for the arduously initiated. Without the mass proliferation of data, it was a terribly abstruse process to become saturated in your hobbies to the point of obsession. If you wanted to be a rock geek, you had to wait until Nirvana’s newest album came out, then you’d have to walk to a record store and purchase, then you’d have to take it home and listen to it, then you’d have to go find your rock geek friends to talk on it and compare notes. Now, you Google “Neutral Milk Hotel,” click a link and shrug while texting your friends, “I liked their earlier work better.”
The obsession tied to the psyche of a nerd previously forced people outside of normative society. Folks who wanted to immerse themselves in Star Wars culture had to forego ridged structures of society that would admonish their attachment. The outcasts only had each other, and these were relationships often difficult to find.
If you want to be a master sports statistician, you simply have to type to find the wildest, most precise and comprehensive data imaginable.
Then you can craft an educated sentence about your findings and tweet it. Your self-selected fans who love you for you (data-centric sports comments included) will appreciate what you have to share.
Want to boast about your Harry Potter fan fiction where Professor Flitwick and Trelawney elope and go fight dragons? Just log into MuggleNet and type until your fingers hurt. The community will eat it up, because they feel as you do, and you’ve found each other online.
The fringe component and general social ineptitude previously requisite for geek status is gone, so I welcome you to turn to one another and smile in your collective geekiness. Accept and own it because it’s something you can wear proudly. You’re not on the fringe, you’re society’s heart.
Blake J. Graham is a sophomore. He can be reached on Twitter @BlakeGraham or at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.