How The Internet Made Nerds Cool

How The Internet Made Nerds Cool

There was a time when being the sort of person who wore glasses, had braces, liked books and/or did well in school made you a target for bullying. I think, among younger people, this is still the case. I know that at primary school I was constantly being called a ‘bodrick’ (however that’s really spelt) because I was clever.

But for the older ones, who spend their time on internet and watching YouTube videos, it’s ceased to be an insult. It’s a label that people wear with pride – I’ve seen so many Twitter biographies that just list ‘nerd’ as one of their attributes.

When trying to discover the reasoning behind this, my first thoughts are that it’s because of John and Hank Green, known to the YouTube community as the vlogbrothers, and the people responsible for various things including the forums, In Your Pants, the record label, DFTBA records, and VidCon. The community nerdfighteria has definitely made people who once tried to be cool revel in their eccentricity. Seeing DFTBA written on someone’s bag in permanent marker will instantly make the two of you friends. (I know this from personal experience.) But the Vlogbrothers are not alone.

So, you ask, was it Charlie McDonnell and Alex Day? Was it Liam Dryden? Was it just Chameleon Circuit in general, with their undeniably nerdy songs? Were these vloggers’ ridiculous, sometimes Doctor Who related videos what made nerds cool?

I don’t think it was any one person. I think that the Internet itself made being nerdy cool.

For a while, people who had computers were obscenely rich, or scientists. Then they were people who needed them for work. Then they were people who were ahead of the trend, or incredibly geeky. And finally, computers became something that almost everybody in the first world had, something that schools took for granted when setting homework (very annoying for those whose Internet is down!). But still, people who spent all evening on the Internet were obviously social outcasts.

And then came forums, and YouTube, and Twitter, and the hundreds of thousands of blogs that now exist, and people began to see that they weren’t alone, that other people felt the same way they did about all sorts of things. They entered into discussions about various aspects of TV shows and books that none of their friends in real-life wanted to admit that they’d seen or read, and that was when things began to change.

People found that they weren’t alone. People saw that others were exactly the same as them. They realised – I don’t have to be like the ‘cool’ people! I can be who I want to be, because this community on [insert social media here] will support me whatever happens!

And so they were. At first, they were bullied, but they had support. More and more people joined them. Are you really going to make fun of the gruop that outnumbers you? Are you?

When I was at primary school the ‘cool’ kids were the ones who got in trouble, who wore fashionable clothes…well, you know the drill. And it was the same for the first couple of years at secondary school, too. But now I’m in year eleven, my last year of compulsory schooling, and I’m beginning to notice what probably began at least a year ago: there are two groups of popular kids. There are the troublesome, fashionable students, and then there are the nerds.

And they’re not all acne-ridden geniuses (genii?) with glasses. They know how to dress (most of them), and they won’t say no to a party or a shopping trip, but that doesn’t mean they’re not nerds.

Being a nerd isn’t about what other people think you are, it’s about what you think you are. It’s about the conversations you’ve had with perfect strangers about the stupidest of things; it’s about daring to be different; it’s about going out there and saying that you don’t care what others think, you’ll work for your exams and get the grades you deserve; it’s about not hiding your light because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself; and most of all, it’s about connecting.

Maybe ‘nerd’ isn’t the right word any more. So many of the people I know who spend time on the Internet, or people I’ve met online, consider themselves to be ‘nerdfighters’, reducing ‘world suck’. And that’s great. Me? I’ve always wanted to stand out from the crowd and it took me way too long to realise that I watched the videos, every one of them, and I was a Nerdfighter. Being a member of the community wouldn’t take away my uniqueness, it would make me belong.

‘Nerd’ used to mean someone who was clever, who liked computers, and who wasn’t too good around people. Oh, there was more to it than that, but it wasn’t a good thing. Now there’s a certain brand of people for whom it’s the ultimate compliment.

“You’re such a nerd!”

“Why, thank you.”

Being a nerd isn’t so unique any more. There are more of them around than there ever were, and I blame the Internet. Or thank it, I’m not sure which.

But its very nature enables you to be different. Be yourself, however weird others think that is, and you’ll find yourself supported by so many people. I have never met a nerd who disliked another nerd for being ‘not nerdy enough’ or ‘not one of us’.

Joining a community of online weirdos isn’t going to make you lose yourself; you don’t have to conform to fit. People will accept you.

That’s what I’ve learned since I started spending time on the Internet, and although sometimes I find myself irritated by people who have never done something slightly nerdy in their life (You mean, you’ve never sneaked up behind someone with a toy dalek, or made a vlog, or discussed the finer philosophy of Doctor Who, or compared LotR to Star Trek, or got distracted in a library for more than an hour? You haven’t lived!) calling themselves ‘nerds’, I force myself to forgive them. Who am I to judge?

It can only be a good thing, can’t it, that so many people over the world are connecting under one virtual banner?

Well. That’s open to debate.

But for now I say: be proud to be a nerd. Be proud to be different. Be proud to like what you want to like and not worry what other people will think about you because of it.

But most of all,

Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

13 thoughts on “How The Internet Made Nerds Cool

  1. They are not Nerds, well at least not here in the states, they are Geeks.

    You see Geeks are Nerds with social skills… Nerds are still trageted, because they can’t socially function, even ON the internet. *grin*

    Though yes we will say “You’re so nerdy” but more often it’s geeky. Funny how that works.

    Basically what it all boils down to is that as our society becomes more complex and we rely more and more on brain power over man power (after all we have machines to do the heavy lifting and what not) the geeks and nerds start taking the place of the jocks and socialites.

    We’ll still need meatheads in the military though. Smart people tend to have too much self preservation *wink* :}

    1. See, over here I’d say it was the other way around, that being a nerd was cooler than being a geek. After all you get nerdfighters but you don’t get geekfighters – and the vlogbrothers are American.

  2. I agree! Totally! I consider myself to be a nerd too, but I guess I’ll have to leave that to others to decide. What I do know is that I am into archery and swordplay, and that I love computergames which, each thing by itself is quite strange for a girl. So I definitely stand out in some ways. And that’s good.
    Also, the word nerd has been redefined in a way that I really like. It’s the new “goth” or “punk” you could say. Nerds stand out. But not in a dark or messed up kinda way. But in a way that says “Oi, we know you people might find us strange, but there are a lot of us, and we won’t harm you but you will have to learn to deal with our existence peacefully.” And that’s simply wonderful.

  3. I’m with you – proud to be a nerd. Even prouder to be a nerd before the people I hang around with ever were, because they had this compulsive need to ‘be popular’ in high school. Being an outcast among even close friends is pretty fun, actually. :D

    In school, honestly, it was great to finally get the Internet and realize ‘hey, there are people like me out there!’ then it kind of went to my head … but it was fun while it lasted. xD

    awesome post. (:

    1. Don’t worry, I know what you meant. And I had a few “:/” moments while writing this post – got halfway through a sentence and then, “Um, what was I trying to say here?”

  4. Being different is freaking awesome. I’ve been bullied over it in the past, but now I say, screw it, I’m having fun, the rest of you can go and get eaten by Vogons.

    Geeks, nerds and social oddities, unite!

  5. One thing I feel I have to mention reading this post: nerd culture is at least as cruel as ‘popular’ culture. Noobs on forums who are made to feel intimidated, the huge amounts of jargon, the competitiveness, the obsession with being nerdy, and so if you’re pretty nerdy but actually you know what you do actually rather happen to like The Apprentice/Gossip Girl/Cheerleading/Football or whatever else, you can be damn sure your nerd friends will be as likely to disown you for that as your popular friends would be for liking nerd stuff. And it was nerds who invented trolling. The ‘nerd culture’ is another sub-tribe of popular culture with its in crowd and out crowd and faux pas. Being genuinely geeky is awesome and should never be denigrated, but nerd culture and being generally geeky are not the same thing.

    I’ve had a few experiences with nerds committed to reducing ‘world suck’ and none of them were pleasant. I am increasing world suck by being too happy and optimistic and too into dresses and by selling out. Surely I could argue that being obsessive about dresses – not just wearing and buying them but turning them inside out, figuring out the stitching and how the seams are made and what kind of tension you need on your sewing machine with that fabric, and how I could make a dress. And then making a dress and writing about it and how it worked and how it didn’t work – surely that is insanely geeky? I know my boy friends think so! But it doesn’t fit the profile of ‘nerd’, just like ‘star wars’ doesn’t fit the profile of ‘popular’. It’s kind of ironic in many ways – Glee was thought of as a programme for unpopular kids with unpopular stars because the Glee Club isn’t cool. Now Glee is cool and liking Glee is a sure way to get nerds to rain their internet vitriol on you. And I know you’ve experienced the nice side of the internet (which is good) but go scroll down some youtube videos by popular musicians and look at the vitriol then deny that it’s trolling by nerds.

    There’s a pretty cruel side to nerd culture because it’s predominantly a teen culture, and teen cultures are predominantly cruel.

    1. Thanks for the insanely long comment, Bella – didn’t even see it was you until I’d already finished.
      Yes, it’s very obvious it can be cruel, I’ve seen that myself. But on a lot of sites – SUCH as NaNoWriMo, In Your Pants, etc – they’re not like at all. And they’re probably the least ‘nerdiest’ and most ‘bookish’, if that makes sense?
      YouTube, on the other hand, is full of people insulting each other and being mean. I’ve noticed that a lot. There are lovely people, and there are unlovely people.

  6. Yes. It all depends on where you find your nerd culture.

    A prime example I can give is in the MMO world (that’s the Massivly Multiplaer Online games, like World of Warcraft). When i started playing back in the early 2,000 there was this place called the VN boards, filled with, not jsut ttens, but adutls as well, who were trolls and vitrolic and fighting with thier e-peens.

    I never really posted there, and when I did, you can be use I had my guild there to back me up and b’ slap anyone who messed with me (cuase my guild was filled with awesome geeks). But you see those boards, just like Youtube, isn’t policed until someone makes a big stink about something.

    On the contrary sites like NaNoWriMo and Protagonize are foracbly ploiced. The communities are also smaller. And as Miriam pointed out – more bookish. I don’t know if that makes a difference, but even some of the guild/alliance sites where a whole heck of a lot friendly.

    I think it boils down to finding the right group (something I’ve always struggled with) who feels as strongly as you on a particular topic, and unless your going into a private conversation, you leave your discussins to that.

    Most of that bitterness and being vitrolic is a product of being able to be hidden by the masses. And there are some adults who are even worse then the teens because they have nothing better to do than try and make themselves feel better by brining others down.

    But on to a more happy and optimistic and compeltely unrelated topic…

    Bella – You sew! How cool is that. Me too. I make my kids costums every year to make sure I get a little sewing in. Sometimes I try to make something for myself. *grin* Sadly I have but one desk and going from sewing to writing is not all that quickly done as I’ve come to discover. And your right buying a dress to study it and moke one for yourself is totlaly geeky, just not in a computer way. And to those who laugh :P~ on them… *giggles*

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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