I really don’t like the television show, “The Big Bang Theory”. As a mathematically minded person, I dislike the entire ethos of the show; it perpetuates a stereotype of smart people being unable to function in common society. I know that I’m in a bit of a minority in this regard. For people who identify with the “nerds”, it offers them a chance to see a representative of their social group on television. For everyone else, I understand they appreciate the humor of the show. I do not like the show. For one thing, there are not enough women to in any way stymy the “fake geek girl” stereotype. But mostly, I think that most intelligent people out there are not completely socially awkward, and it’s a disservice to portray them as such. This though, makes me a traitor to the concept of nerd, because I assume that communication skills are more important than passion and intelligence.
I am very concerned about fitting into society. My girlfriend, who is an actor, can strike up a conversation with literally everyone and have them be interested. Who doesn’t love talking to a future movie star? I, on the other hand, am concerned about the way I will be treated if I wax poetic about computer science or human-computer interaction. I try always to not talk about work or side projects, unless they hold some sort of interest to the people I’m talking to. I am afraid of being socially awkward, so I only talk about the things that don’t qualify as “nerdy”. I try much too hard to be cool, and when I meet someone who is less concerned about societal acceptance, I have a strange, half-jealous, half-judgmental reaction. “They are the reason ‘nerd’ is an insult,” I’ll think to myself¹. But really, I am the reason, or at least a part of it. I am pretty good at fitting in, and I should be the one talking not about how nerds can be more accepted, but how society can be more accepting.
John Green, of the Vlog Brothers, has great quotation, widespread on the internet:
“…nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff”
I think that this is a great way to redefine social awkwardness. Unabashed excitement about something that might not be exciting to someone else is one of the surest ways to make someone more interested in a topic. I know that, as a student, I wanted to learn more when the teacher was excited about the material, and I think that, as a tutor, my students learned better when I conveyed how thrilled I was by computer science. What I want to see, in myself, as well as in the world in general, is less of a focus on fitting in and being cool, and more of a focus on accepting outliers in society. I want the world to appreciate the “unironically enthusiastic” as people with valuable input, not as outcasts. And I want to be a part of the movement to make that happen. John and Hank Green, consider this my official registration as a nerdfighter.
1. I really dislike the terms “nerd”, “geek”, “dork”, et cetera. I use them with quite a lot of guilt. I think, in general, I don’t really like the reclaiming of negatively connotated words, at least in my life. But, I understand that people can redefine a word in their own vocabulary so that it causes less mental damage when it’s used negatively. Certainly, most of my friends (as well as myself) considered “weird” a compliment growing up, and still do.