Do you enjoy reading about physics as a hobby? Do you know the first ten digits after the decimal for pi? Did you build your computer from scratch from CPU to motherboard? Do you know what entropy means? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you might be a nerd.
What Is a Nerd?
The nerd definition according to Dictionary.com is “a person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.” or “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.” But it’s not a bad thing to engage in solitary activities like science or computers. And granted, not everyone knows or cares about the Avogadro constant.
The word is a relatively recent one, having entered the English language around 1950. It’s thought to be a variation of the 1940s slang word, nert, which means stupid person. That definition didn’t last long, of course. Today, it has the opposite meaning. It’s unfortunate that being knowledgeable about a subject makes you an object of ridicule. It couldn’t be more false.
Nerds or geeks, if you will, have an excellent sense of focus. They throw themselves into a favorite subject and learn everything they can about it. They want to know how and why things work. But knowledge isn’t fun unless you share it. And that’s probably where they get the bad rap.
The Curse of Knowledge
The average person may not have a comprehensive grasp of heavy-duty topics like organic chemistry or genetics—unless you took a lot of science classes in college. And some topics like physiology have a steeper learning curve because of the large amount of base knowledge you need to master to understand the more complex ideas.
A nerd gets that concept. That’s why he takes time to read and pursue those nonsocial activities. You can say that they are dedicated, lifelong learners. But it comes at a price known as the curse of knowledge. After awhile, you get so fluent in your subject that you find it hard to relate when someone doesn’t understand the Kreb’s cycle.
What a geek may lack in social skills they more than make up for it in the pride they have of their knowledge base. There’s a certain pleasure in being able to point out that a history program has the actors carrying World War II rifles in a scene that is supposed to be from the Civil War. And don’t you love it when you can call out a movie star talking about an intercostal clavicle bone?
It’s hard sometimes not to speak up and nerd out on someone who claims that dolphins are fish. That’s because geeks feel like it’s their duty to stamp out ignorance. The world would be a better place if people would stop looking for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster.
Another thing that distinguishes a nerd is an intense love for trivia. He is the person you can call when you need to set up your email account on a new computer. He’s the one who will know the largest lake in the world so that you can win a bet with your buddy. (It’s the Caspian Sea, by the way.) And he’s definitely the guy you want on your trivia contest team.
Geeks relish the fact that they know their subject matter well. Even if they aren’t boasting about it, they know that they are experts in their field. Questions about it are welcome and confirm what they already have realized long ago; they’re cool because they have the wealth of information.
Always Something to Do
Geeks are also lucky in the fact that there’s always more to learn. Whether you’re a gamer trying to find cheats in the latest shooter app or a computer geek finding Easter eggs in software, having the upper hand is fun and exposes other people’s kryptonite to level the playing field. When they’ve given up at level three, you’re finishing the game.
And another great but unrecognized trait of geeks is that they’re comfortable in their skin with their own company. So many people strive to find that kind of reality; they know it first hand. They don’t need the latest fashion or the newest toy. They’re happy with what they have the knowledge they gain from learning more.
Say what they will about them, but geeks have made a big difference in the course of history. Where would we be today without the relativity theory of Albert Einstein? Or how about the work of Richard Feynman and quantum electrodynamics? The cool thing about Feynman is that he made uber-complex topics like physics accessible with his Feynman diagrams.
Stephen Hawking is one of the foremost geeks of modern times. LIke Feynman, Hawking is a physicist who has made this science more accessible and mainstream with the publication of his best seller, A Brief History of Time. He showed that he was something of a contemporary Nostradamus with many of his theoretical predictions confirmed in subsequent years.
Living the Life
The best way to live your life as a geek is to admit it. Everyone else knows it already, so you might as well climb on the bandwagon. And wear that badge with pride. Shake up the common nerd meaning and stand tall. And a little empathy might help your cause too. Everyone, after all, has a story.
Many people probably can recall the tough times they had in school. Perhaps someone failed a class that cost them a scholarship. Or maybe they were teased because they flunked an exam. Then, they see you as this smart person who understands it all. It can be hard for them to face those defeats in life again. They may feel intimidated. So, they lash out.
But you get it. You’re a self-proclaimed geek, and you’re proud of it. Good for you! And the next time you get razzed for knowing the scientific names and meanings for dandelion and other common plants, encourage your friends to come over to the nerd side; we have π.