19 votes

Where did all the nerds go?

I was a nerd.

Back in the 80's, nerds were easily identifiable.

If you spent your time playing computer games instead of real games, were pale and lanky, you were a nerd. Bonus points if you played D&D or read books for fun.

Now everyone seems to qualify.

Everyone in high school looks pale and lanky. They all have their noses buried in their digital devices.

Does the concept not even exist anymore?

Or do I just no longer "get it"?

29 comments

  1. [2]
    crowbahr
    Link
    Part of what you're seeing is the victory of nerd-dom: Everyone else realized that computer games were cool. Part of it is also that you're unable to see the stratification that still exists....

    Part of what you're seeing is the victory of nerd-dom: Everyone else realized that computer games were cool.

    Part of it is also that you're unable to see the stratification that still exists. Among those with their noses buried in cyberspace are the new jocks, the new preps, the new losers. It's simply being out of touch with exactly how the younger generation functions.

    That said: most people (even back in the 80s) don't fit into an easy category like that really. Modern "youth" allows for a much wider range of sub-cultures and groupings that intermingle because of a wider reach for friendships.

    34 votes
    1. Grawlix
      Link Parent
      I think a part of it is also that the barriers keeping people from joining a hobby or fandom are much lower, too. You don't need to hunt down tapes of a show you heard about, hope to find that out...

      I think a part of it is also that the barriers keeping people from joining a hobby or fandom are much lower, too. You don't need to hunt down tapes of a show you heard about, hope to find that out of print comic, or have to read through a dense rulebook just to get into a game. Everything's much more accessible.

      A part of me does miss having that kind of smaller, cozier sense of community. That said, I'm not going to brag about walking to and from school uphill both ways. :p (Heck, I grew up with the internet, which in this metaphor means I didn't even have to walk through the snow!) I wish I had easier access to the things I was into when I was a kid, and younger kids today are better off for having that. There's just a nostalgic part of me for the more tight-knit groups, and that sense of discovery when you found something really neat.

      12 votes
  2. [13]
    feigneddork
    Link
    I'm not trying to be rude, but this post comes across as incredibly gate-keepy. I mean, does it even matter if someone is a nerd or not? What's with the label? I'm personally more interested in...

    I'm not trying to be rude, but this post comes across as incredibly gate-keepy. I mean, does it even matter if someone is a nerd or not? What's with the label?

    I'm personally more interested in the person's interest rather than any labels society places on them for acting a certain way.

    26 votes
    1. [12]
      nic
      Link Parent
      Had to google that one. Labels were a thing, back when I grew up. I'm asking do the younger generation have similar labels these days. Not sure how that qualifies as gate-keeping, but then the...

      gate-keepy

      Had to google that one.

      Labels were a thing, back when I grew up.

      I'm asking do the younger generation have similar labels these days.

      Not sure how that qualifies as gate-keeping, but then the only gate-keeping I can relate to is in political or religious circles.

      14 votes
      1. [10]
        vivaria
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        It's gatekeeping in the sense that, the stereotypical view of nerds (pale, lanky, poorly-dressed, awkward, often male) ties those qualities to the nerdy interests themselves. It suggests, "only...

        It's gatekeeping in the sense that, the stereotypical view of nerds (pale, lanky, poorly-dressed, awkward, often male) ties those qualities to the nerdy interests themselves. It suggests, "only people with these qualities can be called nerds, and only nerds are allowed to like nerdy hobbies and interests."

        But, what happens when you're not socially awkward, not white, not skinny, or not male but have nerdy interests? Where do you fit into nerdy subcultures? Do you?

        To answer your questions in the original post: The concept does still exist, in the sense that nerdy subcultures still aren't all that diverse, and are still often hostile to non-white, non-male people. Nerdy media made by (or for) people who don't fit the traditional definition of a nerd is relatively less common, too. But at the same time, this concept is slowly fading, in the sense that its definition is actively being challenged to include groups that have traditionally been excluded.

        14 votes
        1. [9]
          nic
          Link Parent
          If I use and define a label like nerd, then I'm labeled as a gate-keeper? So gatekeeping is a label used by people who don't like labels?

          If I use and define a label like nerd, then I'm labeled as a gate-keeper?

          So gatekeeping is a label used by people who don't like labels?

          7 votes
          1. [2]
            JakeTheDog
            Link Parent
            No, the gate-keeping aspect is the establishment of a set of specifications for a label. In this case the 80's definition is outdated. Today it's a lot more fluid. e.g. I'm an academic, love tech...

            No, the gate-keeping aspect is the establishment of a set of specifications for a label. In this case the 80's definition is outdated. Today it's a lot more fluid.

            e.g. I'm an academic, love tech and do DIY electronics at home, love sci-fi and RPGs, am fairly skinny and not tanned, and was bullied/shunned as a kid for my interests. But, I also love to party, play sports and have tattoos. Am I a nerd?

            13 votes
            1. nic
              Link Parent
              By the 80's definition, I think everyone does :)

              Now everyone seems to qualify.

              By the 80's definition, I think everyone does :)

              4 votes
          2. [6]
            vivaria
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            There's a difference between "nerdy" meaning "techie, sci-fi, fantasy-related interests" vs. "nerdy" meaning "techie, sci-fi, fantasy-related interests that are only for socially awkward, skinny,...

            There's a difference between "nerdy" meaning "techie, sci-fi, fantasy-related interests" vs. "nerdy" meaning "techie, sci-fi, fantasy-related interests that are only for socially awkward, skinny, white males."

            One is a label that describes the culture, and the other is a label that describes the culture and the specific type of people who are allowed to be a part of that culture. One definition gatekeeps while the other doesn't. *

            Your OP makes reference to the type of person in addition to the things that person enjoys. The additional "type of person" bit is the gatekeeping bit.

            * Has sci-fi/fantasy traditionally catered to people who are white and straight and male? What sorts of representation can be found in typical sci-fi/fantasy stories? Is it always positive or accurate? Point being that it's worth considering whether that first definition is even inherently inclusive.

            3 votes
            1. [5]
              nic
              Link Parent
              I feel like my original statement was fairly inclusionary...

              Now everyone seems to qualify.

              I feel like my original statement was fairly inclusionary...

              7 votes
              1. [4]
                vivaria
                Link Parent
                I think this has all been a bit of a misunderstanding. I got the impression you were saying something different than you meant. Now I'm not really sure what's going on anymore.

                I think this has all been a bit of a misunderstanding.

                I got the impression you were saying something different than you meant. Now I'm not really sure what's going on anymore.

                3 votes
                1. [3]
                  nic
                  Link Parent
                  I am also perplexed, but I do appreciate your well thought out and kind hearted responses.

                  I am also perplexed, but I do appreciate your well thought out and kind hearted responses.

                  10 votes
                  1. [2]
                    vivaria
                    (edited )
                    Link Parent
                    Thank you for being so patient even though commenters (myself included) have given you some pushback. I think what happened was I interpreted your initial description as being protective of the...

                    Thank you for being so patient even though commenters (myself included) have given you some pushback.

                    I think what happened was I interpreted your initial description as being protective of the '80s nerd identity. I think the sentence in particular I latched onto was "Now everyone seems to qualify." -- to me, it sounded like this was something you were complaining about. (As if there were too many people who qualify, and that 'nerd' has lost its meaning in a bad way.) I even had the voice in my head... this sort of exasperated "Now everyone seems to qualify... can you believe it?" Especially when I am used to hearing complaining about things being "too inclusive" on the internet from people who don't want things to change. But I think that was definitely a misinterpretation?

                    Tone on the internet is hard, so I think I may have read meaning into something that wasn't there, and went off on a tangent for no reason. I imagine we come from different generations as well. That probably makes online communication even more thorny, as we probably express ourselves differently and read into different cues to interpret tone. Sorry about that!

                    To make something positive of this, here is an interesting video I like that is in a similar vein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS4X1JfX6_Q

                    6 votes
                    1. nic
                      (edited )
                      Link Parent
                      You've done such a wonderful job of explaining your point of view. Let me try to do the same. I don't know anyone who self identified as a nerd or a dork back in the 80's. I frankly feel...

                      You've done such a wonderful job of explaining your point of view. Let me try to do the same.

                      I don't know anyone who self identified as a nerd or a dork back in the 80's.

                      I frankly feel incredibly uncomfortable labeling myself as a nerd. I never considered myself a nerd. I don't remember anyone calling me a nerd. Almost nobody in high school cared that I tried to program and hack my computer. Just like absolutely nobody in high school cared that I went sky diving. The only thing that interested anyone was the weird drunken antics I sometimes got up to at high school parties.

                      I didn't mention all that originally because it seemed unnecessary and superfluous.

                      But it seemed rude to categorize 80's nerds as having undesirable traits without admitting that I did some nerdy things myself. So I simply said I was a nerd, and that used to be a bad thing, but now we all do those things, so what are the bad things now?

                      If people want to be a hipster nerd (they were a nerd when it wasn't cool) then let them. If hipster nerds want to gate-keep, who cares? If someone instantly assumes I am a hipster nerd who is trying to gate-keep, well... now I am curious. And more than a little amused that I inadvertently stepped on a land mine. Are generation z'ers anti-labels and pro-inclusion about everything, or is it just the computer-nerd thing?

                      This is the golden age of computers. You can learn anything. You can do anything. Individually, anonymously, or as a group.

                      The only person who can exclude you from doing something, is yourself.

                      "Do. Or do not. There is no try.” - The Empire Strikes Back.

                      “It's not who we are underneath, but what we do that defines us.” - Batman Begins.

                      Edit: Hopefully that comes across as more inspirational than anything else.

      2. hoytschermerhorn
        Link Parent
        I'm surprised at how many people got triggered by your (imo fairly innocuous) question. Ironically these "gate keeping" comments might be an inadvertent response to your question? Even mentioning...

        I'm surprised at how many people got triggered by your (imo fairly innocuous) question. Ironically these "gate keeping" comments might be an inadvertent response to your question? Even mentioning the concept of high school cliques causes outrage, and maybe that's further proof of why we see less obvious "nerds" vs. "jocks" vs. "whatever". In other words, calling yourself an "other" is criticized so harshly by acceptance culture that kids must fall in line & conform.

        4 votes
  3. [2]
    NaraVara
    (edited )
    Link
    It's not just "nerds," most easily identifiable social groups are kind of averaged out now because of the internet. This counts for punks, goths, jocks, and all the other tropey things. You don't...

    It's not just "nerds," most easily identifiable social groups are kind of averaged out now because of the internet. This counts for punks, goths, jocks, and all the other tropey things.

    You don't need those subtle clothing/music/movies signifiers to fit in with your group because online research makes it easier to be a convincing "poser" and it's easier for people from different social groups and walks of life to discover stuff that the others are doing. You don't need the same intensity of interest to participate in communities anymore and the existence of group chat has rendered most of those obvious visual signifiers moot.

    15 votes
    1. nic
      Link Parent
      Your comment really resonates. It is so much easier to expose yourself to different activities.

      Your comment really resonates.

      It is so much easier to expose yourself to different activities.

      3 votes
  4. [3]
    agentseven
    Link
    It's funny you should say this. I was just talking to a guy who has kids in high school and we were talking about how different things are from when we were kids in high school (ie: the 80s). He...

    It's funny you should say this. I was just talking to a guy who has kids in high school and we were talking about how different things are from when we were kids in high school (ie: the 80s).

    He says there don't seem to be any cliques of any sort anymore. No jocks, no preps, no nerds. Everyone seems mostly the same - they may all have different interests, but they use the same (online) tools to explore those interests. And nobody parties. No parties, and little irl socializing of any sort.

    It seems like the ultimate triumph of technology. I'm hoping we're all going to be better off for it, but it's so incredibly different, I don't really know how to process it. I know high school was fucking painful for me and maybe this means it won't be as bad for the younger generation.

    7 votes
    1. nic
      Link Parent
      Yes! When we were growing up, our interests were primarily defined by what our friends did. Sure, we branched out, but it was a hard fucking slog going it alone. Now you just google it, and you...

      Yes!

      When we were growing up, our interests were primarily defined by what our friends did. Sure, we branched out, but it was a hard fucking slog going it alone.

      Now you just google it, and you can replace your hard drive then repair your garbage disposal.

      To be sure, I question if the lack of IRL socializing is a good thing, but on the whole the younger generation seem a lot more emotionally mature than we were.

      2 votes
    2. NaraVara
      Link Parent
      This might be a consequence of where you live. My nephews party a lot. Like, too much. But it started after they got cars. In the city I live in, the kids also seem to party a lot and they start...

      This might be a consequence of where you live. My nephews party a lot. Like, too much. But it started after they got cars. In the city I live in, the kids also seem to party a lot and they start way younger, presumably because they don’t need cars to get around.

      And there are identifiable cliques, but they’re just not the 80s move trope cliques. They’re more like around areas of interest or identification. The rednecks hang out with the rednecks, the Black kids all sit together, the rich kids and the poor kids don’t interact much, there’s a bunch of riot grrrls, etc.

      That last one is probably one of the biggest. There are still cliques of kids who are rich and popular, but popularity doesn’t necessarily tie down to the “football team and cheerleaders” thing.

      2 votes
  5. Grand0rbiter
    Link
    Pay a visit to you local boardgame store that hosts Magic The Gathering days. You'll see. I could be qualified as a nerd or not. I like boardgames, metal, linux and the command line. I also go to...

    Pay a visit to you local boardgame store that hosts Magic The Gathering days. You'll see.

    I could be qualified as a nerd or not. I like boardgames, metal, linux and the command line. I also go to the gym and have nice clothes.

    But i have friends that are way more into boardgames and love super heroes and star wars to the point of buying minis, clothes, etc. I don't know what is a nerd.

    It's just people with different interests.

    4 votes
  6. mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    Nerd culture won. It is now basically indistinguishable from the dominant culture.

    Nerd culture won. It is now basically indistinguishable from the dominant culture.

    3 votes
  7. clone1
    Link
    I was in high school until last year, and there are definitely still nerds. Sure, everyone has a phone and plays video games now, but most high school students just learn enough about technology...

    I was in high school until last year, and there are definitely still nerds. Sure, everyone has a phone and plays video games now, but most high school students just learn enough about technology to talk to their friends and consume media. D&D and Magic the gathering are still nerdy hobbies, at least in my area. Most kids play video games on a console, the nerdier ones build their own computers, host game servers, and have a less superficial understanding of technology.

    I wasn't around in the 80's, but it seems like cliques were more rigidly defined then. I think now they still definitely exist, but it's much more accepted to be friends with people from other groups, so you'll see "nerds" and "jocks" hanging out as friends, but I don't think that means nerds and jocks no longer exist.

    2 votes
  8. est
    Link
    Playing computer games were a low hanging fruit back then, the future is inevitable. But today's futures looks gloom and repetitive. A fancier computer (or mobile) game is still...just a game....

    Playing computer games were a low hanging fruit back then, the future is inevitable. But today's futures looks gloom and repetitive. A fancier computer (or mobile) game is still...just a game. There aren't many more ground breaking future lifestyles anymore. Just little bit incremental ones.

    Just my thoughts.

  9. [5]
    stu2b50
    Link
    Are you gate keeping being a nerd? That's an, uh, odd thing to do.

    Are you gate keeping being a nerd?

    That's an, uh, odd thing to do.

    2 votes
    1. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      It's not odd if you consider that many people struggle with having a stable identity and/or an identity that gives them a sense of meaning/uniqueness/satisfaction. Not that it's a healthy thing to do.

      It's not odd if you consider that many people struggle with having a stable identity and/or an identity that gives them a sense of meaning/uniqueness/satisfaction.

      Not that it's a healthy thing to do.

      6 votes
    2. [3]
      nic
      Link Parent
      Care to re-phrase your question without the term "gate keeping"?

      Care to re-phrase your question without the term "gate keeping"?

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        stu2b50
        Link Parent
        Are you [committing the act of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something] to being a nerd? That's an odd thing to do.

        Are you [committing the act of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something] to being a nerd?

        That's an odd thing to do.

        1 vote
        1. nic
          Link Parent
          Not at all. As I said...

          Not at all. As I said...

          Now everyone seems to qualify.

          Does the concept not even exist anymore?

          3 votes