The other day, while chatting with some of my fellow grad students, the conversation, so I thought, turned to football. After a couple of my comments were met with no response, I realized that they were actually talking about the professional computer gaming league that they follow online. Somewhat embarrassed, I turned my attention back to my pizza and waited for the topic of conversation to turn back to physics.
Later, I laughed at the irony of this situation. You would think someone obsessed with Starcraft would be awkwardly left out of the football conversation, not the other way around. But it was just another thing that made me realize that I’m not like these nerds.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a HUGE nerd. I’m a physics graduate student, and I write a blog about it. That’s enough for most of the population to put me stamp me with the NERD label. And I’m fine with that. I embrace my physics nerdiness.
But it’s the other interests that are generally assumed to go along with the math and science nerd stereotype where I fail to fit in. I only like the most mainstream of science fiction and fantasy (Star Wars and Harry Potter). Other than my Mario Kart skills and a brief obsession with Halo on my roommate’s XBox in college, I never really got into computer or video games. I never read comic books. I’m not all that interested in becoming technically adept in all the minutiae of computers. Yet these are all the interests of your classic nerd.
(These are not just stereotypes, by the way. I’m sure that you’ll find a statistically significant number of math/physics/computer science types like these things much more than I do.)
But I am still a nerd, just a nerd of a different sort. To me, a nerd is just someone with a passion near obsession for what they like, and spend a lot of time talking about, thinking about, and participating in those activities. I’ve even gone so far as to say that if you’re not a nerd about something, then you’re probably not all that interesting.
As for me, I like basketball. I play it and watch it a lot, of course, but it goes beyond that. I read many NBA blogs, watch analysis shows, and listen to podcasts on the bus, often hearing the same topic discussed by several different people. Then I discuss those same topics with friends. I look at statistics, and read about the new advanced statistics, and debates about which are better. I play fantasy basketball, and spend free time doing research to inform my decisions in this hobby. And of course, I’m a die-hard fan of my hometown Indiana Pacers. If that’s not a nerdy level of commitment to a hobby, then I don’t know what is.
Of course, we still have to deal with the negative stereotype of nerds as being socially inept. But this can be combated if we take the label NERD and attach it to ourselves proudly, and in contexts outside of the conventional stereotypes.
And besides, what are those social butterflies but texting, facebooking, party-going, social nerds?