Monday, September 13, 2010

The "n" word

For a group to take a word that was used to oppress them and make it their own is an empowering act. It shows pride, unity, and a shared sense of identity. Perhaps this can re-enforce segregation, but every time it happens it redresses the balance of power between groups, at least symbolically.

As a middle-class white guy who doesn't really know any black guys, the only "n" word I have any right to talk about is NERD. I am one, and I'm damned proud to fly under that banner. Nerd used to mean someone socially awkward with strange hobbies..combining that with body odour and bad dress sense meant that spending time in their company was social suicide. Admittedly, the way I'm painting this is a little bit schoolyard, but it's not untrue. Many people who would call themselves nerds still need a wash and brush-up, but for a while now society has understood that there is a lot more beyond that.

Being a nerd is about being able to define yourself by more than how much you can drink and how many women you can sleep with. More than the TV programs you watch or the clothes you wear. That doesn't mean you have to forsake those things - nerds are the new renaissance men. Interested, nay, obsessed by everything, they - we - reach a point of no longer caring about what anyone thinks of them, because there are a million things worth caring about more. Seeing the beauty in an elegantly written computer program, or understanding the physics of a sunset gives you another set of eyes through which to see the world. Even playing World of Warcraft has to beat watching Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps of an evening. Wanting to know more or do more than anyone can teach you is the genius of human kind and it is the dark force responsible expanding humanity itself. By striving to improve yourself, you better everyone.

Obsession is a part of being a nerd. When I get a new hobby horse - be it Esperanto and languages, computers and programming or learning a new instrument, I will glaze the eyes and chew the ears of my family, girlfriend and friends until one of them tells me to shut up about it. I can't help it. When I fall in love with something, I want to share the joy, and maybe even make the love affair a menage à trois. I have to ride the initial wave of enthusiasm as far as I can to make the thing worthwhile, and obsession is a tool for doing this.

If obsession were the key element of nerdiness, there would be a lot more people being called nerds. Take, for example, every serious sports fan I have ever met. I don't care about sport. What interests me more are the feats of memory that can be performed by your average football enthusiast. My dad, for example, can remember not only the results of matches that happened 20 years ago, but who scored the goals and in which order! I'd bet money he couldn't memorise the order of a shuffled deck of cards, though..why one thing and not the other? Obsession.

He's far from alone in being able to do this. I'm not saying it's a bad thing (on the contrary, it's an astonishing thing, and whatever makes him happy is cool with me), but it seems rather like revving a powerful engine while it's in neutral - it ain't really going to get anyone anywhere, and I think that's the difference. It's the desire to add to a thing, be a part of it, and to better yourself by contributing to that thing.

I have barely started to walk the road to Nerdvana (I wish I could claim that as my own phrase), but I'm definitely on I talking bollocks? Possibly. It's around 2AM and I'm blogging because I can't sleep. I'm pretty much behind all these pro-nerd sentiments, but this could well be complete tosh. Oh well, sorry to put the disclaimer at the end!

To finish up, I want to remind you that the most powerful people in the world are nerds, and google knows where you live. Respect the nerds.
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