“Geek” and “nerd” are two of the most commonly used words to describe highly intelligent but rather socially awkward people who are interested in technology, science fiction, comic books, The Lord of the Rings and video games. These words were previously used in a derogatory manner to insult those who fit the description, but the stigma attached to being a geek or a nerd is slowly fading away.
Established entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have changed the perception of geeks and nerds from boring or antisocial people to individuals whose abilities have the power to attract billions of dollars.
The phrase “geek chic” has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. OxfordDictionaries.com describes the noun as “The dress, appearance, and culture associated with computing and technology enthusiasts, regarded as stylish or fashionable.” Kathryn Westcott’s article “Are ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ now positive terms?” published on BBC.com, says that people on dating websites who describe themselves as “geeks” now mean it in the positive sense.
The study “Geek is good” by an advertising agency called Inferno, revealed that 46% of the participants preferred to have a “gadget-geek” (people who are experts in using advanced technological devices) around them instead of various Hollywood celebrities. The study also revealed that 44% of the participants were fascinated by comic books and science fiction and only 11% were interested in reality TV.
The rising acceptance of geeks and the increased admiration of their talents has allowed many to prosper in their field of expertise. In an article titled “Rise of the new geeks: how the outsiders won” by Andrew Harrison published on TheGuardian.com, Harrison describes Gates and Jobs as “alpha nerds” who rose to fame in a time when digitisation was becoming popular. According to “Bill Gates: ‘If you don’t like geeks, you’re in trouble’” by Mary Riddell published on Telegraph.co.uk, Gates said, “Well, when geek means that you’re willing to study things, and if you think science and engineering matter, then I plead guilty, gladly.”
Zuckerberg’s fascination with computers led him to create Facebook, which is widely used around the world. One common stereotype is that due to his interest in computers, Zuckerberg meets the definition of geek and it is assumed that he would be antisocial. The irony is that someone who is deemed to be antisocial because of his interests managed to create one of the biggest social networking sites in the world. Later, his story inspired the 2010 Oscar-winning movie The Social Network.
Geeks and nerds are also known to have excellent mathematical and technical skills. To commemorate his passion for numbers, Larry Shaw started Pi Day in 1988, which is celebrated annually on 14 March by schools, universities and other interested groups. The date 14 March was chosen because March is the third month of the year and with the 14th day it is represented as 3.14, which are the first three digits of the infinite number. Albert Einstein was also born on 14 March.
Social media and television shows have also had a hand in making geeks and nerds famous, acceptable and appreciated. The hit series The Big Bang Theory is based on a group of scientist friends who do not fit into society. Each character is given characteristics which amplify their geeky and nerdy behaviour. Sheldon Cooper does not understand sarcasm, Howard Wolowitz lives with his mother and Rajesh Koothrappali cannot talk to women. Everyone reads comic books, is a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek and they all own every kind of video game that there is. They use scientific terms when making jokes and use philosophical paradigms, such as Schrödinger’s cat to explain a situation to their less than smart friend Penny.
Some may argue that the show is offensive to people like that. According to Britton Peele’s article “Why I like ‘The Big Bang Theory’: a nerd’s defence of the CBS sitcom” from DallasNews.com, Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler, has a PhD in neuroscience in real life. Peele says that if the show was demeaning to geeks or nerds, Bialik and others like Stan Lee, Wil Wheaton and Stephen Hawking would not have agreed to appear on the show.
The talents and technical abilities of intellectuals are being appreciated more than before. The fame and fortune gained by Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg, among others, has created a newfound respect for those with above average minds. Previously, “geek” was associated with weakness, loneliness and the inability to interact properly with others. However, it is now seen as the driving force behind self-motivation, success, independence and entrepreneurship.