Rant on Geeks and Nerds

So what exactly IS a geek and a nerd?  Some love’m and some hate’m.  A nerd used to be the iconic guy sitting in a dark room somewhere with broken glasses, surrounded by tech and eating chips and playing a lot of video games.  A geek was more someone who was singularly focused on a particular area and probably so much so they are a bit socially awkward.

Bill Gates, of of the most famous geeky and nerdy people of all time has a couple of classic quotes about Geeks and Nerds:

If your culture doesn’t like geeks, you are in real trouble. Bill Gates

Be nice to nerds.  Chances are you’ll end up working for one.  Bill Gates

Gates made these comments long before the rise of the tech world as we know it today with Facebook, Twitter, Smart Phones and more.  This pretty smart guy saw the reality of what was coming ahead (even if he famously initially missed the importance of the Internet).  There are a lot of people who work for the nerds and certainly western economies have greatly benefited from Geekdom.

With the rise of Silicon valley the concept of the technology nerd and geeked out tech has become fashionable at least in the world of computer and web technology.  That might not be so much so in say Chemistry, Physics or Astrophysics.  So what are the “official” definitions of each term?  Per Google:

“Nerd – a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.” – Google Dictionary

“Geek – an unfashionable or socially inept person.” – Google Dictionary

“Geek – a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast.” – Google Dictionary

The word Nerd actually originated with help from Dr. Seuss apparently according to dictionary.com:

1951, U.S. student slang, probably an alteration of 1940s slang nert “stupid or crazy person,” itself an alteration of nut.  The word turns up in a Dr. Seuss book from 1950 (“If I Ran the Zoo”), which may have contributed to its rise.

Thats definitely not too positive.  And also according to dictionary.com here is the origin of geek:

By c.1983, used in teenager slang in reference to peers who lacked social graces but were obsessed with new technology and computers (e.g. the Anthony Michael Hall character in 1984’s “Sixteen Candles”).

Geeks and nerds pervade out modern culture and much to Gate’s point thats important and isn’t going to change.  The 80s and 90s in particular really saw the embracing of technology a critical component of our society.  Even Hollywood embraced with many 80s and90s teen angst movies where the geek/nerd ended up beating out the cool people and getting the boy/girl.  And who of course who can forget that classic 1980 movie “Revenge of the Nerds” (including sequels II, III and IV) where the nerds get their revenge!

I think we can safely say that yes nerds have had their revenge.  As of the writing of this post these geeks and nerds were in the top 20 richest people in the world:

  • Jack Ma- Alibaba Group
  • Sergey Brin – Google / Alphabet
  • Larry Page – Google / Alphabet
  • Larry Ellison – Oracle
  • Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook
  • Bill Gates- Microsoft
  • Jeff Bezos – Amazon

If you expand that list out to the top 100 richest people in the world, many more familiar tech names will be found on the list.  The amazing thing is how quickly their wealth was amassed.

In fact, geeks and nerds mean big money as well.  You can find all kinds of lists of gifts for your favorite geek or nerd.  There are many t-shirts, memes and general pop culture references so much so that its really gone mainstream.  And thats kind of the point of this rant – its become normal.

If you don’t like geeks and nerds, then you probably don’t like a specific kind of success and focus.  You may value athletic success or artistic skills but nerds and geeks have their own special space in the pantheon of success and its definitely important that in an increasingly technological world that both continue to be mainstream and most importantly looked up to as something to aspire to be.