When I was a kid, I fell in love with acting.
In doing so, I realized that I was joining a minority in some respects, especially after discovering the sometimes-derogatory term used for some actors: “thespian”. I say “sometimes-derogatory” because the word isn’t always used in a negative way, but when I discovered it, it kinda was. Things like the “Master Thespian” skits on SNL didn’t exactly do much to improve the picture, either, so “thespian” ended up equating to “acting nerd” in my mind. Still, I was having fun, so I didn’t really care what I was called.
At roughly the same time, I fell in love with computers and programming.
While I don’t recall times when people specifically used the term “nerd” or “geek” in reference to this interest of mine, I have no doubt that it happened. Maybe my lack of recollection indicates how well I handled it, because I also don’t remember feeling ashamed of this particular passion at any time during my childhood or adolescent years.
To complete the nerd trifecta, I fell in love with 3D animation. I could go on about how I further isolated myself from those around me with this interest, but I’m sure you get the idea.
In the end, I had very few close friends growing up because my interests varied so greatly from theirs…
- While my classmates were trying out for football, I was auditioning for the school play.
- While my friends struggled to grasp computer concepts, I picked them up rather quickly, and even got paid to do small computer-based jobs here and there.
- While the kids in my neighborhood were collecting toys, I was collecting animation videos.
Thankfully my parents were quite supportive of all of these bits of geekdom. Not once do I recall hearing either of them tell me that I should stop acting, programming, or dwelling on animation. On the contrary, they would frequently give me suggestions on how I could further develop these interests.
My teachers were also quite supportive. In fact, when I signed up to take a Pascal programming class in high school, the instructor gave me the manual and let me teach myself, partly because a) I was the only one who’d signed up, and b) he knew me well enough to trust that I would actually do the work.
Was I a nerd? Absolutely, though at the time I’m not sure that I would have looked upon the term very favorably. However, my views have changed since then, and I’m now quite proud of my nerd-/geekdom, in part because I’ve worked over the years to reach the point where people are willing to hire me for these specialized skills.
While the terms “nerd” and “geek” are most often used in reference to very specific interests — like computers, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. — I think they can apply to any specialization. Is someone a master architect? They’re a construction nerd. Is someone at the top of their field in equine studies? They’re a horse geek, or a herd nerd! (Granted, using those terms in those ways may not appeal to those being so labeled, but you get the idea.)
Bottom line: nerds and geeks are everywhere, and rather than being shunned or put down for their passions, they should be embraced. As Wil Wheaton so eloquently put it at the recent Calgary Expo, “Being a nerd is not about what you love; it’s about how you love it.”