Almost everyone who reads this will, at least at one point in time, have called themselves a nerd. Some of us use it more often than others, and when we say it it's usually in a satirical manner. It seems to be one of those words that is magically interchangeable with a massive collection of other words and means a very broad spectrum of things. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I absolutely hate that word.
I hate everything about it, I really can't stand it. You say the word “nerd”, and the instant image that is conjured up in your mind consists of a pimply social misfit with glasses and a pocket protector. Mayhap this is not your first thought, but for me, and most of the rest of civilization, a nerd is a word with a strong negative feeling. The problem is that, somehow, we have managed to effectively associate that word with someone who is skilled with computers.
Maybe it was the fact that nerds had nothing better to do with their time, and would instead spend it on BBS's and pretending to know what they are talking about. Maybe it was all by bad chance. I really don't know, and I really don't care. What I do care about is that now the world has changed, and computers are not something easily mastered. Having a good grasp of computers today, and having a good grasp of computers ten years ago require drastically different amounts of skill. Before, with enough time, figuring out command lines and BBS controls were something easily done. Computers have since then evolved, and the complexity and diversity of them has advanced with it. Now, in my opinion, you must be generically more intelligent than the average person to acquire a decent understanding of how to use computers the way you and I do. Nerds don't dominate the modern computing scene, they are just as common as other social groups and even those would be easily considered “cool”. Unfortunately, while most of us already know that, the rest of the world has gone on assuming things are still the same. Why does this still happen, you might ask? Believe it or not, a lot of the blame rests on our own shoulders.
All of us keep referring to ourselves as “nerds”, and whether it be with a sense of mockery or attempt at being funny, it's really hurting our reputation. It has now reached the point, for me at least, where I will hide my interest in computers from anyone who is not in my group of closest friends. I've learned that the second you tell a new friend that you are interested in computers, the person (depending on their social background) almost always looses respect for you that very moment and won't look at you in the same light as your other friends do for a long time. Especially for teenagers in highschool, which make up a large group of the computing scene, it can lead to a very bad situation if people know you actually know how to use a command line.
So where are people who avoid the “nerd” word left to go? Should we call ourselves hackers? Well, that's a valid statement and most people in the computing scene understand the difference of those black and white hats and what the term hacker actually represents, however when it comes to non-computer-literates the problem is just as bad, if not worse. On the internet, I bare the hacker title with a certain amount of pride, but in real life it's an entirely different situation. Society has been taught by the media and by each other that a hacker is a evil mastermind hellbent on the destruction and theft of everyone and anyone's data. Again, this is completely wrong. Yes, there are malicious hackers, but even the malicious ones are rarely as destructive as the social norm would argue.
So what's the other reason society hasn't updated their definitions of us? My thoughts are that the actual nerds are a huge part of why we are held back with this old time label. For me, a real nerd is almost the essential to a lamer, in hacker jargon. It's someone who pretends to be interested in computers because they are a social misfit and they are eager to find somewhere and someone to fit in with. These people generally know shit about computers, and go around pronouncing their fake knowledge like they have been given a gift by god. They also make the situation worse still by associating other things with computers such as comic books, video games, action figures, card games, other nerd obsessions, and many more other things considered undesirable interests by society. I have a relative who is a nerd, and he drives me absolutely nuts by simply being around him. He wears geeky glasses, teeth begging for braces, talks with the much hated high pitched voice, and advertises himself like he designed the IBM Roadrunner cluster. Every time he is in town, he is showing off the built-in camera effects on his new Macbook, the touch screen on his Ipod, and even the new almighty Windows 7. He ohh's and ahh's the family like there is no tomorrow, and absolutely everything he knows could be read from 2 minute tutorials online, if you weren't smart enough to figure it out by simply clicking around. The most this man knows about higher techy operating systems like Linux is running a Ubuntu live CD for 5 minutes (Yes, I asked). Can he program? No. Does he know Windows CMD? No. Is he even familiar with any security tools? Of course not. Like I said before, this type of person doesn't know shit. People like him, in my opinion, need to be told to shut their mouths and learn their place.
Don't get me wrong, there is definitely nerds who do actually know how a computer works, and those are not the type of people I'm attacking. I'm not saying that you can't be a nerd, I'm saying that you don't have to be a nerd. The thing is that the nerds who do know their stuff, they're not common! From all the pictures I've seen of hackers I know, you are far, far more likely to run into a goth, prep, or even pot smoker compared to a nerd when you enter the underground scene.
The bottom line is that we really need to clean up our act. The term “hacker” has a long way to go before it will be safe from the misinterpretation of the outside community, but “nerd” still has a chance. What I think would be best is to have the word nerd completely disassociated with those who are computer-oriented. If we want this to happen, though, we need to stop calling ourselves nerds and start reprimanding those who incorrectly bear the term. “Incorrectly bearing the term” means any hacker who calls themselves a nerd, or any nerd who calls themselves one of us without actually knowing their stuff. Hell, it's as easy as bookmarking this page and sending a link to people who misbehave. “Geek” and other words follow the exact same history, and should be treated the exact same way. Society is becoming more and more attached to technology every day, and we want to make sure we are not viewed as the bane of this technological world or feel that we have to hide ourselves from what we helped shape.
I'm sure all of you understand what I'm talking about, and I'm also sure that many of you will have your own opinions. I'm encouraging you to voice them, I'd like to hear everyone else's thoughts on the matter, because I think this has been a seriously under-voiced problem in the computing scene for a long time. Please, leave a comment, post this on your twitter, write about it in your blog, whatever you'd like. If you completely disagree with me, let me know. If you completely agree, let everyone else know. Am I the only one who looks at things this way?