Nerds- A Case Study

I am still trying to wrap my head around Ferdinand Bardimu’s jeremiad on nerds. Part of the problem is there are different kinds of nerds, who fit in differently socially. Let me describe one I knew to illustrate one kind of nerd- one who functions well in context.

I first knew this guy, Todd, in middle school. He was probably in the gifted program with me, but I don’t remember specifically. He was your typical nerd, very pale, with kind of odd wavy/curly hair parted in the middle, and he wore the nerd clothes of the era- this is the late 70’s. I don’t recall him having any particular trouble with bullies but I didn’t know him that well. He ran for student body president once- in his speech he said “I know I am not the most popular candidate”- so why are you running dude? Sheesh. In high school he was in the gifted program with me. One of the things the gifted program had was side activities, one of which was “Group Growth” where you sat with a few people and the school psychologist and talked about stuff. This would seem strange today but this was the era of ‘est” and considered hip and cutting edge at the time. I remember him talking about some Italian heavy metal band he thought was cool- typical nerd stuff.

I dropped out of high school and later saw Todd working in the library of the next town over. He kept that job for years and it seemed to be a permanent career for him. I never talked to him- it seemed a little embarrassing, a low goal for somebody who was at least quite intelligent. From my sister I heard he was active and quite prominent in the Society for Creative Anachronism, you know where they do pretend sword fighting like in the movie “Role Models”.

So Todd, while most people would agree he is a weirdo, is doing OK. I haven’t seen him in many years but I suppose he still works at the library. He probably makes good money- over the years we have learned the advantages of government jobs- and he probably had a nice house that he bought years ago and could in no way afford now. He probably has a nerd wife and nerd kids. I doubt he cares about game or any of the associated issues as he probably has all his needs met. If he has any big worry in life it is probably the financial difficulties of California governments and how it might affect his job and pension.

Todd’s life might be a lot harder if he had gone into engineering, programming, or some related nerd profession. He might be out of work and bankrupt. Or he might also be living a comfortable nerd life, depending on the breaks.

I’m guessing if Ferdinand Bardimu ever met Todd he would find him weird and annoying. I can’t say I ever liked Todd or that we had anything in common, but I can appreciate his context. In the wider world he’s an omega, but in his world he’s a beta at least- in the Society for Creative Anachronism he might be an alpha, and if he’s head of the library he might be an alpha there as well.

Nobody can be an alpha or even a beta everywhere, so you need to find or create contexts in which you can be at least a beta. I believe the primary barriers to that are 1) psychological and 2) economic.

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5 Responses to Nerds- A Case Study

  1. Sheila Tone says:

    “In high school he was in the gifted program with me. One of the things the gifted program had was side activities, one of which was “Group Growth” where you sat with a few people and the school psychologist and talked about stuff. This would seem strange today but this was the era of ‘est” and considered hip and cutting edge at the time.”

    Was this GATE? My husband was in the California public schools not long after you, and remembers nothing about this in GATE. Perhaps your school district did things differently.

    You raise a good point about how some nerdy people still manage to find lots of friends and fit into a functional social world. Usually it’s because their families have money. Money tends to get you around smarter people, who are less likely to hate nerds. It also gives you the opportunity to be the richest person in your social circle, with attendant benefits.

    Yet my brother has managed to do it, and our family doesn’t have that financial advantage. To me he’s a pesty know-it-all, but apparently he’s got some magic that works on other people, including women.

  2. Sheila Tone says:

    GFO, did Todd have a happy family? This seems to have a lot to do with it. If he was from a happy nerdy family, he’d have a leg up on recreating that situation.

  3. I don’t know about Todd’s family. I’m guessing they were at least OK. I knew many happy, functional nerds from the gifted program so it’s obviously possible. I think other factors are more important, see my post on my sister.

  4. […] Nerds- A Case Study, Nerds- A Case Study II- […]

  5. kalushkin says:

    I think you might be stretching the family part a little too far. Who knows if he is happy with his “nerd” wife (I don’t believe those exist). He could have settled for much lower than himself and everyday resents that fact. Especially if in his everyday work he sees enough pretty women or women above his wife that are currently in relationships with guys he considers below him.

    The hard thing about just looking at people is knowing how truly “happy” they really are. Most nerds or geeks that I know (I consider myself one) have grown really good at hiding their dissatisfaction and taking crap that life throws at them without too much of a peep, but they still all have a lot of resentment issues that are hidden and sometimes not so hidden away.

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