Sunday, November 15, 2009

Geeks and Nerds

"Whatever you say about sci-fi fans, they have an acute sense of the monumental. A pretty good definition of sci-fi, in fact, is fiction that focuses exclusively on monumental events: plagues, comets, interspecies wars, the return of the dinosaurs." Nugent, American Nerd

In Benjamin Nugent's American Nerd, the subtitle reads "The Story of My People". Certainly it isn't the story of my people. Apparently, American nerds are pretty much all men. Nugent does touch lightly on the presence of racial and sexist stereotypes at work in the construction of the nerd. There is even a chapter examining Asperger's Syndrome (which affects males more regularly than females - to the tune of 90% according to the book) and arguing that the syndrome became a problem at the same time that being a nerd became a major obstacle to social acceptance. It was interesting to read about the historical, literary, and cinematic development of the nerd stereotype and a few things resonated with me, particularly the idea of adult-onset coolness and the idea of dignity through candor (as opposed to WASPy concealing of emotions and impolite activities) because I certainly do that.

While American Nerd was interesting, but not inspiring, an article in the Spring 2007 issue of Shameless by Erin Hoffman was much more resonant.

"Yet my mother's geekiness is not merely a lust for high-tech toys. It lies in a tireless pursuit for a better way to do things, a sense of eternally young idealism. Her love of gadgetry is a love for efficiency, of building tools that allow us to do more, experience more, and accomplish more in the brief time we each have on earth...

Thus, geekhood is not about technology alone. I like to think it has its roots in something truer, deeper, and more complex: the vision that we can make the world a better place, and the passion to pursue that vision with vigour and clarity of purpose...

In the great social taxonomy, geeks and hippies are common descendants, for they share a philosophical vision. And vision is what geekdom is all about."

If Erin Hoffman writes a book about Girl Geeks, it would certainly make it onto my to-buy list.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be a definition of SciFi, if SciFi is a product of Hollywood based on very large special effects budgets. It's a terrible definition of Science Fiction, which can be about those things; but is far more often about people and how technological changes do and don't alter how they behave and interact.

9:33 PM  
Blogger antijen said...

I love the Hoffman quote. People assume that geeks love technology for its own sake, but so often that misses the point. We want things to WORK! And to work better.

To me, one of the key aspects of SF geekiness is the desire to understand how the universe works. Maybe this is more typical of written SF, rather than Hollywood SF. Certainly, I rarely seen TV or movie characters struggling to figure out what's going on. It's one of my biggest frustrations with season 3 of Battlestar Galactica. I'd much rather know what makes a Ceylon tick than watch Starbuck and Apollo's on-again off-again relationship.

10:35 PM  

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