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What Makes a Nerd? July 27, 2014

Posted by Janjan in Geekery & Nerdoms.
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I was just hanging out with some friends I rarely ever get to spend the time with, even though I truly enjoy their company.  We made up for the lost time by spending around 4 hours in lively conversation.  All four of us were nerds.

Afterwards, I posted on Facebook about how I enjoyed the company of fellow nerds for the diversity of topics, when a lot of people liked my status, people whom I knew were not nerds.  I guess I was pleasantly surprised that nerds now are socially accepted by society.

There was a time when it was a crime to be a nerd and unfortunately, I was born in that time.  Back in the day, it was a social stigma to be called a nerd.  It implies someone who was a social outcast; someone who did not belong to the cool crowd.  I guess times have changed and people seem to look up to nerds now.

There are many nerd role-models who have paved the way.  People like Steve Jobs, Neil Grasse de Tyson, Stephen Colbert, and George R.R. Martin.  There are also nerds who break the stereotype and are actually quite attractive, such as Danica McKellar (“Winnie” from the Wonder Years, now a mathematician), Asia Carerra (a pornstar who has played piano at Carnegie Hall and studied at Rutgers University), Jude Law (a theater and film actor who plays Dungeons & Dragons), and Natalie Portman (a famous actress who studied pyschology and can speak 6 languages fluently).

So what exactly is a nerd? 

By strict definition, a nerd is someone who enjoys learning for the sake of learning.  A book-worm or a grade grind.  (Caveat though… there are some nerds, such as myself, who were not always strong in academics).  Most nerds are geeks (people who are fanatics of some pop culture phenomenon) but not all geeks are nerds.

Just for kicks, I thought about writing the characteristics that I personally think would qualify one to be a nerd.  If you have most, if not all, of the characteristics below, then congratulations!  You are a nerd.

1.  A nerd is someone who loves learning for the sake of learning.

Nerds prize knowledge, first and foremost.  We were those kids who grew up reading encyclopedias, newspapers and prestigious magazines like Time, Newsweek, Readers Digest or Scientific American not because it was part of our academics but because we were very curious about how the world works.  While we have our respective areas of interest (mine were pop culture, dinosaurs, birds, mythic deities, medieval Japan and medieval Europe, to name a few), generally speaking, nerds love to consume a wide variety of topics.  Notice that I used the word “consume”.  Because that is what is information for us… it’s food.  Nerds are lifelong scholars.  We love to read and learn from the world around us.

2.  A nerd has an impeccable command of the English language.

Of course, I generalize since an overwhelming majority of all the people I know are native English speakers (I’m sure there are nerds who speak other languages more impeccably).  Because, by and large,  we consume a huge number of books on a regular basis, the English language becomes second nature to us.  This is true for us Filipino nerds.  You will find that we prefer speaking English over our own respective Filipino languages.  We don’t even need to study the rules of grammar to be able to write and speak English properly.  We also try to refrain from using slang or street English because we find it unwieldy and vulgar, although ask us to switch to Ebonics, cockney or even l33+, and we could do so with flair.

3.  A nerd has a wide grasp of current political, cultural and scientific trends.

Nerds love to keep up with news and current trends.  We like knowing what’s going on in the world so we could have an opinion on matters.  If the trend interests us enough, we do further research on historical facts which led to this phenomenon.  Pop culture is something that fascinates us universally, not only because it is something that interests us but also because we like observing why this became popular and understanding why people have made this into widely-accepted cultural trend.

4.  A nerd is reclusive.

Most nerds avoid crowds.  Even the most extroverted among us are very picky with the company that we keep.  Even with our own crowd, most nerds rarely make the time to hang out with their own fellow nerds.  With the group of people I mentioned, it has been many months since I last hung out with them, even though we all live in the same city.

5.  A nerd has low tolerance for stupid and/or shallow people.

We cannot stand people who perpetuate stupidity, inanity, or who are, by nature, shallow and flighty.  We cannot stand small talk.  We avoid people whose world view is limited to what they see on soap operas, reality TV shows, neighborhood gossip or Facebook.  It’s like listening to a child babble on about things that they understand with their limited experience in life.  We just want to get back to our books and learning.  Life is too short to spend time on people who don’t know better.

5.  A nerd has a sophisticated sense of humor.

Because we follow so many cultural tropes and have a greater facility for wordplay, a typical nerd has a more sophisticated and witty sense of humor that involves a lot of puns and cultural cross-references.  Oftentimes, people don’t get what the joke is, but our fellow nerds do.

6.  A nerd is open minded and usually tolerant.

You seldom see a nerd who is set in his ways, unless that nerd feels passionately about a given issue and forms his or her life’s philosophy around it.  But even then, most opinionated nerds have already heard and studied the arguments from all sides of an issue to make an informed choice on their stand in the matter.  By and large, however, because our curiosity makes us see things from different points of view, most nerds are very open-minded, accepting and tolerant of other people’s opinions, quirks and foibles.  It’s also probably because the rest of the world sees us as eccentric that we are more understanding of other people’s oddities.

7.  A nerd will argue to the death.

While we are very open-minded, most nerds are, however, passionate about the knowledge they have acquired and will debate vigorously when their theories and hypothesis are challenged.  Most of the time, nerds argue without taking the debate personal since we firmly believe in the concept of truth and that what is held true has to be tested against prevailing evidence to the contrary to arrive to an even deeper understanding of truth.  In fact, any typical internet gathering of nerds will end up inevitably in heated arguments, even among nerds who consider themselves as close friends.

8.  A nerd respects a dedicated person more than an intelligent one.

While we nerds sound snobbish based on the traits we describe above, most of us are, however, not snobs.  Or at least, not in the way you think we are.  People seem to think we only prefer to be around our own kind… to be among nerds and geeks.  While we do enjoy our own company, we do not however want to be with other nerds and geeks exclusively.  Doing so is incestuous and makes us into boorish intellectuals, which we cannot stand.  Perhaps more than stupidity or shallowness, we nerds find obnoxiousness more annoying.  Arrogant people create walls which prevent a nerd from learning from the world in general, and to us, we love learning no matter if it comes from a fellow nerd or a simple man or woman who has seen and done much in life.  Also, because intelligence is a trait we take for granted, we are not easily awed by someone who displays intelligence with nothing else to back it up.  Regardless of your IQ, you will impress us, however, if you show dedication in what you do.  We nerds have a huge respect for people who show both passion and discipline in the performance of their work because we learn a lot from observing and following you.

 

I think these key traits are what defines me and my fellow nerds.  If you relate to these, then I welcome you, fellow member of my tribe.  When and where can we meet up and have coffee?

Taken for Granted July 23, 2014

Posted by Janjan in Uncategorized.
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Taken for Granted.  It’s defined as “To give little attention to or to underestimate the value of, to fail to appreciate. Usually the epiphany of having taking something for granted comes after its already gone.” (Urban Dictionary)

The act of taking something for granted could also be applied to people.  Being taken for granted is a painful experience.  It happens when we fail to give recognition, support, or reciprocation to people who have been nice to us… who have given us full recognition, support, time and service.

I noticed that the term “taken for granted” is a phrase that became vogue in the new millenium.  I don’t recall encountering this phrase when I was growing up, back in the 80’s and 90’s.  My theory is that the commonality of this phrase was influenced by the growing acceptance of technology and the internet during the early 2000’s until the present.  You see, nowadays, everything has become so instant and available with the mere click of our fingertips.  Do you need information?  Google it.  Do you need to call someone halfway around the world?  Skype or Viber that person.  Want to find out Imagine Dragon’s latest video?  Check it out on YouTube.  Want to add that track to your iPod?  Download it from iTunes.

Everything has become so instant.  Even friends have become instant.  With the advent of Facebook, anytime you needed to know anything your friend was doing, all you need to do is check out the Newsstream.  You know where they are via FourSquare and check-ins.  You know what their up to via Instagram.  You know what they’re thinking via Twitter.

With the opening of malls in the nearby vicinity, it has also become so much easier to acquire the things we need.  Food, clothes, tools… all the necessities for life.

So can you see why someone or something is so easy to take for granted?  Wish fulfillment has become instantaneous.  I wonder if technology has led us to a false sense of intimacy and connection.  Knowing that information, art, music, knowledge and people… that most EVERYTHING have become so easy to access, has this led us to think these would be around forever?

It didn’t used to be like this.

Back when I was younger, there was always a sense of anticipation when you wanted something.  You hungrily scoured bargain bins for magazines that informed you of what was popular and trending in the Western world.  If you wanted to acquire something, it took a long wait spanning months and years before the item arrived in the stores of Cebu.  Clothes, music albums, books, TV shows, toys… you bid your time waiting for these precious treasures to arrive on our shores.

There was a time when eating a McDonald’s or Jollibee burger was something that could occur once in a few months, if you were lucky, brought in by a relative who went to Manila and bought the pasalubong.  There was a time when friends shared more of their things with each other because this was the only way we can acquire books, music, toys and other items which were not readily available in stores.

And do you remember mix-tapes?  Remember when you heard a song on the radio playing the Top 40 mix, and you just had to copy it with a blank cassette tape because the album wasn’t sold in the local White Gold yet?  Remember going back every day to the record store just to see if the latest album from Guns n’ Roses has finally arrived?  And because you didn’t have money to buy it yet, you just contented yourself with looking at the back of the album to see the song titles and their tracks?

And what about friends?

If you wanted to see someone, you had to ask your parent’s permission if you could visit their house.  You had to wait for when your parents were available to drive you over to your friend’s house if they lived far away.  When you and your friend finally saw each other, you’d spend half the day just talking and catching up because God knows when the next time you see them will be.

There were no cellphones back then, so when you and your buddies wanted to watch a movie together or hang out at Orange Brutus, you all had to agree to a specific time and show up on the dot.  If your friends were 15 to 30 minutes late, you left them because waiting for these friends was not an option if you wanted to catch your show.  There was no cellphone for you to find out if they were still coming over or if they were late.  So people were more considerate of each other’s time because they knew what it was like to be kept waiting.

Limited and primitive as we were, we took care of our things better back in the day.  We showed more affection, care and consideration for our possessions and our friends.  We gave our time and attention.  We did it because we knew that they couldn’t be easily replaced.  That to find a replacement, we had to wait for so long and search so far and wide.

And now?  We live in a consumer society.  We dispense with possessions, friendships and time so casually, because it’s so easy to take them for granted.  Replacements are so easy to come by.  When we spend time with our friends, every fifteen minutes, we compulsorily go to our phones and check for updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  When we go somewhere, we take our sweet time doing it because we know it’s just an easy matter of catching up with our friends by asking them “Wer u na?”

And that is why the term “being taken for granted” has taken on a whole new level of meaning that it didn’t have back when I was younger.  There’s now a sentiment of pain and regret attached to the phrase.

Because we do take things for granted.  We fail to appreciate, the luxuries we have, the attention and time that our friends and family give..

…until they are gone.

Don’t let the Age of Instant Gratification fool you.  Take care of your possessions.  Be good to your friends.  Show up.  Be involved.  Be present.

If there’s one thing impressed on me by being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, it’s that song from Joni Mitchell.  The one that says:

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?  They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”