The New York Times ran an article two years ago describing the age of the new geeks. In his article, the author, Noam Cohen, declared "We're All Nerds Now". He was certainly right in his estimation of society's new acceptance standard for nerds and geeks in the post-internet world. Living in a world of smart phones and the Internet of Things, we are nerds now by necessity.
Mr. Cohan's article focused on Randall Munroe, a young NASA robotics expert. Mr. Munroe isn't just a nerdy robotics engineer, however; he has a charming sense of humor which he shares with the world in his comic strip called "xkcd." Mr. Munroe describes his on-line humor as a webcomic with a mix of romance, math, sarcasm, and language. With the open-source, sharing mindset espoused by many in the millennial generation, Munroe publishes "xkcd" under a Creative Commons license that permits sharing of the material for free (but not to sell). This seems a very different picture of "nerd" than the one painted on TV.
Mr. Monroe also is the author of an e-book entitled "What if?" that poses outlandish physics questions and then provides the fascinating answers. A recent example asked and answered the new-age question about smart phones: "how much energy does a smart phone charger use when it's not hooked up to the phone?" Nerdy? Maybe. But it's a question familiar even to non-nerds. Intrigued, we want to know the answer. After all, we hear warnings all the time about "vampire devices" which suck the lifeblood from our electrical grid. Well, it turns out that the smart phone charger is not a big, scary vampire after all. The answer is that the charger uses less than 1 penny a year if it's plugged into the wall but not hooked up to the phone because it's not drawing energy. Good to know, right?
We can recognize modern-day nerds and geeks by their genius for developing more mobile smart devices (and applications for those devices) for our personal pleasure and by their sharing natures. Television still may portray nerds as geniuses with pocket-protectors and taped-together black eyeglasses who can not easily navigate the world outside their subject matter. They are misfits with genius IQs who have difficulty with social interactions and understanding non-verbal cues. They have little connection to the cultural references the rest of the world embraces. The reality today is that geeky puns and jokes scan daily across our Facebook news feeds. Even if we can't solve them, we still smile at the superior intelligence that gave birth to them.
So, what brought about this new acceptance? The Internet's expansion. Nerds and geeks were the first to recognize the web's greatness and the first to comfortably navigate the new digital world. Now, we mere mortals need nerds and geeks to survive in this new world. If we want to play with our new toys, like GoogleGlasses and iPhoneWatches, we have to learn something about the mechanics of the internet and of the technology we love. Who better to help us understand and navigate the technological minefield, than the new geeks.
Dinosaurs (like me) who remember when office life included typewriters, not fax machines or computers, can testify to the amazing way in which technology has invaded our lives. Slowly, but surely, those of us who were willing to take on the task became knowledgeable about configuring printers, virtual files, and understanding the difference between the intranet and the internet. Today, we easily fall in love with the latest technological advances and wear our technology on our sleeves (or our wrists in some cases). Mobile, smart, technology is part of who we are now. There's no going back to the dark ages. As a result, we admire and respect those who make it happen for us or who can help us better understand the phenomenon.