Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Geeks and Nerds Are Taking Over the World and You May Be One of Them

I was ruminating over the weekend…privately, mind you, so as to not offend or annoy anyone nearby…and it occurred to me that none of the supposedly world class pundits out there are talking about the oncoming wave of nerds and geeks that seem to be taking over in almost every sector of our society. Granted, they've been around for years, but until recently they were easily dealt with…discretely relegated to a quiet out of the way IT department where passing normal people could avoid eye contact and occasionally shove donuts at them with a stick.  But now? Many of the most wealthy and influential people on the planet today are actually nerds and geeks (NG’s). And others are coming out of the closet hourly and rising up. Speaking up. Acting up.

I’m sure you’ve noticed. They think of computer code as poetry. They have an innate contempt for experts and leadership models that look even vaguely like military battalions. They move from job to job based on strange criteria like transformational impact and creativity and fulfillment and challenge. They want to work virtually from home and set their own hours or collaborate on projects…in converted warehouses with couches and pool tables and kitchens featuring espresso machines and sushi. Truth be told. They probably harbor other dangerous and disruptive attitudes and proclivities as well. And they’re everywhere. It’s insidious. They might be your co-worker. They might be your neighbor. They might be you. Or me. How would you know? Really?
  • If you’ve ever used the term “Schroedinger’s Cat” while talking with friends over a beer, you might be an NG.
  • If you not only recognize the name Malcolm Reynolds, but also privately wish you could swear fluently in Chinese, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever used “game theory” or “the Butterfly Effect” to explain a personal relationship, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever shown a co-worker how to “tweak the algorithm” to speed things up, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever used the word “algorithm” in polite conversation, you might be an NG.
  • If you have more than one WordPress password, you might be an NG.
  • If you’re an adult and you’ve ever argued about a comic book story arc, you might be an NG.
  • If you continue to refer to actors by their character names from Chuck, Psych, Monk, X-files, Warehouse 13, Eureka, or the Walking Dead, you might be an NG.
  • If you meet a new person and get a gamer tag before a phone number, you might be an NG.
  • If you've ever referred to Game of Thrones during a business presentation, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever been asked the meaning of something and your answer was “42”, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever paid your barista with Bitcoin, you might be an NG.
  • If your work computer is a PC and you feel like you’ve crossed over to the Dark Side, you might be an NG.
  • If you know what “open source” is, you might be an NG.
  • If you open YouTube and the first videos offered are from WikiLeaks or Anonymous, you might be an NG.
  • If you have an actual photograph or poster of Bill Nye, Steve Wozniak, Albert Einstein, Sheldon Cooper, any version of the Starship Enterprise or the Tardis anywhere in your house, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever binge watched Stargate and TedTalks in the same weekend, you might be an NG.
  • If you know Leonard’s last name from Big Bang Theory, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve bookmarked a website with photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, you might be an NG.
  • If you had (or have) a crush on Neil Degrasse Tyson, you might be an NG.
  • If your smartphone speaks to announce calls and uses the voice of JARVIS, you might be an NG.
  • If your seven year old argues with your eight year old about inter-dimensional portals or disruptions in the spatial-temporal continuum, you might be an NG.
I could go on. For a long time. Feel free to add your own in the comments section if you have nothing better to do. But you might be an NG
Why am I pointing this out? Well,  I’ve been productive enough for one day and I’ve been thinking about anything at all that doesn’t involve car repairs or monetary policy or elections or emails or Mexican walls or the Cleveland Browns and this is what it looks like when random neurons have been firing on too much caffeine.   So let me tell you a quick story.

I never thought of myself as an odd child. But then odd children seldom do. They’re simply too busy being odd. The majority of my schoolmates lived for recess and the bell at the end of the day. They were passionate about sports. I was passionate about rockets and space and mixing chemicals just to see what kind of reaction would occur. I didn’t understand their conversations about the games I hadn’t watched or their dreams of the World Series or the Superbowl. If football and baseball were the dominant religions in the region where I lived, I was the token community agnostic.

Physically awkward and profoundly unathletic, I played to my strengths. I watched National Geographic specials and dreamed of living in a habitat on the ocean floor or a colony on Ganymede. I read the encyclopedia and Roget’s Thesaurus and comic books and the science fiction of Robert Heinlein. I even smiled a little inside when no one wanted to set up next to me at the seventh grade science fair because I had secretly constructed a working laser. (The adult monitors “had a talk” with my parents and were only marginally placated after I demonstrated its intentionally limited range and targeting capabilities. I couldn’t afford the parts for something more powerful.)

OK. Yes. I admit it proudly, in spite of aspersions that were sometimes cast in my direction during my early years (when we still had rotary telephones and were actually required to walk across the room to choose one of the four available television channels). I'm a geek. Or a nerd. Detailed self-reflection notwithstanding, I've never been clear on which, as both terms seem to represent more of a spectrum than a discreet and easily isolated reality. But it is a reality nonetheless. And given an apparently tectonic cultural shift that has occurred somewhere during the last four decades, it is a reality that I am now free to happily and openly embrace.

To Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Ben Stein, Stan Lee, Richie Cunningham, Joss Wedon, Sheldon Cooper and countless others…thank you.

This past weekend I was able to indulge in three days of joyously open and unbridled geekdom/nerddom along with my children, grandchildren and hordes of others at the Grand Rapids Comic Con. Countless formerly oppressed and disdainfully under-appreciated lovers of science and science fiction and fantasy television, live action and animated film, anime, literature, art, music, comic books, graphic novels, cosplay, robotics, and Legos. Actors, authors, creators, makers, cosplayers, dreamers and fans, all happily swimming in a collective sea of unabashed  geeknerdity.

So, life coach and incurable agitator that I am, I’ve been wondering in retrospect if there might actually be some tool that could help this recently liberated social subset along their personal paths toward self-discovery and global domination. I mean, thinking and living and innovating and dreaming outside the box has to begin somewhere beyond a closet full of Pop-Vinyls and Steam Punk gear. Right? Even the success gurus will insist that any truly realistic critical path needs to begin at a beginning, and what better starting point than a clear and unashamed self-awareness with an honest acceptance of one’s own root nature. After a brief but fervent ninety second search I unearthed just such a tool, specifically designed to help answer once and for all the burning question. Am I a geek or am I a nerd?

I'm sharing it HERE to help you along. Have fun. As for me, I already know so I’m done for now. Plus I have an innate ambivalence toward success gurus and experts with bar charts.  And I’m getting hungry. And the caffeine is starting to wear off so my neurons are firing even more randomly. Ooooo. Shiny Object.

I will be back to Comic Con though. I think maybe next year I’ll go dressed in my robe and pajamas. With a large towel. And an iPad incessantly flashing the message “Don’t Panic!” That’s always good advice. I only hope it doesn’t start on a Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

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