Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Belated Funeral For An '80s Word

Commentary -- We are gathered here today to pay our final respects to a word no longer relevant.


The term, a relic of the 1980s when people actually wore pocket-protectors (those things jammed with pens), was always rather an impotent insult because we all knew the nerds would have the last laugh after the high school prom (or at the end of a long line of teen movies).

In a sense, it is sad to see nerd go, lose its standing, as the term is somewhat endearing.

But it just has no place.

You see, those characteristics and trappings that made a nerd back in the day make one super cool today.

The 2nd Edition of American Slang defines “nerd” – in its 1980s incarnation, the one with which we most associate it — as “an over-studious person, especially a computer devotee.”

I haven’t used “nerd” in conversations or columns in some time, if ever, because it just holds no sway. This is not something I spent much time pondering. It crept up on me like news of an estranged cousin’s passing.

Last week, during an interview I conducted for Monday’s feature story on Kim Gehling’s hip new Carroll business, Web sites To Impress.com, we talked about her interests and career motivations.

Gehling told me she prides herself on being accessible and easy to talk to for a tech type, or a “nerd” as she joked.

Actually, I observed, the word nerd just doesn’t fit anymore.

Go to the trend-setting cities, places like Seattle, and you will see the nerd as norm, as laptop computers, and iPods and tricked-out cell phones are the coin of the realm. Walk into the Starbucks (which are on every block in Seattle) and you see that so many Americans have become the parody of the nerd in real life.

Being a “computer devotee” — or an innovator on the Internet — is about the surest-fire way to build fame and followings among those under 40, and many over that age. What’s the next Facebook or YouTube? Who will turn millions based on pluck and old-fashioned nerdiness.

How cool is it that some dude paid a pittance for the domain name pizza.com several years ago and cashed in those rights for millions?

’80s nerds are 21st century stars.

I thought Kim Gehling was heroically smart and ultra cool as she explained to me how I could turn a Web log I do on politics into a Net location that draws more visitors and perhaps turns something of a profit. “Search engine optimization,” she called it.

Tell me more, girl!

Such techy terminology might have been grist for the jocks back before ESPN.com became one of the hottest sites on the Net.

Glibert and Poindexter struck a blow for the nerds of the world in 1984’s “Revenge of the Nerds.”

A quarter century later it is the nerds who rule the world. To prove this I simply refer you to the Internet tool known as Google Earth.

The company, consistently ranked as one of the most desirable for which to work, is hurtling toward an unprecedented dominance of humanity.

The “just say no” folks warned us with that fried egg commercial about “this is your brain on drugs.”

Today, our brains are on Google.

We now have the nerd as oracle.

And if a nerd is cool, then, well, a nerd just isn’t a nerd anymore.

Bury the word.

No comments: