What's a Nerd?

Being a nerd doesn't carry the same negative connotations that it once did – not since people started to notice that nerds are often the big winners when it comes to career earnings. Nerds are people drawn to science and computers. They tend to be highly focused, and often lack social skills as a result. The term nerd itself was first coined by, of all people, Dr. Seuss in a children's book entitled If I Ran the Zoo,  published in the early 50s. It really caught on in pop culture use when the TV series Happy Days hit the airways, and the language of the characters made its way into the language of the 70s.

Overcoming the Social Stigma

For several decades, people called nerds were viewed as bumbling, poorly dressed, socially inept members of the A/V club. In movies, they were objects of ridicule, featured in Revenge of the Nerds series and other popular features as unlikely heroes or objects of ridicule.

With computers came the real rise of the nerds. It's hard to make fun of Bill Gates...even though one of the richest men in the world is a stereotypical American nerd.

Marketing to Nerds

Interestingly, a huge culture has grown up around nerds. Far from being objects of ridicule, nerds are embracing their inner nerdishness with great passion. The Dungeons and Dragons crowd has gone mainstream and marketers long ago took notice, investing in cult television shows like The Walking Dead, in nerd and geek gear, like that found on thinkgeek.com, and on video and computer games rooted in imaginative fantasy. Nerds have even entered mainstream tv with The Big Bang Theory, CSI and even, arguably, How I Met Your Mother, where the lead characters are lawyers, a teacher, an architect/college professor, and a television reporter. Contrast that with the previous generation's ensemble comedy Friends where the lead characters were a professional shopper, a chef, a soap opera actor, a singer, and a businessman in an unknown position. There was nerdy Ross, of course, the museum curator, but he was gently frequently ridiculed for his boring nerdishness. The new generation of shows offers more admiration and a more positive focue on being an American nerd.

What's next for nerds?

As the popularity of nerd culture grows and is viewed as more positive and appealing, new generations of kids may be drawn to the math and sciences career paths. It will be interesting to see whether pop culture can result in an upswing in the U.S. technology sector.

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