“It Runs on Some Sort of Electricity?”

“It Runs on Some Sort of Electricity?”

Not all Nerds are Science Savvy

By: Meg Humphrey

Although nowadays the classification of “nerd” and “geek” has expanded far beyond of the math and science centered stereotypes of the past, I think it’s fair to say that if you self-label as such, people continue to assume that you can help with their math homework or fix their computer for them. I can do neither.

ELECTRICITY 1Now, this doesn’t mean I’m completely incompetent when it comes to what I consider to be “basic” skills in the 21st century. I can obviously use a computer and a variety of software programs well enough for my day job and my side projects.  Our household appliances and electronics don’t pose much of a problem and I can usually troubleshoot well enough to get something working again if there’s a hiccup. I know enough math for budgeting and accounting for my home business. I am capable and I have plenty of interests that could fall into a science related category. But I got a 2.1 in the introductory CSE class at UW and the only math class I took in college was the one required statistics course for my sociology degree.

There is always the issue of what people will assume about geeks, even what nerds think about other nerds. Maybe it’s just the fact that Seattle is saturated with the Science industry. Now I’m using “Science” with a capital “S” because I’m talking about a specific view of science that is pretty narrow minded. It’s not so much what’s included in “Science” but what’s excluded – people tend to dismiss things like zoology, archeology, psychology, etc. from the Science category. If it can’t help the tech or medical field then it’s not Science. In Seattle you can’t go more than a few blocks without hitting a start up, hospital, or a building that is owned by what I liked to refer to as the “Big 5” (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Boeing, and UW Medicine). Add to that all of the other businesses in Seattle that require IT support and the specialized  tech retail stores and okay, I get that there is a huge industry for that here. However, when you meet me at a convention and I say “I work downtown,” your response shouldn’t be “Oh, at Amazon.” Even if I did work there, there are plenty of jobs that don’t require being especially computer literate.

I don’t know what a “for loop” does, but I know I hate it.

Be aware that this doesn’t only apply to nerds who want nothing to do with tech. I have a good friend who is a computer science engineer (AKA she writes code) and people continuously ask her to fix their computer hardware problems. She hasn’t the faintest idea of what’s wrong any more than they do. Just because someone watches Top Gear religiously doesn’t mean they can fix your car; just like how someone who works at Google can’t necessarily help you build a gaming computer from scratch.

There is also the unfortunate notion that nerds who are in the science field are somehow better than those who are not. When I go with STEM career friends to functions with their coworkers, there are few people who will give me a chance to prove that I’m an interesting and worthwhile human being. As soon as I state where I work or when I’m clearly not following their work-related conversation, they are done with me. Thanks bro, but I would happily whoop you at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit if you gave me the chance or amaze you with my knowledge of Echinoidea. But that’s not Science so it doesn’t matter.

Why wouldn’t you want to talk about sea urchins?

The message to take to heart is that just because someone is a nerd, it doesn’t mean they care one lick about Science and technology and they don’t have to! Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they can help you with your problems. The realms of geekdom have spread far and wide from the roots of the “four-eyes egghead” who asks for extra homework over summer vacation. Keep that in mind and think twice before assuming something about your new nerd friend.