If you’re someone old enough to remember the 1980s or – gasp – the 1970s, then you remember that there was a time when being a geek was like wearing a target on your back everywhere you went. Your family would always compliment you on your brainpower but worry aloud in a somewhat demeaning way if you were doomed to a life of solitude. In school, the assorted ‘cool kids’ would use you as a target for all manner of insults, derision, and bullying. And worse, the authority figures blithely sat back and gave their tacit approval for your misery.
Then, in the early 1990s, a funny thing happened. This odd technology started gaining traction on college campuses. It was the early iteration of the internet. And nothing’s been the same for geeks ever since.
All of a sudden, the ‘cool kids’ that wanted to find the latest import CD or some hard-to-find Usenet group had to cozy up to their closest geek to get the help they needed. And, then a wave of newly-minted tech billionaires – all geeks – became the new idols everyone aspires to be. But none of it would have happened without the internet’s unifying cultural force. Here’s how the internet turned geeks into the cool kids of the 21st century.
Uniting Far-Flung Fandoms
One of the central traits that make geeks who they are is that they tend to have obsessive tendencies about some non-mainstream (or at least they used to be) topics. It can be comics, or video games, or sci-fi films. Whatever it is, they know everything there is to know about their chosen obsession and aren’t afraid to tell anyone that will listen. In the old days, it was this obsessive attention to detail that marked geeks as being different from everyone else – and it was hard for them to find others who shared their interests nearby.
The internet changed all that by allowing online communities to form about any and every geeky topic under the sun. It was as if every kind of fandom suddenly had a home and new friends with whom to celebrate their obsessions. They could throw theme parties and finally find plenty of like-minded people to attend. And now, the internet is even making things like yearly comic book conventions possible even while social distancing remains a literal matter of life and death.
Making Gaming Universal
In the past, video games were something of a niche entertainment category. There were some games for adults, but most game systems – like the groundbreaking NES – were aimed at kids. Then, all those Nintendo (and PC gaming) fans grew up and brought their love of video game culture onto the internet. And websites were quick to capitalize with thousands of Flash-based games. After that, big companies like Sony and Microsoft realized that internet-connected gaming could be a big business. Their push to integrate their consoles with the internet created a whole new generation of mainstream game fans.
Today, you can hardly find anyone with a smartphone that doesn’t have at least one game they’re obsessed with. And in the ultimate sign of the times, pro gamers are now not considered geeks but revered athletes, some of whom earn a living doing nothing but playing games they love. In short, the internet turned all of the non-geeks out there on to gaming and created converts that helped to normalize gaming as a mainstream activity. And presto – all of a sudden gamer geeks were the toast of the town.
Creating Cultural Crossover
The internet didn’t just invite outsiders to partake in geek culture, it also exposed geeks to some of the things they’d traditionally avoided or had been denied access to in the past. Take team sports, for example. In the past, geeks typically didn’t have any interest in sports like football, baseball, and hockey. But they did have an interest in numbers and mathematics. The internet helped them to apply their passion for numbers to the sports they previously ignored and gave rise to a new geeky discipline: sports analytics.
Today, you can’t find a pro-sports franchise without an analytics department, all of which feature teams of stat geeks. But geeks didn’t stop exploring the non-geek culture with sports. Today, you’ll find them helping to run online CBD ventures like OrganicCBDNugs, frequenting countless online dating sites, and doling out life and work advice to help their less-together brethren cope with everything life has to throw at them. In other words, the internet lets geeks be themselves while fully integrating into their communities, stigma-free.
Making all the Cool Stuff
More than anything else, though, the internet turned geeks into the cool kids by changing what the world values. In the old days, the average person didn’t care if computers took up a whole room in some far-off school or government facility. They didn’t even much care when they became small enough to fit on a desk in their homes. But when the internet gave computers the ability to communicate around the globe – that they did care about.
Since then, the hottest gadgets and trends have all centered on internet-connected technology. Smartphones and tablets? Geeks built them. Online media streaming platforms? Geeks built those, too. Ecommerce sites where you can order almost anything and have it the next morning? Geeks again. The bottom line is that the sheer utility of the internet made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. And since everything about the internet is geek-powered, it was inevitable that geeks would become the new cool kids.
In the end, the internet has had effects that go well beyond the mainstreaming of geekdom. But for those of us that remember what it was like to be a geek in the pre-internet era, it’s been a godsend. So, for all you millennial and gen-z geeks reading this and struggling to imagine a time when geeks were considered uncool, take my word for it – you don’t want to know. So take a moment to thank the internet for sparing you from it and then go out and celebrate your geekdom!