Off Topic: Geeks and Nerds

The world is changing. Cell phones have replaced the majority of old conventional home phones. Few remember anymore that neighbors once had to share phone lines. I-Pads and smart phones are slowly replacing cell phones. Shifts in society are important because it changes how we define ourselves and interact. In high school, I remember the big thing was cruising the square. Kids would drive back and forth on tarred pavement looking for parties and people. A while back, I drove through the old square on a Friday night. Normally, the street would be full of teenagers and their antics. It was a ghost town. With twitter, social networks, and cell phones, a teenager's social life is no longer bound by the confines of a car.

Rise of the Machines

Various dictionaries define the word nerd as a person with an obsession leading to nonsocial behavior. Right in parentheses next to the definition is computer nerd. The general public backs the stereotype. As more people become plugged into the Matrix, the definition of nerd becomes hazy. Previously mentioned, the average teenagers social life revolves around cell phones and social media. The average worker spends the majority their day in front of a computer. Grandparents have discovered Facebook's benefits of being able to keep tabs on grandchildren. The Business sector has had to adjust as computers and having a webpage becomes essential for success. Netflix and other social media are pushing the local movie rental stores into extinction. Netflix accounts for the majority of Internet traffic after the hours of five o'clock that cable companies are beginning to complain. A recent survey found the average American actually spends more time in front of their computer than the television. Technology is even influencing the way people write as many articles and student papers read more like twitter feeds or bumper stickers than actual whole paragraphs with a fully formed thought.

Gaming at one point was almost synonymous with nerd. It was viewed as an unhealthy obsession. Stories still crop up every now and then about somebody who died from playing videogames. Over time, the reaction to videogames has changed. The majority of people now play videogames. Any little old lady with a computer checks her email, Facebook, and plays solitaire. My wife is addicted to Farmville. Just about everyone has a favorite game whether it is the Sims or Rock Band. I recently got Guitar Hero and my Thraximundar Commander deck goes unfinished. What can I say, it is addicting. Even though the older generation has resisted, the older is disappearing. It is a matter of life. The young computer savvy generation is slowly becoming the old generation. The age shift results in a society where computers and videogames are the norm.

The Big Geek Theory

The new computer savvy society doesn't think themselves as nerds. Many do consider themselves geeks. Geeks, nerds, what is the difference? Ten years ago when demons were removed from Magic, the two may have been synonymous. Today is different. Demons are back and the words geek and nerd have slowly drifted apart in meaning. Originally, the definition of geek was somebody obsessed with computers. Keep in mind, the other negative stereotypes were generally assumed. A search of various Internet dictionaries reveals a wide variety of definitions. I think the dictionaries are behind the times. The word has much less negative connotations nowadays. Best Buy's outsourced computer customer support is called the Geek Squad. Many people I know would rather be called a geek than a nerd.

Television channels are constantly on the look out for shows that people can identify with on a personal level. The Cartoon Network plays cartoons and Spike has testosterone laced programming. The mainstream media though tries to provide a general appeal. One of the most popular television shows right now is The Big Bang Theory. An argument could be made people just like laughing at nerds. I don't think it is the case. Much of the comedy isn't funny unless a person has a general understanding of nerds, comics, videogames, the culture, and etc. Basically, the comedy is lost for those not in the know. The show is popular because the general population identify with the show to a certain level. The technical difference between geek and nerd is evident in the shows characters. Sheldon would be the nerd and Leonard would be the geek. The difference is social skills.

Revenge of the Nerds

Before I get the shame, shame I know your name finger, nerds are simply people who have made a lifestyle choice. Our lives are dictated by time. No matter what decisions a person makes in life, the clock continues to tick whether we like it or not. The predetermined sands of time continue to flow to the bottom of the hourglass no matter what we decide to do. Every day consists of twenty-four hours. Therefore, our lives are about time management and our decisions are based on what I call the trifecta of health. It entails the physical, mental, and social. For example, you have one free hour in the day. What are you doing to do with it? The trifecta dictates you have three options and there is little overlap. A person could decide go for a jog (physical), call a friend (social), or build a new Commander deck (mental).

Let me dust off an old antique of a saying: jack of all trades, master of none. Excelling in a particular area can garner a large amount of success. Athletes who have mastered a craft can cash in on endorsements or become the governor of California. Politicians/actors make a bevy of dollar signs extorting money from the public. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are the most idolized nerds in recent years. The masters are successful while the jacks are relegated to work less stellar careers. In the modern age, brains are triumphant over brawn as are world becomes more dependent on our technology for survival and success. However, there is only so much time. In order for a person to excel, sacrifices must be made. Bill Gates will never win a Olympic Medal, Michael Jordan will never win a Nobel Prize, and Johnny Depp will never build a multi-billion dollar empire.

Biggest Loser

At a certain point though, ignoring one or two of the three can be unhealthy. The most evident is the constant expanding waistline of the American public. The majority of people live in the now and skimp budget wise on gym memberships and healthy foods. In the long term, the money saved is lost for expensive medical treatment. Triple-by-pass surgery, diabetic medication and numerous other medical complications costs mega bucks. A short life span results in lost revenue. People often think a lifestyle choice only affects them when in reality it impacts the people surrounding their life and society. On the personal level, children, family, and friends suffer. Those ideas are simple and easy to grasp. The harder part to observe is the macro level. Airlines estimated they burn an extra ten percent more fuel when compared to twenty years ago due to heavier customers. Health insurance goes up for everyone. Restaurants need to install larger and larger seats or booths to accommodate these new patrons. If a person looks closely, evidence is everywhere and society suffers as a whole.

Recruitment is essential for the continued growth and vitality of the Magic. Paint a picture of the local card shop. Walking into the store or venue, what does it look and feel like to you? There is probably some people playing Magic over somewhere on a table. Let’s play pretend. You are a new person and nobody knows you. Do people stop playing to come over and greet you? From experience, the answer is probably no. A person who plays Magic might get over it, but somebody new may make up their mind then and there to never play the game. Why would a jilted person want to waste their time to play some game with a bunch of nerds?

I’m reminded of this at any Magic tournament and watch the silence. It is not a hot bed of conversation. Trying to engage in a conversation can be as fun as a root canal. All of this is enhanced by the paranoia over tilt and Jedi mind tricks. Games with an opponent with headphones and an I-Pod blaring are always a lot of fun. I’m not the only one. I would need both hands to count the number of times an opponent for the next round sits down and asks me the following: “Please tell me you won’t be a jerk like my last opponent.” I fail to see how this behavior is beneficial for Magic. Some might say, don’t go. Again, I fail to see the value of that kind of recruitment strategy, but it is exactly what I have decided. I told my wife I was giving up on the tournament scene. She laughed and told me I like Magic too much to do that. I responded: “I’m just fed up with nerds.”

Endorsing Magic

As I sit back and think about what I just wrote, it makes sense. Players at tournaments are people who have sacrificed a significant amount of time to play test. It is the reason I have a distaste for professional players being the unofficial spokespersons for Magic. My experiences with pros have been less than stellar. Regardless, I don't think a person who is merely good at Magic should be a representative of the game. As far as I am concerned, here is your trophy now disappear. Companies hire people to represent a product or company due to their personal skills. Sure, it helps if the person is good at something, but more than one celebrity or athlete has lost an endorsement for being a jerk and etc.

Personally, I would much rather have George Clooney or Drew Barrymore as a representative. I don't care if they lack a Pro Tour victory. Heck, I don't care how good they are at Magic. I care they are personable. I care they will attract new people to the game. I care that people who played a game against them will walk away smiling. An endorsement form either star would do more for the game than a Grand Prix champion would create. Some players may scoff at my suggestion because George or Drew don't accurately represent the average Magic player. If you just thought the very same thing, you have just sold this game and its players short. Why can't they play the game? Are they too good looking? So, you are saying good looking people can't play the game? Do they have better things to do? So, you are saying there are better things to do than Magic? We need to get past that mental barrier. On a side note, I could feasibly see Drew Barrymore play Magic.

I don’t care how good people are at Magic. What I care about is players are having fun. This is another reason I don’t care for professionals as representatives due to a general elitist attitude. Don’t take my word for it, takes their word for it: donk. It was awhile back, but the word circulated on the forums, articles and even on the Magic Show for a time. People are free to think whatever they want. However, to me a person who receives compensation from WOTC should be held to a higher standard. To me, if we are going to call them professionals, they should be held to the same standards as professional athletes. Any professional athlete on a team has to act as a representative of that team at all times. I think our professionals should be held to the same standards and fined or penalized accordingly.

Greeks and Geeks

Social skills are the albino elephant of Magic. It is the reason I am writing this article because it has a huge impact on the game. It reflects on how people look at us. It affects how people are recruited. It is the reason for the state of the forums. At every level, it has an impact. I have no qualms in talking about the subject not just because I used to be a nerd. Actually, I was the worse nerd, a country nerd. The reason for my boldness is because being a nerd, as well as being a jerk, is a choice. Deciding to greet the new person in the store or continuing to play Magic is a choice. Treating an opponent like crap at a tournament is a choice. It is no different in deciding what to eat for dinner or going for a jog.

It is the peculiar thing about the brain. Every organ in the human body follows the same laws of biochemistry and physics. When it comes to the brain, people treat it differently due to feelings and thoughts. It is no different than a muscle and the brain needs exercise. I’ll budge and give some credence to personalities, but a person’s personality shouldn’t be a crutch. Like all things, social skills take practice. Sure, a risk exists a wrong thing might be said or whatever. However, without risk a person will never get better. It is why it is called practice. I'll empathize with people to a certain degree, but I have no sympathy. Anybody can change if they put their mind to it.

I left for college as a shy farm boy hoping I could leave my nerdy past behind me. It didn’t help. I was still socially inept as I was in high school. Therefore, I devised a plan. I entered a fraternity to force myself to interact with other human beings at a more consistent and deeper level. The transition was very much like joining a gym and being the out of shape person. Every one else was sprinting on the social treadmill without breaking sweat. It was embarrassing surrounded by plastics and guys of a superior physical physique and social standing. I stuck with it by shear perseverance and maybe out of pure stubbornness. One of the most difficult parts was the questioning surrounding my admittance. I was not like them. I wasn't the typical pledge.

All of it came at a cost. My grades suffered and the journey stretched my already thin pocket book. Looking back at it all nearly a decade later, I believe it was one of the smartest things I ever did. I grew from the experience and became a better person for it. Surprisingly enough, if I had never joined the fraternity, I wouldn't have been introduced to Magic. A younger brother in the fraternity had played Magic in high school and in a similar circumstances as myself. After some serious prodding, he taught me how to play the game. In the end, I am thankful for two things. Sorry, three since it was also how I met my wonderful wife.

Collateral Damage

This entire conversation is fraught with danger. Ignoring it though won't make the problems surrounding the subject matter go away. Much like marital problems, ignoring that strife exists in the marriage won't resolve the issues in the relationship. If anything, those problems will only manifest themselves in peculiar ways. Granted, Magic attracts a certain demographic that creates unique obstacles. Hopefully, we can overcome those stereotypes and challenges. In the end, I realize talking about geeks and nerds is taboo. However, I think it needed to be said.


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