Considering how deeply steeped in nerdery pop culture is today – adults using “lol,” the recent explosion of comic book film adaptations and an overabundance of memes, to name a few examples – it’s hard to imagine that not so very long ago, being a “nerd” might have gotten you beaten up and stuffed in a locker. I remember being teased to the point of tears during 7th grade lunch period because I dressed as a Jedi for Halloween, and that was less than a decade ago. Being a nerdy kid was hard, and your options were few. You could put up with social ostracism and retreat to your select group of equally nerdy friends, or you could reject, ignore, “grow out of” the things that gave you joy in order to fit in.
Wherever you fell on the peer pressure spectrum, however, solace could be found on the internet. Some of us played Neopets a few years into middle school, when other kids had long since quit. Some of us got addicted to LiveJournal or to budding MMO (massively multiplayer online game) communities. We flocked to the hundreds of special interest forums as soon as we realized it was easier to find people like you by shouting into the digital void than into the judgemental crowds of contemporaries you sat with at school every day.
And then, because we found acceptance and understanding there, we stayed. Our basic human needs for socialization were better met by the good folks of the internet, so I, and many others, chose to spend a lot of our time on our computers instead of venturing outside. Long before the age of the smartphone (indeed, before we had portable devices any more advanced than a black and white Gameboy), we were in tune with a screen. And now everybody else is, too.
Despite the backlash against our digital generation, kids like me are in a unique position. Our parents begged and demanded that we get off the computer so we could study or hang out with friends like “normal” kids, and they did so out of fear for our well-being and our future. What none of us could have known back then was just how good for our future the screen time would be. The way of the world, as it does with each generation, is shifting again: it’s moving online. And my net-obsessed peers are going to run it.
“The geeks shall inherit the earth” is a tired mantra. The Amurrican spirit of anti-intellectualism hasn’t quite disappeared, but most people these days know that being smart is a good thing (duh). I’m talking about a different kid. Not the straight-A class president or bespectacled programmer – although there are many of those types in the internet kingdom – but the one that worked, played, and thrived in that digital world from an early age.
Our precocious brains were trained to pick up on new technology instantly, every new piece of technology a plug-and-play adventure and an exercise in versatility. We crunch information at lightning speed, sifting efficiently through good and bad in the chaotic mess that is the web. We learned to stay on top of trends before the waves broke, and we participated in the shaping of those trends. Perhaps most importantly, we have an instinctive understanding of how the web works: how communities form and what breaks them, how information and misinformation spreads and how we, by human nature, are inclined to use and respond to interactive content.
Those are business skills – extremely valuable ones. Even if social media marketing ends up as a “fad” position in favor of something newer and faster, the internet is not going away, and human industries of every variety are going to rely on it more and more in upcoming years. Every time a Gen-Xer complains about the degradation of society, another recent college grad lands a great job because they “wasted their life” on the web as a kid, proving that another “lost generation” dismissed by its predecessors is stronger than anybody thought we were.