When I was a kid, my parents predicted it. Years ago, somehow, they knew.
I would stumble home wailing after another humiliating encounter with the school jackass or neighborhood bully, the cackling taunts of the "cool kids" still ringing in my ears, they would coo soothingly, "don't worry about that stupid bully, honey. Buck up, hose that burning bag of poop off the front porch, and go do your Calculus homework. When you're grown, you'll be successful and that same jerk will be pumping your gas." 1 A Cold comfort when you're blubbering through a face full of tears and a steaming geyser of a nosebleed. How was I to know, how were any of us to know, in those early days, how eerily prescient our parents would be?
Eerie indeed, because thankfully for recovering childhood nerds like me, geeks have recently, finally, come into vogue. Witness the ambivalent, doughy sexiness of a Seth Rogen, or the oddly attractive post-pubescent cool of a Michael Cera, or the dry, vegan post-irony of an Ellen Page. At long last, the socially inept are fulfilling that long-predicted destiny to rule the world -- or at least the internet and the magical realm of Apatow.
Walking happily hand in hand with the rise of the geek is the rise of the gamer. Once a shameful pastime, pursued in a darkened room on a tapestry-covered cat-shredded sofa, and fueled by Jolt Cola and Funyuns, gaming is now the hip pastime of responsible mortgage-holding adults. The sexy Blu-Ray playback of the PS3, the aggressive muscularity of the Xbox, and the kooky addictiveness of the Wii has made gaming not just socially acceptable, but cool. And with games like Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, gaming has become a wholesome family pastime, and no longer only the domain of sweaty, furtive, sexually confused eighth-graders. (Well, they may still be furtive and confused, but they put a happy face on it while mom's cranking out "Livin' On A Prayer" on that little plastic "guitar.")
With its increasing cool, gaming has also spawned a proliferation of websites focused on the world of gaming. One site I like combines the best of comedic and lifestyle websites with gaming analysis and culture. Pwnordie.com offers reviews, cheats, walkthroughs, game/film mash-ups, and videos showing everything from celebs playing their favorite games to how to reconfigure your deck to be a multi-region DVD player (Ah, nerds. So socially inept, yet so technologically resourceful.) The internet is lousy with great (and really not very great at all) gaming sites -- part of the fun is searching them out (because you, like all great post-modern fully evolved nerds, have unlimited time to sift through the folds of the internet looking for undiscovered digital treasures amongst the copious ads for viagra and porn. Don't you? Need more Mountain Dew? )
In fact, the new nerd is nerd no more, but fanboy -- brilliant, obsessive, encyclopedic, self-referential, redolent of Quizno's, sarcasm, and disdain for the dumb, the media illiterate and the technologically uninitiated. One look at pwnordie (and, indeed, our technology-obsessed culture in general) reveals the sparkling new order of things. On the way down: popular, entitled, glad-handing jocks turned popular, entitled, glad-handing insurance brokers (or hedge fund managers or petrochemical lobbyists or credit default swap speculators). Shooting upwards like a pre-crime law officer with a jetpack and sick-stick: hyper-motivated social networking site-creating wunderkinder (or indispensable internet search engine inventors or idealistic community-organizing Harvard Law graduates). "Gossip Girl" and its ilk be damned: the new, new hierarchy likes fashion, makeup, and celebrity just fine, but obscure podcasts, obscurer bands and really obscure iphone apps are what really get the kids going.
Wikipedia.org (which, as we all know, is the authoritative resource for all things geeky) defines the geekslang (otherwise known as "leetspeak") word "pwn" as "to appropriate or to conquer to gain ownership. The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival, used primarily in the Internet gaming culture to taunt an opponent who has just been soundly defeated (e.g. "You just got pwned!"). Now, finally, that same concept can be applied to society at large. Social networking, perpetual connectivity, online culture, cross-platform synergism, hyper-intellectuality -- all once the domain of the fringe, are now the aspirational goal of the many (witness the popularity of such unapologetic geeks as Mark Zuckerberg and Malcolm Gladwell, or the stupefying longevity of Apple founder Steve Wozniak's run on "Dancing with the Stars"). At long last, the meek are doing some of that inheriting we've all heard about.
Or at the very least, they finally get to stop being embarrassed about carrying an overloaded backpack, reading graphic novels (comic books to you), driving a fuel-efficient hatchback and bringing their lunch to work in a reusable lunch bag. Because the new, new nerdiness is not only cool, it's green. And green is the ultimate in geek cool.
So arise, postmodern techno-knight. Tie up your pant leg and alight your bicycle. Illuminate your iphone, download your podcast, and faithfully tweet your twitter. The world, at last awaits you. Pwn it. 2
1. This is not a condemnation of the entirely honorable career of gas pumping. The great American men and women who pump gas are to be admired and applauded. And not to be smoked within 100 feet of.
2. No curbstomping, however, please.