One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of (one of) their nerdy obsessions.
A toddler might ask endless chains of “why?,” and that’s a phase I never really grew out of. What I liked most about growing up was that I discovered I didn’t need to.
I visited a therapist once for anxiety – her specialty was guided hypnosis for relaxation and we tried two sessions. I was in fact so physically relaxed I was nearly asleep, and when I’d finished yawning she asked me to describe what I was feeling. I told her exactly which parts of the script worked, analyzed the technique and drew parallels to the scenographic work I sometimes do with my students, that it was interesting the way that storytelling could reshape the environment, and that I’d totally incorporated the neighbor playing the saxophone and the dog barking in the courtyard into that floating balloon thing, but that it was sometimes hard not to pay attention to exactly how connected the limbic system is to mental state, but it’s cool to observe that all from inside while breathing. She suggested I might be manic and strongly hinted we shouldn’t meet again.
I don’t know when I realized close observation and analysis wasn’t the typical way people moved through the world, but it was probably the first time someone called me a nerd. And I am. A nerd. I am a nerd about everything. I’m a nerd about being a nerd. In fact when I got the call for this essay I couldn’t decide what kind of thing to nerd out about and so I ended up just writing this essay about being a meta-nerd.
When I was a kid I was very much into computers, and my family was not. I was permitted to set up a computer I’d bought myself at a yard sale in the basement (which had a dirt floor and actual mice.) Eventually the world caught up: The internet happened, then the web, and I made a decent living showing adults how to use their computers. One woman, a lawyer whose office I’d just installed a network for, asked me if I had any friends because “kids like you often don’t” and I was confused because I had lots of friends. It just turned out they were mostly nerds.
The internet turned out to be the perfect home for us, and then the perfect foundation for weaponized nerd-dom: the oppressive application of data and computing that seems to have brought us full circle. These days I find it difficult to luxuriate in exploring ideas at random when “do your own research” is code for rejecting the scientific method and the most powerful computer hardware on the planet is concentrated on converting fossil fuels to a wealth-hoarding money-laundering death-cult of an economy, but I also find some comfort in knowing I’m not alone. I can’t really think my way out of anything, but there’s still potential in curiosity, still possibility in asking questions, and some kind of hope in the eternal call of the nerd: But why?