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Geek Chic

Even though geeks are entrenched in our popular culture through videogames, virtual reality games, the widespread use of computers, and movies whose plots are based on comic books, the geek and his kissing cousin, the nerd, have a negative stereotype. Lori Kendall, a professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign thinks this may be the reason that women and minorities don't want to pursue careers in information technology. Most of us think of the nerd as a white male sloppy dresser with no personality. The media have helped form our negative stereotype of the nerd as a popular character in TV shows, advertisements, and the movies.

Negative Stereotypes

Kendall comments that she had thought the stereotype would die off as more and more people began to bring computers into their homes. She figured that since everyone was using a computer, everyone was a nerd. Somehow, the negative stereotype persists in spite of the professor's assumptions. Kendall believes this is due to a feeling of unease about the growing impact of computer technology and how it has taken over so many aspects of our lives. “We make a distinction between business people who use PDAs and are tethered to their laptops but aren’t really into it, and the ‘nerds’ who are really into it. So, there’s some discomfort with computers that we still haven’t quite resolved,” says Kendall.

Kendall reviewed the ways in which nerds have been depicted within the media. Examples include advertisements for Best Buy, the TV series "Chuck," the Weird Al Yankovic parody called, "White & Nerdy," the subculture known as "Nerdcore," and the 1984 movie called, "Revenge of the Nerds."

The nerd is invariably a white male wearing spectacles who has an encyclopedic knowledge of trivia. The contrasting character is often a black male, as seen, for instance in the "White & Nerdy" video in which the nerd is contrasted with black gangsters. The implication is that people with technological know-how are always white males. This prevailing view of computer culture has an effect on how women and minorities might perceive a career in computer technology.

Declining Numbers

Though the same numbers of minorities continue to earn degrees in computer science, the number of women who seek a degree in the field has declined in the last several years. Even when women do manage to complete a degree, it's hard for them to find jobs. That's because potential employers can't quite assimilate the fact that a woman is applying for the job. They'd rather higher their stereotypical white male nerd.

On the other hand, though "nerd" remains a negative label, the name "geek" has begun to have cachet. The word "geek" brings to mind a high level of expertise in an area that not a lot of people know about. The label also implies a sense of passion.

 

 
 
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