Thursday favorite: Nerd pleasures

Last Saturday I went down to Princeton for a “monomeet,” a gathering of 20 or 30 people (two women among them! really!) who had or were interested in monomes. There were presentations on programming for monome in a couple of different computer languages. An attempt to create the world’s longest monome-based step sequencer (successful). A group jam using independent hemispherical speakers borrowed from PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra.

In short, a bit of a nerdfest. (To be fair, there were also some, as they say, truly ill DJ performances; I’m not sure if the ability to electrify crowds with your beats reduces one’s nerdiness or is a quality orthogonal to it, but I suspect the latter.)

And I had a great time. Which got me thinking about nerd pleasures. It occurs to me that some of the pleasures available to nerds are in a sense negative, such as:

(1) Not having to keep up with popular music, TV shows, movies, etc.

It’s a great relief to be able to let this stuff go if you want to. Of course, there are music nerds, TV nerds, movie nerds, and the like, but if you’re a nerd you’ve granted yourself permission to sit out whatever competitions of cultural consumption don’t happen to appeal to you. (Similarly, one of the greatest pleasures of being gay is not having to watch football, ever.) The other side of this pleasure is

(2) The wholehearted enjoyment of odd or not-widely-enjoyed music, TV shows, movies, etc.

Battlestar Galactica is an example of this for me; you may favor Firefly or the Underworld movies. A related pleasure is

(3) Knowing about odd or not-widely-enjoyed music, TV shows, movies, etc.

As just a small example, it is obvious that to hear Magma is to love Magma, yet there are many people who do not love Magma. Nerds get to hear Magma.

Really, though, (3) is just an instance of a much broader nerd pleasure, one of the most central to the nerd experience:

(4) Knowing stuff about stuff.

A couple of others to round out the list:

(5) The rush of pleasure that comes from solving a problem (such as debugging a tricky part of a computer program) after a long and difficult intellectual struggle.

(6) The company of other nerds.

That’s what I came up with, anyway. What are your nerd pleasures?

13 responses to “Thursday favorite: Nerd pleasures”

  1. I think my nerdiest pleasure is programming — the sense of knowing that a bit of design is exactly right, and clever. (Indeed being clever can be even more important than being right…) Everything you say about books and movies and music, pretty much, although I have to confess I always feel like I’m not good enough at being a nerd in these fields — like I like books and movies and music too much for the experiential rush of reading and watching and listening, and not enough for the information retrieval function — if I paid more attention to the latter I might be better able to communicate what’s great about (say) the book I’m reading right now. It seems like when I talk with “alpha nerds” they are really good at explaining what is the appeal of the thing they’re into, where I just sort of point and say “look at this — isn’t it amazing?’

    In general I worry about escaping into nerdy pleasure in books &c. as a substitute for communication with other people.

  2. Rachel says:

    My nerd pleasure is having friends who can toss words like “orthogonal” into conversation.

    By the way, the football rule only applies if you’re a gay man. Lesbians, unfortunately, are subjected to entirely too much football, and after several years of PAYING to have the NFL Network, in my home, I still don’t find the game interesting. (The snacks are good, though.)

  3. Dave says:

    I always feel like I’m not good enough at being a nerd in these fields

    Says the guy whose blog is called “Read In.” Sheesh. The rest of us have no chance, do we?

    nerdy pleasure in books &c. as a substitute for communication with other people.

    Yeah, probably to some extent.

  4. LP says:

    Nerdy pleasure: Not having to dress all hipster. Wearing tennis shoes with jeans. Watching Davey B. ecstatically purchase a throwback digital casio-style watch (OK, that’s hipster nerdy).

  5. Says the guy whose blog is called “Read In.”

    The blog gives me some feedback as to whether I’m being nerdy well or poorly (g). — It seems to me like writing posts that people take interest in and comment on is an inherently more worthwhile activity than writing posts that nobody reads… I mean blogging about the books I’m reading is an inherently nerdy activity; but if I can structure the blog so that it’s interesting and meaningful to readers, well that’s being engaged — just droning on to myself is a cut-off, distancing activity.

  6. Jane says:

    Nerdy Pleasure: getting to be obsessed with Harry Potter. A not-so-nerdy quality for a 14-year-old…but a TOTALLY nerdy quality for a 24-year-old. Especially when I play games like “What scene in Harry Potter could be an analogy for __(insert historical/pop culture reference here___)?

  7. Natasha says:

    I don’t like football either. I have to memorize the teams and the scores each Superball, so I don’t look like an idiot. My passion is Mechanics and Quantum Physics. I can figure out how any type of machinery operates and fix it. Before I switched my major from Film to Physics, I used to love the technical part of movie making. Fuzzy Logic was fun, while it lasted too.

  8. Natasha says:

    Wow, I’m reading the “Read in” and liking it quite a bit.

  9. Thanks — that’s nice to hear.

  10. Mark says:

    I’ve been a nerd for a very long time. Not just a nerd, but that’s definitely always been a part of my persona.

    My favorite vindication came in college, when I met up with a girl I went to high school with. She was one of the smart/cute/popular ones who didn’t give me the time of day back then. I forget the exact quote, but she said, “You and your friends were always so weird, but now you’re the ones that are cool to hang out with, and all my former friends turned out to be [stupid fuckfaces] (my words)”.

  11. This looks like some good nerdy fun for you Brooklynites: the Secret Science Club.

  12. Dave says:

    Oh, Brooklyn is full of nerdy fun. The League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots, for starters.