March 3, 2009

Researcher: ‘Nerds’ still face negativity

A University of Illinois professor says that while the meaning of geek has shifted into a more positive light, nerds still face negative stereotyping.

The valence of the word 'geek' has really changed over the years, said Lori Kendall, a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science university's Urbana-Champaign campus. People talk about 'geeking out,' which indicates a very intense focus on an interest, and sometimes it's an interest that not a lot of people share. It tends to indicate expertise and passion about something.

'Nerd' is a stickier term that is applied to people in a more negative way, Kendall said in a university news release. 'Geek' is something you can do and then leave behind, but 'nerd' is what you are.

Kendall said she believes negative stereotypes of nerds are tied to society's uneasiness with computer technology and its influence.

Ten years ago, I thought the nerd stereotype would fade as more and more people started to use computers in their everyday lives, Kendall said. I thought, 'Since we're all using computers, we're all nerds.' Well, that hasn't been true.