• 01-SEP-2017

  • SOURCE: Deutsche Lufthansa AG

The age of the Nerds

The world belongs to them. Or at least the money does. How the nerd has gone from derided weirdo to billionaire, style icon and superstar

For ten hours he was the richest man in the world: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, displaced Bill Gates from his long-standing top spot on 27 July. The reason for this was a momentary increase in the price of Amazon shares, of which Bezos holds around 16 percent. But after bad quarterly figures were published, the Amazon share price fell again and the old pecking order was restored. The pecking order of the nerds.

The Forbes List of the richest people in the world is proof that the world belongs to the nerds. For years, Bill Gates has been at the top of it. The Microsoft founder is a super nerd. He wrote his first computer programs during lessons as a spotty teenager with horn-rimmed glasses and braces, and during his studies spent his time in the computer room rather than at parties. When he founded Microsoft in 1975, he began his endless climb to become the top earner. And his momentary rival, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, is also a nerd. As a small child he dismantled his crib with a screwdriver, as a teenager he re-purposed his parents garage into a chemistry lab and he graduated from his studies in computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University in 1986 with the highest grade of “summa cum laude”. He even named his labrador after a character from "Star Trek". There’s something that all nerds have in common: They are passionate about a special subject, are of above average intelligence and love science and science fiction series. But they are also considered as being closed off, socially awkward and eccentric. It’s unclear as to where the term nerd comes from. One theory is that US students who were known for going to parties were known as ‘drunks’ and their counterparts in the computer labs were described as ‘knurds’ - the word drunk in reverse. Knurd eventually became nerd.

The Geek - A Nerd on the back burner

There is a clear distinction between the nerd and the geek. While the nerd is a studious intellectual who wants to increase their knowledge in a specialist area to the very limits, geeks are fans of a particular thing or a subject area. They collect souvenirs and memorabilia and don’t get so deeply involved in the matter as nerds do.

Everyone probably knows a geek or even a nerd from their school days. That kid with the plaid shirt and glasses who barely broke a sweat in maths or physics, but who hung off the horizontal bar in gym class like a wet plaster. The kind who had a chunky Casio watch with about a hundred buttons on it, who, although they were an ace at chemistry, didn’t know how to work a deodorant and therefore usually sat alone. Someone who was more gifted than others, but who also stood on the sidelines. But chances are, that they are now superior to you. And at the center of the attention. Because the world belongs to the nerds.

Nerds are happier people

Digitization has played its part in this. Apple, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook occupy places one to five of the most valuable companies in the world. Developers can pick and choose their jobs and there are still fewer computer science students graduating from universities than the labor market needs. And it’s not just in their jobs where nerds are successful. They are even said to be happier people. The reason for this: They have a higher level of self-acceptance, usually work in a profession that they like and have fewer but deeper friendships. This begins at school. A US study followed children and young people over a period of ten years and found that students that are more reserved and considered as outsiders only have problems with drugs or alcohol half as often later on, and have significantly less conflict with the law than their "cooler" classmates.

Fashion has also recognized that being a nerd is cool and is now riding the wave. The best example: Horn-rimmed glasses. They’ve gone from nerd mask to a hipster accessory. Nerds are also dominating the TV. The TV series "The Big Bang Theory” about Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is a homage to nerdom, now in its tenth year, has been awarded four Emmys and is the most-watched television series in Germany. And with Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, two nerds have shaken up world politics.

The forefather of the nerds: Archimedes

Being a nerd is not a recent trend. The forefather of the nerds was probably Archimedes. The Greek mathematician and engineer, who lived over 2,200 years ago, calculated the number Pi and was regarded as a genius of his time. He was also said to have run naked through the streets in thought after making an important discovery. His eccentricity would ultimately become his downfall. As his home city of Syracuse was being plundered by the Romans, Archimedes had drawn circles in the sand to find the mathematical proof for a problem he was thinking over. He muttered to a passing soldier “Don’t disrupt my diagram”, and was subsequently killed.

Archimedes proves: Being a nerd is dangerous, but it was already cool over 2,000 years ago. Because while the name Archimedes is one many people know, nobody remembers the name of the soldier who killed him. There are also other nerds from history who are still known today: Aristoteles, Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Gutenberg and Beethoven were regarded as absolute specialists in their professions and have shaped our world.But ultimately it doesn’t matter whether someone is a nerd, a freak or a geek. All three are experts and even though not every nerd changes the world, they play their part in the success story of the formerly derided specialists.

To know that this will continue, we just have to take a look at the Forbes List. Because while Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates fight over the top spot of the Forbes List, a newcomer to the super-rich club is getting under their skin. In fifth place on the list is the name of probably the best known nerd of our time: Mark Zuckerberg.