According to Benjamin Nugent, author of American Nerd, I'm not really one but rather because I have uncool tendancies, I've been lumped in with the nerds. The classic nerd is usually male and possesses and intellect and bodily movements that strike people as machinelike. He tends to embrace activities that don't involve emotion or physical activity and yes these do include: sex, sports, food, acting, interior decorating, knitting etc.
Nugent also argues that certain races are designated as nerdy, most notably Asians (while Africans, which are stereotyped as being a "sensual" race, are the anti-nerd). With the influx of immigrants in the early twentieth century, WASPs developed convenient racial stereotypes in order to differentiate themselves from this "other." Jews and Asians were both categorized as nerds and therefore other. Thus, American schools began to prize physical fitness (hence the rise of the phys ed class) as essential to a good education and claimed it as part of an essential WASP upbringing (hence the importance of sports at universities even such as Harvard).
As you can see, there are tons of delicious, food-for-thought tidbits in this book. I won't spoil it for you but I would like to dig into one of the chapters that really interested me, the one on The Cool Nerd, i.e. the Hipster. AGHH. The Boomer generation was defined by being eclectic, by embracing making art AND money at the same time, by being increasingly urban and worldy. How does one rebel against such a thing? The answer is purity. The hipster is pure old-school - the Pabst Blue, the plaid shirts, the facial hair, the desire to make an armoire from scratch.
The hipster often works in the media and as we all know, or at least I do, accompanying a media job is a constant fear of being IRRELEVANT. What, you don't know about that new social media trend? That hot new place to get Japanese izakaya? How to wear a belt so that it perfectly cinches your oversized shirt? You've seriously never listened to NPR's This American Life? Get with it! And hey, nice new black frames.
The nerd is anti-trend. He or she has obsessions that are viewed by hipsters as authentic i.e. no trend is going to dictate to the nerd whether to play D&D, he or she either loves it or not and plays it regardless of how hip it is. Thus, the hipster assumes the posture of the nerd (bizarre hobbies like making dioramas, clothes like shawl cardigans). But, and you could see this coming from a mile away, a hipster is not a nerd.
I won't spoil any more for you but for all you nerds and wanna be nerds out there, read this book. It's an authentic nerdy experience.
American Nerd: The Story of My People/ Benjamin Nugent / Simon and Schuster / PB, 2009