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How social networking provides support for nerds

Social networking is sometimes the bane of my existence. I find that people from high school or college that I was never friends with, never had conversations with, have located me on Facebook and want to add me and fill my newsfeed with posts I don’t want to read. I follow people on Twitter and on Tumblr that I have never met before in real life and never will meet, I’m sure, but I sought them out because I like their content. Others have sought me out for the same reason, or because they hope that I would join their flock, thus boosting their numbers and making them seem even more popular and in-demand.

I primarily have problems with social networking sites because I feel compelled to check them constantly. I know I’m not alone with this. Many of my friends, including the ones who don’t have the same nerdly personality tick of obsession (they possess the potential for obsession with topics in smaller, more manageable doses than your typical nerd brain), continue to seek out social networking sites for hours on end, day after day.

On the other hand, I’ve found that for me, for my particular nerdly ways of obsessing about shows, books, movies, and now comics, social networks are extremely helpful. I don’t have friends with as many overlapping interests as I used to. I have many TV shows and movies that my friends also love, but that’s where the line ends. I read very different things from my friends, I watch now very different TV shows than they do, and I express my feelings for these media items in very different ways than they do.

Part of that is due to how I found each particular TV show. Some I watched when I was growing up – The West Wing, The X-Files, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Poirot (thanks, Mom for the last one). Those shows were reserved for my family, and I watched them and occasionally discussed them with my family.

As I got older, into high school and then college in particular, I started discussing shows I watched with my friends – we would watch them at the same time, then talk about them on the phone or online afterwards, or the next day at school.

Online – that’s a key concept here, and I’ll come back to it later.

Once in college, I would watch TV shows with my friends, in each other’s dorm rooms or in the common areas and discuss them before and afterwards. Now, my friends in college are nerds, without a doubt, so we would discuss, theorize, expatiate, soliloquize, etc. late into the night. We were in college – what were we going to do, sleep? Do homework? HA! At that point we found that there were TV shows that we’d started watching in high school and liked, or that since we all liked a lot of similar TV shows, we started inducting each other into (or subjecting each other to) our favorite shows from the past, or even ones that were still going on. This led to a grand cross-pollination in which our group of friends ended up all liking the same rather large cross-section of media.

Once we moved out of the dorms and gained our independence, we continued to watch our shows together and speculate on the latest happenings in Lost, Fringe, 24, or even in sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock. We started finding other shows on our own, though. I’m not sure why – I think it was in part merely a natural progression. We’d watched most of one another’s shows by our senior year, so we needed new material. We also continued making friends, of course, and their tastes rubbed off on us.

For myself, I had a work friend whose taste I greatly admired, and when I discovered that we had a lot in common already (Lost, How I Met Your Mother, X-Files, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel Movies, Christopher Nolan movies, etc.) I said, sure, why not, I’ll take your advice on what to watch. I found a lot of different shows through him and his friends, and that started me off on the road from Supernatural to Doctor Who and Torchwood, and then even further into BBC programming as my latent anglophilic tendencies as imparted from my mother began to come to the surface.

As we finished college and moved away from each other, we continued conversing when we found time about not only the events in our lives, but the cultural phenomena we’d shared for the last four and five years, and kept searching for new media to consume, seeking each other’s guidance in the face of overwhelming media choices.

When I found that my friends and family were not receptive or interested in the least about many of my new movie and TV show viewing choices, I had nowhere to turn. I was lucky that I’d found something as a senior that would turn out to be a crutch for my burgeoning nerditude – the Nerdist podcast.

I found the Nerdist podcast right after they released their first episode, and fell in love from the beginning. I found a place where people were nerding out over some of the same things that I did, and started to listen to their advice about which shows and movies I should watch. From there, my already well-established relationship with the Internet and its many opinion outlets, I started finding on my own various people on Twitter or in the blogosphere whose taste influenced me and provided me with new perspectives on media and art.

Because I found these new influences on my own, through my own particular brand of nerdism, I found different sources of media guidance than did the rest of my friends. I found that I was, at last, completely isolated from actual friends and relatives with whom to nerd out about certain things. That’s the downside of finding new things on your own, instead of with your friends.

I only had the one friend to nerd out about Marvel movies (for a while, other old friends like them now and I’ve made new friends who do as well). I found a community that collectively squees over the Doctor’s latest poor choice of headgear, cries out “FACEPALM” over Sherlock’s reaction to Molly, and other such things that my friends don’t understand because those shows aren’t the ones my friends watch.

And in return, there are shows that I don’t watch which my friends do. I’m receiving large amounts of peer pressure to watch Community but haven’t yet found the time or a good method to do so. And so my friends, while I am watching nerdy sci-fi/fantasy shows like Doctor Who and Merlin, are watching Community and Parks & Recreation and Modern Family, etc.

When I joined the Nerdist Node a year or two ago, I was excited but unsure what it could bring. I had already joined Twitter at that juncture, so I was expanding (slowly) my social networking presence. I’d moved from LiveJournal to WordPress and started blogging again, something I hadn’t done in years. I found the Node an interesting place for discussions and for meeting people with interests similar to my own. That’s how I met the person who started this blog, in fact. I wouldn’t be writing here right now if it weren’t for my need to find a community to nerd out with.

I’ve found the same happening for me on Tumblr. Now, Tumblr is a special place. Like all social networking sites, it has its own rules, regulations, tendencies, quirks, twitches, mores, and protocols which you must follow. I’ve learned some of them as I’ve become a more active member of the community, just as I learned the idiosyncrasies of Twitter, Facebook, and others before. I like it. I’ve found people who nerd about about what I nerd out about, and I’ve found it’s easy to find those people.

Having these different communities, while it’s a lot of work to keep up with them sometimes, is beneficial for me in the end. If I put work into finding what I need – people who like Supernatural, for example – I can find them and feel connected to a community of viewers that I wasn’t able to find in real life. I don’t know if I’m a child of the Internet era, but I am at least a teen of the Internet era. That’s when being online happened for me. Pre-college, post childhood. I grew up with dial-up. I sent my first email in 7th grade. In high school, I talked to my friends online instead of on the phone.

As great as its potential for distraction may be, social networking is ultimately a good thing for me. I’ve found ways to pursue and develop interests with people who, while I haven’t met them and don’t have an emotional relationship with them, are there to support me anyway because they are interested in the same things. For me, that’s the real benefit of social networks is the increased ability to find a community without being confined to those communities around you in the physical world. You can find a community of people interested in whatever you want, and join, without having to relocate.

Nerds built the networks, nerds can benefit from them, too, as I am, and as many already do. I’m always on the lookout for more people who have interesting things to say, to share with the rest of us. If you want to look me up on Twitter or Tumblr, just click my gravatar for my links. I’d love to connect with you, too.

Now if I’ve convinced you, go forth, be social, and network!