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Geeks May Be Chic, But Negative Nerd Stereotype Still Exists, Professor Says

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor Lori Kendall

Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Despite technology's growing impact on society, academic geeks, or nerds, still suffer from negative stereotypes in popular culture, which may explain why women and minorities are avoiding careers in information technology, says University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Lori Kendall.

The concept of the nerd remains an anti-social white male, and it has become more prevalent than ever as a stock character in TV shows, movies, and advertisements, Kendall says. "Ten years ago, I thought the nerd stereotype would fade as more and more people started to use computers in their everyday lives," she says. "Well, that hasn't been true."

Kendall believes the longevity of the negative nerd stereotype reflects a fundamental uneasiness with computer technology and the influence it holds over our increasingly hyper-connected digital lives. "We make a distinction between business people who use PDAs and are tethered to their laptops but aren't really into it, and the 'nerds' who are really into it," she says. "So, there's some discomfort with computers that we still haven't quite resolved."

Kendall has analyzed how nerds have been presented in a variety of media. Generally, the nerd character is a white male with glasses and large amounts of obscure data committed to memory. Furthermore, Kendall believes the nerd is often represented in a way that specifically contrasts with black males.

From The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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