Geeks Will Save the World

With a headline like “Geeks Will Save the World,” I know what you’re thinking. It’s all about the social isolation. The geeks and nerds of the world are prepared to isolate because we’ve been doing it for decades. When we were younger, we were developing a very particular set of skills never knowing it would become desperately needed in a future era of crisis.

All of the years you spent alone in your room reading and rereading Harry Potter, Marvel comic books, the collected works of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, or the Song of Ice and Fire series? It was preparation for today. The thousands of hours you devoted to playing World of Warcraft, alone in a dark room surviving off Mt Dew and frozen pizzas? That gave you the determination and talent to make it through our current shelter in place orders. Those nights you spent watching horror movies alone because all of your friends were too chicken to join you proves you have the courage to survive a pandemic. The work you committed to research a field of study or perfect a creative craft on your own while everyone else was partying at the beach is the same commitment needed now.

We didn’t know it then but we do now; our nerd powers of self isolation is the one thing that could save our planet and protect vulnerable lives. A word of motivation for all of my geeky friends: we are superheroes.

While all of this is true, it is not the reason I believe geeks will save the world. Life, as volatile and fragile as it may be, is bigger and more enduring than the current pandemic or our personal and political responses to it. Once the orders to shelter in place are lifted, this world will still need nerds and we will continue to rise and meet our noble calling. We’ve been given superpowers, and this week, I met a man who was saved by our nerd powers.

It was a random encounter in a public restroom. I generally loathe conversation in the men’s room. It’s a sacred space and if you really want to talk to me, you can wait until I’ve exited the facilities. However, we were both washing our hands while attempting to maintain a safe social distance when he noticed my t-shirt. It has a spider webbing pattern superimposed over Captain America’s shield with the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker crawling in the web.

“Spider-Man?” He asked.
“Yup. Spidey and Cap. Mixing the two.”
“Nice,” he said, “Spider-Man is my jam.”
“If it wasn’t for Spider-Man, I probably would have never learned to read.”
“Oh really?” Despite my aversion to bathroom conversation, he had me interested in his story.
“See, I’m dyslexic. And my dumbass school didn’t teach me anything. I couldn’t read. Didn’t know how until I found Spider-Man comics. I still wasn’t learning at school so I taught myself to read through Spider-Man stories. They literally saved my life.
“That’s awesome,” I said.
“Yeah. And now I’m seeing some of the same signs in my daughter. She’s struggling in school. So I’m like: here...”
“Have a comic book.” I finished his sentence for him.
“Hell yeah. If Spider-Man helped me learn to read, he can help my daughter too.”

Comic books have long been viewed with scorn and disdain. They’ve been blamed as contributing to the delinquency of minors and shaded as a lesser type of literature. However, the vernacular comics use is more complex than most people’s spoken conversations. They employ advanced words comparable to college level communications. Studies into the art form from Boston University and California State University have praised comic books for being a great entry point for people reluctant to read and for helping students improve their reading level and vocabulary.

If you call yourself a nerd, consider this a note of encouragement. Because of writers and artists and perfectly decent geeks like us, my new friend learned to read after public education gave up on him. Our culture has more to contribute to society than our superhuman ability to isolate. We will save the world, even if it’s one dyslexic kid at a time.

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