Off-Grid Nerdery 🤓

An interesting thing I’ve noticed about small talk in recent years: The more niche your interests are, the harder it is to have it. This one’s for the nerds not into Marvel.

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What I got in DreamStudio when I typed in “Nerd who doesn’t like Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, or Game of Thrones, in a hyperrealistic style.” It tracks.

Over the weekend, I was doing a little bit of traveling on my favored medium of choice, trains. This particular trip tested my resolve around liking trains—I busted my fancy USB-C cable, there were long delays, and it was a particularly long trip in general. We haven’t perfected wireless access on the Amtrak, unfortunately, and maybe we never will.

For a while, I found resolve in beating one of my favorite video games, Legend of the Mystical Ninja. It’s a great game, one that I’ve played through many times. (What makes it endlessly replayable, IMHO, is the fact that it features numerous minigames, meaning that it has a ton of variety.)

Later, someone who had apparently seen me play the game asked me if I was into Game of Thrones just based on the fact that I was enjoying a 30-year-old video game based around a lightly Americanized satire of Japanese culture, that had nothing to do with the franchise.

I admit that the guy meant well, but I think it reflects a sort of challenge of finding mainstream touchpoints in a world where culture is going increasingly niche. I am very much a nerd, but I basically am not into many of the primary touchpoints of being a nerd—not Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, The Walking Dead, or many of the other big fantasy franchises. I understand lots of other people are; that just isn’t me.

On top of that, I don’t really keep up with sports—in my adult life, I’ve only owned one shirt in my life that big-upped a sports team, and that was because I was required to wear a Michigan State shirt at work at my job … at Michigan State.

I am a fan of video games, but largely those made before about 1996 or so. And while there are certain mainstream phenomena I appreciate—I was watching Better Call Saul’s final episode just like everyone else—I think that in many ways, my cultural interests have generally strayed from whatever was going on in the mainstream.

An old coworker of mine, confronted with the fact that I was interested in Leonard Cohen, whatever indie band was hot at the moment, and whatever random 35-year-old album I glommed onto out of deep interest or obsession, once called my musical taste “off the grid.” This was at the height of the iPod era, mind you, when people’s diverse musical tastes were front-and-center.

I think a lot of this is as a result of the internet. The internet made it easy to consume content without concern as to whether that content or those ideas were truly mainstream. Instead, I dug deeper into other subcultures that I found interesting. I have other interests that are nerdy, but those interests don’t have much in common with the fandom portrayals of, say, The Big Bang Theory. If I find something interesting I dig, I just get into it, no worries about how popular or mainstream or subcultural something is. I think more people these days think this way than you might think.

So I guess the big question is this: When we all fall into non-broad, overly specific subcultures, what are we going to talk about when just having small talk?

I think eventually we’re going to become so splintered and specific that common ground will threaten to be impossible to find.

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Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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