I've no opinion on what we should call the decade now-passed ("00s?" "Naughts?") but by any name my conclusion would be the same: The period stretching from 2000 to 2010 A.D. was the decade when the world went completely and utterly to the Nerds. And thank the gods for that.
My name is Bob Chipman, and I have been a nerd for 28 years.
By anybody's math, the end of the last millennium was a horrible time to for one to be a nerd (or geek, or dweeb, or whatever name by which intellectually-advanced/socially-awkward misfits are referred to in the current parlance.) Sure, we'd always been picked on, abused and marginalized, but in the waning days of the wretched 90s it had taken a turn for the worst. We were feared. Hated. To the culture at large, we were horsemen of Armageddon, corruptors of the culture. Enemies of the good.
It all had to do with the rise of the Internet Age, and with it the digitization of human civilization. Of this, I remain convinced.
Looking back, I can almost sympathize with the confusion and unease felt by so many in mainstream culture for myself and my fellows. It was as though they'd gone to bed in an analog world they and their forefathers had known for centuries and woken up in a new world of dots and w's, where every aspect of their day-to-day lives was dependent upon the guys they used to see skulking from classroom to classroom attempting to avoid the day's Atomic Wedgies.
How else to explain the hyperbolic rush to brand Microsoft's Bill Gates - the archetypal Computer Nerd turned Capitalist Kingpin - as a secular Satan for the age? The quiet kid at the back of the lunchroom with the coke-bottle glasses, nose buried in the AD&D Monster Manual, had grown up to conquer the world. For the first time in a long time, intellectual superiority and financial superiority were becoming analogous; and to more than a few the very prospect was vaguely terrifying. A world run on computers would be, logically, a world run by nerds... would they be merciful to a world that once dogged them for so long?
As always happens, vaguely-defined fears crystallized around very real - if only tangentially-related - terror. In the media, the millennial fear and hate of The Nerd was vindicated again and again. In 1999, hysteria surrounding the tragic massacre at Columbine High focused on the perpetrators' social-misfit status and (tenuous) connections to the videogame subculture. In the same year, the world was gripped in panic over the supposed Y2K "doomsday glitch."
The theme was constant: Nerds were volatile and dangerous, and the technocracy they'd created was going to fall apart and destroy us all. To say nothing of videogames causing an obesity epidemic or internet addiction sucking the life-force of a populace. The cyber workplace was cruelly shoving analog employees into obsolescence, Harry Potter was luring youngin's to the Black Arts, Pokemon was a gateway-drug to gambling and it was all those damn eggheads' fault!
Even the nerds' own culture turned against them. The release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was supposed to the Second Coming for two generations of Junior Jedi, but instead... well, we all know what happened there. Bad vibes reverberated through every facet of Nerd Culture - even the videogaming scene, though in the midst of a major economic expansion, seemed poised to move "against" them, with Golden Age stalwarts like Sega crumbling and Nintendo seemingly adrift. Things sucked, in other words.
And then, at some point, things started to go right.
Who knows what, exactly, triggered the shift? Was it another in the endless after-effects of 9/11, i.e. unity in the face of mutual horror or the recognition of what a real existential threat looked like? (That's probably a reach, but how can one try to encapsulate the decade without touching on 9/11?) Or was it just natural progression, the result of people moving on when the bottom failed to drop out?