I had the opportunity to go to this year's Boston Comic Con a few weeks ago, rescheduled from April due to the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt. Though there was a lot of a lot of griping about the postponement at first, I think the show was better for it... safer environment, better weather, and a significantly better venue (if you have to wait in a huge line, a seaside view sure as hell doesn't hurt). And the crowds... if people had been disappointed, it didn't show because they turned up in huge numbers, which made moving around difficult at times but everyone was generally polite, supportive, and pleasant.
That was my biggest take-away from the event... so many people, particularly the younger folks (and, sadly, I'm old enough that my idea of "younger" now extends into the twentysomethings) were happy to be there, excited to find cool things, show off their costumes and admire those of others', get together with old friends, make new ones, meet some of their artistic/entertainment idols, and so on. It was a stark contrast to the sort of misanthropy you tend to associate with fandom when you interact with it mostly online, and a definite mood brightener. Happy begets happy... we forget that sometimes, but it's often true.
Better still... they were proud of their nerdiness. For people of my generation and our forebears, even though we passionately embraced our nerdy interests, there was still enough of society putting us down for it that it always felt shameful. If we called ourselves nerds or geeks or whatever, it was an attempt to take back the words and redefine it without the hurtfulness it was meant to embody.
Well, if these kids are any indication, the words have been taken. The words have been redefined. We called ourselves nerds as an act of defiance. They call themselves nerds because they want to, because they (and a larger - if not truly large - segment of "non-nerd" society) realize what we always knew but couldn't/wouldn't admit: being a nerd is fun and our stuff is awesome.
I might be romanticizing things, of course... middle school and high school are probably just as miserable now as they ever were, but thanks to social media and the internet in general, I think its a lot easier to find your pod now than ever before, particularly if you don't live in a major metropolitan area. I grew up in a part of Maine that had a good comic book store, a couple of decent bookstores, and an okay record shop or two, but even that felt remote. I knew a few other kids into comics and Star Wars, fewer still into Doctor Who... it was hard to find people who liked that sort of thing. For kids in even smaller towns, it must have been really lonely. But now it's a lot easier to connect with like-minded folks, strike up friendships, and arrange gatherings. For instance, while I sat in an out-of-the-way spot to eat lunch I watched a huge group of Homestuck cosplayers gather for photo ops, and though it had clearly been pre-arranged people were introducing themselves to each other left and right. It was fun to watch, even if I still couldn't tell you what the hell Homestuck actually is. But whatever... these people clearly found their tribe in a way I would have loved to be able to have done when I was at that age. I admire it a lot, and I kinda envy it a whole lot more.
Long story short, this generation of nerds has it pretty great. They are proud, happy, confident, and seem to lack the negative self-consciousness bred into and, paradoxically, embraced by my peers and those who came before. That's a good thing, and I hope that never changes for them. I hope I can in some way make sure that it doesn't.