By JJ: Wil Wheaton gave the keynote address at the 2016 Mensa Annual Gathering in San Diego on July 1.
There are lots of “money quotes” in this, but here are my favorites:
I was a nerdy, shy, awkward kid who was scared of everything, and the library intimidated me; I never knew where to start, I was afraid I’d pick a book that the Cool Kids would tease me about reading, and I always felt lost in the stacks. This librarian, though, reached out to me. She asked me what sort of things I liked on TV and in the movies, and recommended a few different books based on my answers, including the first real SciFi book I can recall reading… I loved it so much, when I went back the next month, she taught me how to use the card catalog to find other books like it, entirely on my own. On that day, the library was transformed from a confusing and intimidating collection of books into a thousand different portals through time and space to fantastic worlds for me to explore.
I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was in her fifties, wore epic 1970s polyester pantsuits, huge glasses that hung from a long gold chain around her neck, and had a hairdo that was ten miles high. She was friendly and helpful, and when she reached out to that nerdy little kid, she changed his life. If you’re a librarian today, you probably don’t hear this very often, but thank you. Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives.
And I can go on and on about how those of us who are elder geeks probably feel like it’s just so damn easy to be a geek right now, the damn kids today don’t know how good they have it! And if everything is geeky, maybe nothing is geeky, and that means that gatekeeping in geek and nerd culture is a pointless waste of time. So when someone tells you that they love X-Men, or Game of Thrones, or Star Wars, or learning to program in Python, the best way to respond is with a high five (or sci-five), not a pop quiz and a summary judgement. Because every single one of us, when we were protonerds, we met someone who said, Oh, you like this thing that I like? Cool! Let’s like it together, and meet some other people who will like it with us. And, BOOM: the first Star Trek convention happened. And it was awesome, and then there were conventions everywhere for everything nerds loved, and it gave us a place where we could be who we were without being afraid of the cool kids making fun of us.
So, if I may: it isn’t enough to be kind and welcoming to the people who want to join us in celebrating all the amazing things that we love. When we see someone being a gatekeeper, we have to walk right up to them, say “don’t be a dick,” and bring that person they were trying to keep out right into our clubhouse. Because the next Joss Whedon or Elon Musk or Kelly Sue Deconnick is just discovering nerd culture for the first time, and I promise you that we want them to be part of it.
And there’s a really, really wonderful section at the end about self-doubt and anxiety and depression, and the way that really smart people seem to experience this at a much higher level than the general population, and why we all need to beat that insidious self-doubting, condemning voice down, because we the geeks are the superheroes that the world will need in the future — but I don’t want to excerpt it, because it really just needs to be read and taken onboard in its entirety.
I found a video on YouTube, but it unfortunately cuts off WAY before the end. Maybe the full speech will be uploaded in a few days. Meantime, the full text is here.