We used to call them geeks, nerds, dorks, spazzes. Now we call them visionaries, CEOs, disrupters. It’s crazy when you consider how much revenge the nerds have had since those intrepid Tri-Lams Gilbert and Lewis rocked a frat festival and won the hearts of America with electric violins and some sweet kickworming. In today’s wild, wired world, the erstwhile geeks are the men and women shaping our new hybrid existence that doesn’t straddle so much as blend the real and the virtual. Forget revenge. We’re living in the apotheosis of the nerds.
And while Silicon Valley is still the tech world’s Fertile Crescent with its critical, boiling mass of venture capitalists and unshaven software shamans, good ideas know no geographic bounds. But there are greenhouse conditions that can encourage them. Las Vegas, with its cheerful spirit that embraces risk and bankrolling by Tony Hsieh and others, is maturing into a city where the phrase “tech scene” may end up being more than a mere wishy meme. For proof, check out our suite of profiles on p. 78, which features innovators and entrepreneurs who are doing everything from launching a global network of virtual currency ATMs (Robocoin) to ginning up homegrown apps aimed at helping the working family shave a few bucks off their grocery bill (Grocery411.com). And if you want to learn how to solder a servomotor into your robot butler, we have a place for you, too, with the makers at Syn Shop. Whether Vegas can seriously diversify into a real tech sector depends on numerous iffy factors (such as, oh, fixing our education system), but these restless visioneers signal a promising start.
Of course, geeking out is about having fun, too — enter the geek map (p. 84), which features our hand-picked collection of three dozen places and events in the valley for brain-flexing play, from hacker conventions to science fiction clubs to shops that sell games with twenty-sided dice. If you that reference gave you a nerdgasmic flashback, then you’ll enjoy “Mage Against the Machine” on p. 88, James Joseph Brown’s memoir of growing up playing the classic — and widely misunderstood — role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Where parents saw a bunch of gawky teens around the table flirting with occult fantasies, Brown reflects upon how the stereotypically uber-nerdy pastime taught him all the stuff we thought football did before learning it turns brains into tapioca: teamwork, persistence, strategy. Indeed, when the number of people streaming World of Warcraft gamecasts on Twitch rivals NFL viewership, you know the geeks have won the game of thrones.
Even the meaning of the word has changed. These days, geek connotes not so much social ineptitude as the kind of obsessive devotion that nearly guarantees success -- and that devotion, tinged with a gleam of mania, is what truly defines this issue, whether it’s comic book store owner Ralph Mathieu creating a home for visual storytelling, or photographer Marshall Scheuttle snapping in the shadow of Las Vegas’ neon candy shell. In an age when the Internet celebrates everyone’s niche passion, we are all geeks now.