Nerdsplaining (Or Think Before You Tweet)


I love nerds. And geeks. And yes, as I include myself in both those categories, I did sorta just pat myself on the back. So be it.

Sadly, we’re not always the most tactful of folks. The Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons exists (and is popular, especially among nerds) for a reason–we’re like that sometimes: know-it-alls who feel entitled to have things just the way we want them, and why can’t everyone else just see how WRONG they are?

Yep, my beloved nerds get on my nerves sometimes*. I adore the community, so it’s extra hard to deal with it when we come off looking like jerks. Okay, some of us really are jerks. There’s no getting around that. Every fandom and community has its share. That sucks, but even more frustrating is when the people who aren’t really asshats at heart do and say stuff that makes them look like they are. It’s not just because it gives us all a bad name. Yeah, that’s part of it, but mostly I’m disheartened by the insular view so many people have about the way they communicate.

“I didn’t mean it that way” is possibly the most stupid and annoying defense I have heard (again and again and again).

Intent only goes so far, people. It’s great that you didn’t mean to sound like a tool, but if everyone else in the world thinks that’s how you come off, then the way you wanted it to sound really doesn’t matter that much. Sorry.

I’ve also heard “Well I know what I meant, and that’s all that matters.” No. It’s really not. Though I suppose that’s all that does matter if you genuinely don’t care about having friends and interesting conversations and interacting with the world around you. If that’s the case, enjoy your effective hermitage. I’m sad for you.

Ok, so before I descend into a quagmire of annoyance and tetchiness thinking about this, let’s turn to the bright side here. And yes, there is a bright side!

Some of the time, in fact, I’d wager most of the time, these obnoxious utterances come from a place of love. No, really! We geeks get so wrapped up in our adoration for a character or property or event that we want to make sure that it’s the best it can possibly be.** We care SO MUCH that we sometimes (okay, often) let it blindside us into thinking it’s okay to blurt out the first thing that pops into our head.

News flash: it usually isn’t.

Here’s an example that came up recently. If you know me at all, you’re probably aware of my deep, abiding, passionate love for the Gallifrey One convention.*** The con has grown so much in recent years that tickets sell out quickly. In the run-up to the moment tickets went on sale this year, I saw some twittering to the official @gallifreyone account expressing worry that the system might not work well enough to purchase tickets easily.

(Note that this is only one example. Feel free to substitute something like calling a local comic store the day of a new release to point out its popularity and tell them they better have lots of copies on hand. Or telling Big Finish “PLEASE have the Doctors interact and playfully bicker” in The Light at the End. Or, to step outside the strictly-geek world for a moment, a typical mother-in-law asking if there are enough centerpieces on the day of a wedding.)

Okay, so there are a few things going on here:

A) This was most definitely done from a place of love. People are really passionate about Gally, and were expressing genuine concern. They want to make sure they get their tickets. I completely understand that sentiment. I, too, was hovering over my computer waiting to refresh the page. However…

B) That concern is irrelevant. Like I said, intent only goes so far. It’s great that folks care about the convention, but that doesn’t make this kind of tweeting look any better from the receiving end (or to bystanders), and that’s because…

C) They’ve already thought of it. That’s their job. The people who work for Gally (or the comic store or Big Finish, etc.) think about this stuff all the time. It’s what they do. If they haven’t thought about it already, there are far bigger problems going on, besides…

D) At this point (mere hours before the event), it’s too late to do anything about it, so you just look like a dick. If the folks in charge genuinely don’t know what kind of situation they have on their hands, the appropriate time to let them know is far in advance, and preferably via some sort of private message. It’s only polite. By making a public statement like this…

E) You’re basically saying (publicly) that you have no faith in the organizers. You might as well just declare “You’re an idiot and I do not trust you to do this thing correctly. Oh, and I am also hereby cementing my right to say ‘I told you so’ after the fact if something does go wrong.”° Yep. That’s how it comes off from the outside. If I was on the receiving end, I’d be tempted to say “Okay, so you don’t trust me to get it right? Maybe just stay home and skip the whole thing, how ’bout?”°°

Of course, this example is just one type of the glorious°°° and varied world that is nerdsplaining. Perhaps my little diatribe is fatedˆ to become the first in a series of posts about this pernicious behavior. I’m sure most of you have run into it at one time or another (or, depending on your friends, over and over again). What’s your favorite nerdsplaining story?

Anyway, sorry to get all Miss Manners on you, but this is something that always bugs the snot out of me.





In case you’re curious, the ticket-purchasing experience was pretty darn smooth. There were a few minutes while the system was getting into gear when everything stalled out (something I 100% expected because I live in the real world and use the internet all the time). After that initial bump in the road (which was far less troublesome than issues I’ve had buying tickets for much bigger events), things ran smoothly. SO smoothly, in fact, that the con sold out in only 75 minutes. I’ve seen many tweets expressing how easy it was to get tickets this year, so way-to-go Gally!ˆˆ





*I’m not pretending I’m innocent here. I’m certain I’ve been just as bad as anyone out there. I am, however, trying to be more cognizant of it these days and pay more attention to how my words and actions are received.

**The tricky part is that we can’t agree on what’s “the best”.

***AKA “Gally”, North America’s largest and longest-running Doctor Who convention. It’s the BESTEST THING EVAR. I do not exaggerate.

°This particular impulse is not motivated by love for a thing, so I’m not really talking about it here. The desire to be able to say “I told you so” is just plain dickish and not driven by anything but insecurity and ego.

°°Of course, me being me, I’d recognize that the insufferable comment came from a place of love, and I’d let it go, but I’d still want to snipe right back.

°°°By that I mean not-at-all glorious.


ˆˆAnd don’t even get me startedˆˆˆ on all the “helpful advice” people have been giving Gally (post-sellout) about how they should change their convention or rules or venue. Like I said, this is their job–one they do for FREE I might add. Gally is so popular because it is an amazing convention suffused by an incredible feeling of fandom-family. If they change it, it will cease to be that thing and become another thing. Sure that other thing might be okay, but it would no longer be the thing we currently love. Yep, I dread the day when I’m not lucky enough to be one of the limited number who get a ticket, but do I want them to change the con I love just so I can be there? Hell to the no. That would be some kind of ridiculous and shitty hubris, and any “advice” I offered to try to make that happen would be nerdsplaining to a tee.

ˆˆˆOops. I clearly got started.

11 thoughts on “Nerdsplaining (Or Think Before You Tweet)

  1. I hope I haven’t been ‘nerdsplaining’. I try to tweet useful information for the most part, but it’s clear not everything I send is received that way. When I read that you had found community in fandom I felt inspired, but I understand now that feeling is rooted in gatherings like GallifreyOne, and online interactions are a way of bridging the long gaps between face-to-face meetings. My interest in Doctor Who is something I only ever shared with my brother, and I’ve never met someone else who liked it as much in person. I’m glad to have found some online, but I will respect the limits imposed by online-only interactions and strive to avoid annoying tweets :)

    • Erika Ensign says:

      There can be a fine line between being helpful and nerdsplaining, I suppose. I think context has a lot to do with it. If you’re giving someone information when they have no way to use it or put it into practice, that’s just no good. If you’re giving info at a time it’s needed, that can be great!

      Of course the best is offering info when it’s requested. I don’t think offering up info when it’s un-requested is always going to be nerdsplainey though. I’ve gotten tons of great suggestions from you (and others) when I didn’t specifically ask for it.

      Tone is another important factor–a REALLY important factor. If there’s even a whiff of “I can’t believe you didn’t already know this” or “I’m patting myself on the back for deigning to explain this to you”, then it’s gonna sound obnoxious. If it’s simply info stated plainly, that’s less troublesome.

      Tone is hard to nail on Twitter, ’cause 140 characters really isn’t enough to convey much beyond the info. (Some people do have a knack for pithy nerdsplaining though.) The character limit can be helpful too though–it keeps folks from going on and on too much, which can be another annoyance. :)

      Probably the last factor I can think of is audience. People react differently to info that’s offered cold. I, for one, am usually pleased when someone takes the time to give me a link to something or explain something I’m unclear on. Other folks (my spouse, for one) tend to get annoyed by this more easily. It may be difficult to suss out who’s receptive to random info, and who only wants to know things when they ask, but it’s not impossible.

  2. Don’t get me wrong I understand your point of comments like the ones you described as being inappropriate, but I’d still like to present you a different point of view, regarding the fear of ticket purchases not running smoothly.

    As someone working in IT that also has come across several stories regarding ticket purchases I very well know of the problems that can come through many people trying to buy a ticket at the same time.

    Of course you can estimate how many people will be trying the purchase a ticket and plan your resources accordingly, but there is always a chance that it is an underestimation. It is true that nothing can be changed so close to the actual event, but a fan has a different point of view than the people in charge and also might overestimate the amount of his/her competitors in the purchase and thus starts to worry if the ticket system will be capable of withstanding it.

    As I said: I have some experience with ticket purchases where the system all but crashed because of the amount of people they were clearly not expecting to go after the tickets right away. And a breakdown like that can be quite frustrating.

    I’d like to believe that comments like this are not (always) meant to insult and are rather meant to show the fans wish to be able to get a ticket in the first place. But that are just my thoughts on this and you are more than welcome to disagree with them.

    • Erika Ensign says:

      I don’t really see where the different point of view comes in.

      As I said in the article, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with being apprehensive about the technical issues involved in getting tickets: My words were “I completely understand that sentiment.” Like I said, I was crouched over my computer at the necessary moment, worrying along with the rest.

      As I also said, I, too, have had problems buying tickets for much larger (and also some smaller) events. You’re absolutely right that no amount of planning can 100% guarantee smooth success.

      I also already said that I know that the comments like that aren’t meant to insult and “come from a place of caring.” That’s an important part of what I’m trying to get across!

      So I agree with everything you’ve said here. None of it contradicts anything in my post.

      That said, all of that is irrelevant to the point of this piece. This isn’t about the technical issues inherent in buying tickets online (despite the fact they’re legion and worrisome).

      It’s about communicating at a *time* and about a *subject* that are *appropriate*.

      Nothing you (or I) have said ameliorates the dickishness of those types of comments being made publicly at such a time. You said yourself, it was too late to do anything about it at that point, so those statements are simply Quite Rude.

      Come to think of it, hijacking a comment thread to talk about something that’s completely tangential to the thrust of the article (especially when it pretty well agrees with the article in the first place) is borderline nerdsplaining itself. *makes notes for next article in the series*

      (And I shall dutifully point out that I do recognize that you were also commenting “from a place of caring” because online ticket sales are clearly something you’re familiar with and have given a lot of thought to. That’s great! And while I appreciate that you took the time to comment, it seems you hopped right over the point and landed in a pool of minutiae.)

      • I did not write my comment to contradict you, quite the contrary. I couldn’t agree more with you on such comments being annoying and unnecessary and even hurtful if you’re at the receiving end of them.

        I merely wanted to point out the technical aspect of the one problem you portrayed, because it sounded to me as if worrying about failing ticket services is a bad thing – even though you focused more on the making-that-fear-public-far-too-late-part of it.
        I tried the different point of view through looking at the people making and receiving the comments and the preparations that went into the creation of the system. At least that’s what I thought when I wrote the comment above and I seemingly failed at that. And yes it was more focused on details of this particular problem than on the actual fault with stating them, but that was the part I wanted to comment on, as I agree to the other things you wrote about.

        And this was also no intended hijacking either. I just thought you wouldn’t mind people adding to what you already wrote without complaining that you wrote something wrong or trying to contradict you.

      • Erika Ensign says:

        Ahhh! Yeah, I didn’t get that from your first comment at all. Seems like no matter how hard we try, some bit of meaning will invariably miss its target–just like how I never meant that worrying about tech failures is a bad thing, but it came across to you that way anyway.

        I’m going to take a second here to applaud us both for providing a nice, positive example of how to work through that and civilly work toward clarity. Neither one of us flew off the handle and descended to name-calling or the like.

        (Though I realize my response was a bit tetchy–sorry about that. Rough morning, exacerbated by what I read as finger-wagging–glad to know I read it wrong!)

        As for commenting on something tangential, I’m mostly okay with that as long as it’s framed as such. Quite often folks focus on something specific and inconsequential simply *because* they’ve missed the point. I can see now that you were hitting the meaning, and then taking a turn, rather than hopping over it.

        In some cases though, picking apart tangents can be detrimental to the conversation–specifically when talking about really important and touchy subjects (like race/gender/”isms”). I’ve seen many folks try to derail those conversations by focusing on the minutiae as a tactic to undermine the opposition.

        You obviously weren’t trying to do that! But having seen/experienced it in the past has left me a bit trigger-happy when it comes to that sort of thing. Apologies if I let it get the best of me.

      • I am just glad that we could clear the misunderstanding. And even if you do not need to apologize for protecting something you are passionate about (your post) I do accept and appreciate it. :)

        Words like these always leave out so much meaning and can only portray so little of what is actually going through ones mind that our own experiences paint other peoples words in a colour that we are most used to. If you had bad experiences with commenters I do not blame you for reading my post different to what I intended it to be, The same thing can just as well happen in face-to-face conversations and those people – or a lot of people in general – are rarely as receptive of an explanation as you have been. Thank you for that.

        What you mentioned with clinging to tiny details in huge discussion is an awful phenomenon that should not be discussed in mere comments, so I will not add further to it – even though I could probably rant quite a bit about it…

  3. […] links: Erika’s blog about “Nerdsplaining” and Gallifrey One Spare Parts Simon Guerrier’s Doctor Who Magazine interview with Neil Gaiman about Nightmare […]

  4. […] °°FYI, expressing bewilderment that others don’t share your opinion makes you look like a jerk. It might not feel like “lashing out”, but you hit the mark nonetheless. As I’ve said before, intent only goes so far. […]

  5. Meghan says:

    ahhhhhh we have to talk soon. I have a totally different ‘splaining situation that I’m gradually learning about, and I’m thrilled you’re writing about intent vs. impact :)

  6. […] like to point myself to one of my own posts. The irony that I wrote a post entitled (in part) “Think Before You Tweet” is not lost on me. So yeah, self: Think more. Tweet […]

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