Web Culture

4 Everyday Things That Were Unbelievably Nerdy in the 80s

Ryan Dube 25-03-2015

Acclaimed horror author Stephen King once wrote, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” If you’re in a certain age group, and you’ve witnessed the last few decades of the evolution of everything geeky and nerdy, then you know that what King wrote is most certainly true.


For all the talk about the latest technologies and the exciting changes that social networks bought to the world 6 Positive Effects Social Media Sites Have on Society There are good things about social networking. Here's our exploration of the positive effects of social media and why it's good. Read More , it may surprise some of our younger readers to know that many of these technologies were around as far back as the 1980s.

They were around, but they weren’t so cool. In fact, the people who were actively participating in them were considered “nerds”, and back then, being a nerd wasn’t considered a good thing.

Using a Computer

In the 1970s and 1980s, computers were fringe. People who knew how to use them were considered in par with scientists and academics. The earliest computers A Brief History of Computers That Changed the World You can spend years delving into the history of the computer. There are tons of inventions, tons of books about them – and that’s before you start getting into the finger-pointing that inevitably occurs when... Read More filled an entire room, they were noisy, and they took a lot of manual effort to operate.

At least in the early 1970s, when the floppy disk drive entered into the arena, the personal computer became a real possibility for regular geeks around the world to own and play with at home.



Movies like War Games in 1983 and Weird Science in 1985 were manifestations of the sort of dreams 42 of the Best Geek Movies of All Time: How Many Have You Seen? Geeks are people too. I am one, you're probably one, and we're a growing army that can no longer be ignored. Not even by Hollywood. Geek movies FTW! Read More every young computer aficionado had, but even in the 1980s those young afictionados were still social pariahs. They were teased relentlessly in school. They were portrayed throughout the media as socially stunted weirdos wearing thick-rimmed glasses with tape fastened to the bridge.

The word “nerd” was a stinging insult. These kids, for the most part, only found solace in the clickety-clack of the mechanical keyboard 3 Reasons You Should Consider Buying A Mechanical Keyboard Read More and the soft, green glow of the monochrome monitor. Computer nerds were a minority, and they were outcasts.


Fast forward over two decades, and the term “nerd” is one of the highest compliments you could dish out to someone. Musclehead jocks and popular cheerleaders in high schools now don thick-rimmed black glasses and wear t-shirts professing their love of all things “nerd”. These days, everyone’s a computer expert. Or at least, they think they are.


Because, hey, now it’s cool to be a computer nerd.

Making Let’s Play Videos

I recall back in 1988, a friend of mine figured out how to hook up his VCR, his stereo, and his Nintendo console to his television set. This task wasn’t quite as easy back then as it is today. All you had to work with was this silly TV/COMPUTER adapter, a collection of splitters, and TV audio connections (if you were lucky).

Sega - TV / Computer Switch

After piecing this system together through a tangle of wires and adapters, he managed to record himself playing Mario Bros for half an hour onto a VHS video cassette, complete with a background soundtrack of Metallica’s Enter Sandman.


He lent me the tape for a weekend, and I have to say that at first I was very amused that my friend would go through so much trouble to create something so absurd, and I was confused why anyone would ever want to do such a silly thing. What a nerd.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and now you have an entire community of popular “Let’s Play 'Let's Play' Videos: Because Watching People Play Games Is Funny & Less Time Consuming [Stuff To Watch] For years now people have been playing games, recording their efforts and posting the resulting videos online (often with a hilarious voice-over) for the entertainment of others. To many, and for the sake of this... Read More ” gaming enthusiasts and streamers who record themselves playing video games 6 Ways to Make Money Playing Video Games You can make money playing video games, but it isn't easy. If you are dedicated, this article covers how a hobby can make money. Read More (or streaming it live) to audiences of thousands.

My friend was apparently ahead of his time.

Electronic Wearables

While wearable electronics 6 Upcoming Wearable Devices Compared: What's Hot and What's Not I present to you six of the more interesting and useful wearable tech devices either on the market, or soon to enter it. Read More are now all the fad, the nerds of the 1980s had already capitalized on the whole “wearable electronics” concept.


In fact, wearing a calculator on your wrist was a signature of being the ultimate nerd in the 1980s. Even though those watches were around since the 1970s under brands like Pulsar and Hewlett Packard, it wasn’t until the 1980s when calculator watches came in vogue among the young nerd crowd.

At that time, the watch to wear that would identify you as the king of the nerds was Casio’s Databank calculator watch.


Of course, back in the 1980s, being king of the nerds was not exactly a good thing. In fact, it got you targeted by bullies and jocks throughout middle school and high school.

Fast forward to 2015, and things like Android wear Which Android Wear Smartwatch Is Best For You? In the market for an Android Wear smartwatch? Let's compare all the options available now and make the decision easy. Read More are all the rage. Now, it’s no longer a “nerd” watch, it’s a “smart” watch.


Everyone’s wearing them. Everyone wants Google Glass, or some cool alternative heads-up display for humans. Everyone needs a Fit Bit tracking their health habits. Suddenly, wearing electronics is the coolest thing in the world, and everyone forgets that it’s the nerds who thought of it first.

Instant Messaging

Today, people are instant messaging just about everywhere you look. In the supermarket with their iPhones and Android, at work via Corporate solutions like Microsoft Lync, or from home with the countless IM services and web platforms scattered around the net. Of course, instant messaging wasn’t always this widespread, or even very popular.

Chatting via computer systems was really an activity that was born in 1988 when Jarkko Oikarinen wrote the world’s first IRC client-server software How We Talk Online: A History of Online Forums, From Cavemen Days To The Present Let’s take a step back and think about the wonders of modern technology for one second. The web has made it possible to participate in near-instant communication on a global scale. Join me as I... Read More at the University of Oulu in Finland. It was ultimately meant to be a realtime extension of the existing UseNet academic bulletin board forum-style system.


By July of 1990, there were about 40 of these servers across the world, with only about 12 users using it at a time on average. However, that IRC code would form the basis of all future IRC networks like Anarchy net, Eris Free Network (EFnet), TubNet, Undernet, Dalnet and IRCnet.

By the mid 1990s, around the time when I was at the University, there were thousands of users on these networks, all across the world. Dormitories had dedicated computer terminals in a small room, where nerdy students could connect into the mainframe and log into IRCnet to chat.

On a typical Friday night, when all the rest of the college kids were off partying in some frat house and getting drunk, the nerds on campus were all gathered at these computer clusters, snacks and drinks scattered all around, chatting with other nerds at other Universities all across the world.


Want to dive in further? Check out these celebrities who are actually quite nerdy!

Today, you aren’t considered a nerd for hanging out in a computer cluster on a Friday night, or hanging out with friends at the local college dive, everyone chatting with everyone else on their smartphones. It isn’t even really anything unique these days – chatting or “IMing” with family and friends is just what everyone does, all the time. But keep in mind the next time you sit down to Skype Skype Enables Chat Message Sync Across All Your Devices It took some time for Skype to get rid of one of its oldest annoyances. Skype will finally enable message syncing across all devices. The update is being brought about as part of many improvements. Read More or have a Google Hangout 5 Reasons Google Hangouts Are Cooler Than Skype For Video Chats Hangouts is Google's take on chat rooms. Like many times before, Google has turned a good idea into something incredibly useful, while preserving simplicity and ease of use and thus making it fantastic. In this... Read More with someone, that those nerds who were teased relentlessly were actually way ahead of their time.

Source: History of IRC via Daniel Stenberg
Images: @ablekay47 via Flickr, CC BY-SA 3.0, Maridav via Shutterstock, Goodluz via Shutterstock, Everett Collection via Shutterstock, rangizzz via Shutterstock

Related topics: Gaming Culture, Instant Messaging, Smartwatch.

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  1. Carl Snyder
    July 24, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    I am one of the original nerds, I guess. Thick glasses, check. Programmed in FORTRAN with a deck of punch cards, check. Played Star Trek and the original adventure on a text only terminal in college, check. First calculator was a 'slide rule' calculator with a blue flourescent display and 6 digits of log and trig function accuracy on an 8 digit display (no exponent) which I purchased from an Allied Electronics catalog going into college as opposed to buying a better slide rule and a book of 5 place tables for the same function. Read about and yearned for, but never purchased the Altair 8800 computer in Popular Electronics in 1974 when the country was all hot and bothered about a break-in at some hotel in Washington, DC called, was it Watergate?

    First computer I owned was a Heath Microprocessor trainer with 256 bytes of memory and a Motorola 6800 processor. Had a 2 digit hexadecimal display and a hexadecimal keyboard to program it.

  2. tom
    May 15, 2015 at 9:03 am

    I remember making myself the laughing stock when of the lads in a group that used to always hang around asked what I'm into. I said quietly "computers..."
    - Computers? Why would you need that for?!

    Old times...

  3. Andrew Thorne
    March 26, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    At school in the 80s, I had a calculator, a HP 11C, that worked in reversed polish notation. I was a nerd at school but I didn't care as I was happy. And nobody ever borrowed my calculator.

    • Fred
      March 28, 2015 at 7:27 pm

      HP 11C! I still have mine in one of the home study's drawers (hasn't been used in maybe 20 years, lol)

      • Sr_wenced
        February 9, 2017 at 1:42 pm

        Love the 11C and it's RPN. It is still on the shelf in my office and I go for it at least once a month. I have probably only changed the batteries on it 3 times since 1980.

    • Robert B
      April 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      HP 11C, I saw them but never owned one but I think my slide rule is stuck up in a closet somewhere.

  4. Guy
    March 26, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Guilty of all but recording video games. Never was a console gamer.

    Although, it was always me that set up the VCR to record one thing while we were watching another. Yes, I was on the A/V squad.

  5. Henawder
    March 26, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Been there done that! Actually every one you listed too... ;)

  6. Skip
    March 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    One word - Fortran. Actually two words - card decks.
    Had a Casio calculator that my dad bought me that ran on D-cell batteries. Really. Or C-cells?
    But it weren't small...
    By the way, I was the local expert on Lotus in the 80's (still sad over Lotus' demise) and made $$ to buy food when a poor business school graduate

  7. Duane
    March 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    The "chat was born in 1988 with IRC" seems a little out of place. Unix "talk" was around since at least 1983, and anybody that was paying for Compu$erve knows about "CB Simulator". There's a whole lot of us who spent the entire 80's chatting to people online, not just the last couple of years. And we were paying like $12/hour for 2400baud dialup access to do so! Ah, memories.

  8. Carolyn
    March 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I chatted with people all across KY on the DEC10 that was housed in Louisville back in 1978 when I was at Univ. of KY. Proto-IM.

  9. Keith Grayson
    March 26, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I suspect it would have been Master of Puppets by Metallica in 1988.

    Fun article, although as one of the early nerds, you could have mentioned is that in 1980, most people were building their home computers and computer makers provided kits of parts.

    For those that had expansion slots on their computers for memory, you could choose between memory or games cartridges, but not both.

    And I don't remember using a computer with a floppy disc drive until 1984. Things moved on very fast!!

  10. Ryan Dube
    March 26, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Guess my memory isn't that great -- I know it was Metallica though...either that orI'm a few years off. Good to know there are people around to spot and correct those obscure, irrelevent details though! :-)

  11. Lars
    March 26, 2015 at 6:34 am

    "Enter Sandman" was from Metallica's 5th album, released in 1991.

  12. Dan
    March 25, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Enter Sandman was released in 1991.