I’m not going to wind up saying that being a nerd is better than being a geek. It’s just different and overlapping.
I’m pretty much old school. I was brought up during the Eisenhower administration and I fulfill the 50’s or early 60’s version of the nerd cliché. Y’know, the plastic pocket protector and all that. I was very much into sci fi and fantasy at that time – back then sci fi and fantasy were mostly books and very little media.
A nerd was an outcast type, one who might be very knowledgeable with engineering, and eventually computers. Generally someone with little social skills, something that kind of caused one’s own ostracism. Again, this is kind of a 50’s perspective on the whole thing.
These days, a geek is someone with a fascination of some aspect of pop culture, often related to sci fi or fantasy, and they might get really good at what their focus is. If their focus is computers, they’ll get really good at it like a nerd with the same focus. Yes, I’m using one common definition of “geek” which I hope is fair.
The meaning of “nerd,” I guess, has shifted and conflated with “geek,” but nerd is something pejorative. Geekdom is more socially acceptable, far as I can tell. This has come about in the last 20 years, but that’s just my take from what I’ve observed from living through it. There’s a podcast/TV show called the Nerdist, it’s been a podcast for a while and became a TV show sometime last year. It goes to show how nerds have become more mainstream.
The term nerd’s meaning was getting fairly diluted in that time frame, over the last 20 years, and depending on who you talk to, nerd and geek may mean the same thing. The Japanese term of Otaku is related, but more toward the geek side with more social isolation.
Again, I don’t think one is better than the other, and again, I’m using a relatively narrow definition of nerd. The Simpson version of Comic Book Guy is a very realistic parody of the real thing.
The original nerd was an outsider, though, a geek or a nerd in the modern sense is not so much an outsider, that kind of behavior is now accepted and sometimes glorified. Like, on the Simpsons, the comic book guy is classic geek, but as recent pop culture shows, it’s become more socially acceptable. Comic Book Guy recently met Mrs. Comic Book Woman. The episode is very funny, and even moving from a narrow point of view.
Sometimes the old school nerd thing is about getting stuff done. Old school nerd is linked with technology, engineering, and math, while modern day nerd is linked more with pop cultural obsession . This is speculative on my part, based on experience, and there will be people with other opinions.
I identify as a nerd, and in my case, it’s 50’s styles, as that’s when I grew up.