Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk continues his examination of what it means to be a nerd in part 2 of his review of David Anderegg’s new book, “Nerds.”
Last week, I wrote about the concept of being a nerd. And about a book called “Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them” by child psychologist Dr. Anderegg.
And I'd like to thank all those who wrote in and told their stories. Some of which were very poignant, especially those from parents of 'nerdy' kids who hear accusations that their children might have Asperger's Syndrome. A suggestion, as Dr. Anderegg writes, that has been leveled at Bill Gates.
There are even, Dr, Anderegg asserts, children who commit suicide because they cannot bear the nerdist teasing they suffer at school. When told by her mother to rise above it, one little girl reminded the mother that she didn't have to go to school with these beastly children, while she, the daughter, did. Which leads Dr. Anderegg to suggest that many adults actually believe that nerdism, the vilification of children who are clever, obedient, and have enthusiasms for things arcane, is just fine.
Yes, little Suzy, racism is icky, sexism is truly revolting, but by all means eke out the rage that burns inside all of us on those who might be smarter or perhaps slightly less grown-up than you.
Dr. Anderegg suggests that we are living on a very curious planet, one in which we are told that we should all grow up. But what definition of growing up are children increasingly given by our culture (you know, rappers, MTV producers and Perez Hilton) these days? Sexual activity.
In essence, the myth is propagated that if you're a nerd, your experience of sex will be limited to the virtual. Yes, young people are being told that nerds won't succeed in the mating game.
Yet when we get a little older, society pressurizes us to do one thing and one thing only. Not get old. If you're not old, you can still have sex. And if you can still have sex, you can still be Clint Eastwood. Or J. Howard Marshall.
So parents think they're very clever. By encouraging their spawn to distance themselves from the ugly, the sexually inactive, yes, those nerds, they maintain their solidarity with the world's sexy youth movement.Dr. Anderegg's book is short on words and worryingly long on truth.
He points out that nerdism is very much confined to science--computers, trains, inflatable dolls. But there are no Fantasy Football nerds. Nor Fantasy Football geeks, even.
There are Fantasy Football junkies and addicts. (See how jocks and artists dominate our culture? No scientist has ever smoked marijuana. Or taken steroids.) Of course, not every nerd is persecuted, and not every jock or creative person is loved.
But the stereotypes are strong. And, like all stereotypes, they are repeated through cultural reference. (Dr. Anderegg delights in hurling a J'Accuse at the "Seinfeld" episode in which George's girlfriend leaves him and, deprived of coitus, he immediately becomes Herodotus.)
So how can we bridge the distance, emotional as well as rational, that unquestionably exists between techies and the rest of humanity? The common thought has been that it is mathematicians and other enginerds who have distanced themselves from the world. And that this is a good thing. Especially at parties and concerts.
(My ZDNet handler took me to the Crunchies. Everyone stared at me as if I was from, ugh, I don't know, an ad agency or something. So I know how it feels.)
If we can keep the nerds in their chess clubs, Star Trek conventions and dreams of Jenna Jameson, then we can preserve this planet and its inherently fun nature for us fine-looking jocks and artists.
But jocks and artists failed to anticipate that technologies have increasingly come to drive the world's direction. (Oh, you didn't know that the Hillary at the South Carolina debate was actually a robot? The real one was in California. And the Fred Thompson? Hologram, my friends. Hologram.)
Now the nerds who were once decried have an increasing hold on power. They're beginning to enjoy it, too. The Real World is beginning to hear the sniggers.
But if, as Dr. Anderegg believes, many left-brain types were deeply maligned in childhood, what on earth are we doing allowing them access to so much influence? What revenge are they preparing for the slights of their younger years?
"You called me a nerd. Now I'm going to make Coke-bottomed glasses mandatory in the NBA."
Whenever I've worked with tech companies, large and small, they have struggled with the idea that not everyone thinks or feels like they do. And worse, that not everyone communicates like they do. It makes them a little mad. You know, furrowed brow, increased heartbeat causing uneasy twitching in the pocket protector area.
So is their real, albeit unconscious, aim to make their own values more significant than those of the supposedly witty and beautiful, those jocks and artists who have, for centuries, gripped culture tighter than a Putin bodyguard squeezes his Uzi?
Clearly, the solution for jocks and creative people, who have been very comfortable with society's adulation every since Noah left his GPS on dry land, is to have sex with nerdy people.
I'm sorry. That last sentence appears to have been caused by involuntary digital motion.
No, Andy Berndt at the Google Creative Lab, who, as I mentioned last week, is all too aware of the lack of affection engineers hold for creative types, has an interesting problem: How do you persuade someone who understands, feels and loves technology to understand, feel and love rather more imprecise things such as ideas and emotions?
For the current tech generation, it might already be too late. Dr. Anderegg suggests that we should "love our inner salesman a little less" and "love our inner nerds a lot more." Which means that Mr. Berndt's work should start in middle school. Or even earlier.
Yes, let's tell ten-year-old nerds that we love them. Let's tell them they're cool. Then, within a couple of years, let's put them in charge of the world. (We'll all be discussing the ads around American Inventor instead of the ones around the Superbowl.)
No, it's not happening already. Those nerds in the Valley are all over eighteen now. They're too old to change, aren't they?