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Why nerds are unpopular

2003-02-19 16:54:43+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

A few days ago, Mark gave me a heads up on Paul Graham's Why Nerds Are Unpopular. By now lots of other folks have linked to it, so I'm a little behind the curve, but: Mark's take expanded a little, but I think Paul missed a few critical things.

  1. What was the class rank of all of those "smart kids"? Yes, my nerd group had its share of Mensa members, but it wasn't just the popularity contest that we were losing. Not that everyone did poorly, but the grades ran the gamut.
  2. School is not for learning. Paul[Wiki] gets that. But he doesn't seem to realize that it isn't supposed to be for learning. It's supposed to teach you how to do the crap work, how to march in line. School is a product of the industrial revolution's need for workers in jobs that will eventually be automated away.
  3. Paul[Wiki] seems to think high school is an abnormal condition. No, it's just that we're not forced to be together later on in life. Perhaps nerds get a little better at playing the games, but many of the ones I know still think the games are stupid.

So this seems a place to link to Ted Rall's Student Loans Are For Suckers, a Chronicle article on the "Rich Uncle" college fund for percent of earnings concept, a look back to the previously linked article in The Economist, Does Education Matter? Myths about Education and Economic Growth, by Alison Wolf, and a previous whine before I "got" the real purpose of grade schools.

[ related topics: Children and growing up Work, productivity and environment Education ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2003-02-20 02:47:48+00 by: Shawn

Perhaps nerds get a little better at playing the games

Why do you think this? It was always my impression/opinion that the opposite was true: nerds were/are unpopular (which I associate with socially challenged) because they don't play the games everybody else plays.

#Comment made: 2003-02-20 05:38:11+00 by: Dan Lyke

I was offering it as one possible explanation of why we see less stratification along those lines come adult-hood. I've learned to put all sorts of verbal Vaseline (do you "tm" it when it's a trade name being used as a metaphor?) around stuff when presenting to certain people, because that's the custom of their tribe and they have money I want to exchange for goods. As a high schooler my attempts at playing some of those games completely failed, partially because I was misreading some of the lore behind the customs.

So yeah, I think a lot of us learn to consciously play some of these games later.

#Comment made: 2003-02-20 07:29:02+00 by: Diane Reese

Living with a pair of teenaged nerd geeks gives me a different perspective on this than I had mumbledy-mumble decades ago when I was a teenaged nerd. (I was about to say we didn't have geeks then, but then I decided that yeah, we did, and yeah, I was one. Part of the time, I hung out sniffing the ozone from the Gestetner and watching a guy I thought was cute, and the rest of the time could be found leaning over the teletype machine where we'd dial up Ken Iverson's timeshare computer in Toronto so we could play "Spy in the Math Factory" using the APL we'd just learned. I guess I qualify. Sigh. No wonder I never had any dates in high school...)

ANYway. The high school nerd geeks I know now fall into two very distinct categories: the clueless, and the very, very clueful. There are definitely a few who would not be able to read a social cue if it handed them their glasses, and who don't play the games because if it's not chess or Magic: The Gathering, they don't know how to play. The rest of them, by far the majority, are remarkably astute, able to read the dynamics of what's going on around them and react as appropriate, playing only the games they think are necessary to play. Most of them are much more cynical than the nerd geeks of my time, but I think that's true of society in general. And all of them are very, very smart, and get very, very good grades: they will probably sweep the top 10 in their class ranking. They are decidedly not as unpopular as nerd geeks used to be. (OK, I guess I have to add the disclaimer that this data set may not represent the average high school nerd geek clan. They attend a private high school in Silicon Valley, so maybe the environment is different enough that they form 'em differently hereabouts and nowadays.)

(Aren't those cool words? "Hereabouts". "Nowadays". I like 'em. Oh. Sorry for the diversion.)

This batch of nerd geeks just finished tonight crating up their first FIRST robot to ship to Sacramento tomorrow. They've done an amazing job, learning engineering, planning, fabrication, electronics, pneumatics, mechanics, and programming (or learning to apply things they'd already known). They were excited about the project, they worked together as a FANTASTIC team (all 30 of them!), they learned a ton, and they unveiled their robot (Tork) last week at a school assembly... to cheers and applause. The school is going to send the CHEERLEADING SQUAD to the San Jose regional in late March, fer crissakes! This is a different world for nerd geeks than the one we knew years ago... at least in some parts of the cosmos. Just thought you'd want to know.