Nerds accepted because they’re rich

My comments on an article from a few years back called What the Bubble Got Right.

I found myself talking recently to someone from Hollywood who was planning a show about nerds. I thought it would be useful if I explained what a nerd was. What I came up with was: someone who doesn’t expend any effort on marketing himself.

Somehow, I don’t think that would work for me.  In some sense, it’s true. I don’t expend nearly as much effort marketing myself as businesspeople need to, but I do work on my resume, thinking about what I’m all about, and so on. It’s important to be able to explain myself to others, even if just for the purpose of making sure the company is a match for me.

A nerd, in other words, is someone who concentrates on substance. So what’s the connection between nerds and technology? Roughly that you can’t fool mother nature. In technical matters, you have to get the right answers. If your software miscalculates the path of a space probe, you can’t finesse your way out of trouble by saying that your code is patriotic, or avant-garde, or any of the other dodges people use in nontechnical fields.

I fully agree with this. I know plenty of CS folks who can talk their heads off about code, tech companies, and products, but they can’t actually write the necessary code. It’s important to have an understanding of the industry as well as some understanding of the world. Some things would be really useful to people. Some things I find extremely exciting for myself. I just hope I’m doing the right things and always striving to do better.

And as technology becomes increasingly important in the economy, nerd culture is rising with it. Nerds are already a lot cooler than they were when I was a kid. When I was in college in the mid-1980s, “nerd” was still an insult. People who majored in computer science generally tried to conceal it. Now women ask me where they can meet nerds. (The answer that springs to mind is “Usenix,” but that would be like drinking from a firehose.)

What was a computer science major like in the 1980s? I feel that technology is a part of everything, and most definitely an essential part of the economy. Think of anything, whether it’s communicating, growing crops, construction, reading– everything is enhanced and made better by technology. It’s quite simply the coolest thing in the world. I’m afraid I don’t have the skills or sharp memory required for a great job in the field. On the other hand, I know that’s not important. What I need to do is work hard and keep organized. I need to come up with wildly-creative ideas, and then follow through and doing them. Anything is possible if I put enough effort into it.

I have no illusions about why nerd culture is becoming more accepted. It’s not because people are realizing that substance is more important than marketing. It’s because the nerds are getting rich. But that is not going to change.

This is an interesting point. I’ve held the illusion that nerds have become more accepted because people really like the changes nerds bring to the table. After all, regular people typically interact on a very emotional level and are too dramatic. Nerds understand what’s important, and you can actually communicate with them effectively. But the author is probably right. If nerds weren’t getting rich, they wouldn’t be accepted. Fortunately, a society based on meritocracy like this, will almost certainly reward nerds even more in the long run. This makes me think of other fields where the aim is noble, but they won’t be financially rewarded. There aren’t many of these cases, but aren’t there some?

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