25 April, 2009

Nerd Frame 2: The Continuance

7415 3n71r3 p057 w1ll b3 wr1773n 3n 13375p34|<.

4c7u4lly, 1 d0n'7 h4v3 7h3 p4t93nc3 70 d0 7h47, 7h3r34: 4p0l0G135

To those of you who could easily read the above 2 lines: congratulations, you're a nerd. That isn't to say that everyone else who couldn't read them isn't a nerd, just that they've different specialties.

One of the tensions between intellectuals and wider society is that society prescribes a single nerd frame to all nerds irrespective of our diversity. This allows society to get away with marginalizing us stereotypically as unhygienic, cerebral, and weak while we feel unfairly smashed into ill-fitting frames. This dysfunctional dynamic perpetuates nerd isolation and insulation.

In my previous post on this subject, the commentators suggested that nerds are socially isolated because we are unable to climb out of the deep wells of our minds.

But what if the problem is not internal with us, but rather external in that we have no where to climb to?

As nerds we are accused of being insular and having wolf-pack social dynamics (small groups of like-minded nerds with clear hierarchies [who's the PI? who's the most 1337?]). We're also accused of being aloof eggheads with no communication skills. Both of these are true to at least some extent.

Since society is depend upon us nerds for technology, science, medicine, and George Lucas' box office success, why is the onus upon us to make ourselves understandable? It it probably overly idealistic, but I don't think it's unreasonable for society to at least meet us halfway and learn some of our scientific dogma. We as scientists are charged with creating knowledge and disseminating it to the public (which we do to varying degrees of success), but there comes a point at which the knowledge we create simply cannot be watered down any more*. But when we fail to communicate the relevance of what we do to a lazy society, we're just labeled as nerds in the derogatory sense and written off to our labs and equipment.

This is frustrating, and I am frustrated. I want so badly to be able to educate the public, to inspire critical thinking, to share the depth with which I view the world**, at least see questions deeper than "Uh, like, boogers!". But in the end I can't escape my own nerdness. I lack a socially normal frame through which to communicate. I don't have a way to relate to wider society. Save a few well-placed strong blows to my head, I can't un-educate myself and that education has tempered my thinking.

But when coming back to whose frame is best, nerds' or society's, it now boils down to education. If more people were more educated, society's mean frame would move closer to the nerd frame. Then we, as nerds doing science, would be able to keep the flow of information and dialogue going less one-sidedly. It'd be a net bonus.

However, this brings up another question that I'm going to pose to you: does education increase nerdness or is nerdness an inherent and immutable personality trait?

*This is where alternative medicine pseudoscientific quackery is conceived and born.
**Or at least as I like to think so.


Anonymous said...

does education increase nerdness or is nerdness an inherent and immutable personality trait?

Nerdness is no more an inherent and immutable personality trait than any other personality trait, which is to say, max about 50% with .8 for "intelligence" over a lifetime. But I could write a book about what I think about IQ scores. ;)

That said, I think a lot of what you refer to as nerdness "educate the public, to inspire critical thinking, to share the depth with which I view the world" is a matter of personality as refined by upbringing. Some (many?) people just don't care to think critically because it's hard or foreign or repellent. While I applaud your youthful idealism, I must say that there are people you're just not going to reach, and the vast majority of those don't pursue education because it's "hard or foreign or repellent" Then you'll have those who do pursue education, but only as a means to an end, and not cherish it for the pleasure it brings. So, those who love knowledge for its own sake are a fairly small portion of the population at large.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Toaster, I can't answer your question, mostly because I think in terms of geeks rather than nerds, but I had to let you know it's all your fault that I'm now aware I can copy edit the l337. I didn't need to know that. :)