Nerd mannerisms and appropriations, especially in pop culture and on Instagram, where pretty women donning faux glasses post memes about social isolation, have become the ‘new normal’, and words like ‘normie’ have become pejorative.
Nowadays everyone wants to be the ‘smartest person in the room’, not the most outgoing or popular. But ironically, in being smart, you become popular, whether you seek the attention or not.
Autistic-like traits such as social awkwardness, dismissiveness, curtness and bluntness (as opposed to sugarcoating, sentimentalism, and extroversion) convey authenticity and credibility, versus being a shallow ‘normie’ or ‘people-pleaser’, leading to a boost in social status both online and offline, whereas decades ago these smart people were ignored or relegated to the lower echelons of the social hierarchy.
Fast-forward to today, from Silicon Valley to Wall St., to having the most subscribers and followers on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and YouTube, and in terms of higher wages (for STEM jobs), surging real estate (in Silicon Valley), stratospheric Web 2.0 valuations, and a perpetually rising stock market, as well as approbation and cultural appropriation, it’s not a stretch to say nerds, or more specially, introverts, rule the world right now.
Due to STEM, his popular blog, and by being really smart, Scott Aaronson has far more status than the vast majority of ‘normies’ (except for, perhaps, some athletes and actors). Same for Tyler Cowen, an economist (which is close enough to STEM), whose Marginal Revolution blog is extremely popular, read by thousands of people every day. Yeah, Marginal Revolution is not a big as TMZ or ESPN, but 1,000-10,000 dedicated readers/fans is about 1,000-10,000 more than the typical ‘normie’, who has close to zero after excluding immediate friends and family. Those are just a handful of examples of out many; more will be given later.
We all want to be perceived as smarter because smart people are among the most successful in society today as measured by wealth, wages, and social status. While famous athletes and other entertainers make a lot of money, no one seeks their counsel on anything substantive, whereas if you’re smart you are elevated to the status of an ‘oracle’, and your opinions on a wide-range of issues – be it global warming, economics, sociology, or history – are valued and sought.
Intellectuals, particularly in the most difficult of fields, have become America’s new priesthood or nobility, sought for answers and bestowed with high social status, and whether it’s the latest gizmo from Google, Amazon, or Tesla, or the latest particle discovery in the field of high-energy physics, their contributions are broadcast by the media to the world. From The Daily View [...]
Smart people are among the most important and respected people in the world. They have the most Karma on Reddit, the most points on sites like Stack Exchange, the highest reputation on forums, and most views on YouTube for technical, artsy, or philosophical subjects. They have the credentials – SAT scores and degrees – to lend their expertise in a variety of fields and are showered with accolades …
Smart people are displacing ‘old money’ on the Forbes 400 list, getting their Web 2.0 companies valued or acquired for billions of dollars, watching their stocks and real estate zoom into the stratosphere – even as real wages for most people haven’t budged. A meritocracy epitomized by Bay Area tech scene or the financial cognoscenti of Manhattan, where erudition, wealth, and the specter of all-knowing omnipotence is valued.
And from the Economist, Be nice to nerds:
“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you may end up working for them,” wrote Charles Sykes, author of the book “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School”, first published in 2007. Today there are more reasons than ever to treat nerds with respect: never mind the fact that every company is clamouring to hire them, geeks are starting to shape markets for new products and services.
Behaviors that may seem repulsive and anti-social, paradoxically, draw people in as ‘nerds’ are sought for their expertise and sober objectivity in contrast to the mainstream media, which is full of hoaxes, sensationalism, inaccuracies, omissions, and biases. From Deconstructing a Viral Article:
As I show in the example of Warren Buffett, intellectualism, competence, and merit is what draws people in, not being extroverted. Every year, thousands of people flock to Omaha for Buffett’s annual shareholder meetings – not because Buffet is a people-pleaser, but because he is very competent and his insights are invaluable. Elon Musk, another example of someone who is extremely competent, had the most popular Reddit AMA ever. Richard Dawkins, who lately seems to have gotten into habit of offending the easily offended, also had an enormously popular AMA.
They (nerds, quants, wonks, experts) are providing the answers to life’s most intractable mysteries, from theories of the origin of the universe, to theories of biology, economics, and sociology – to try to explain why wealth inequality is so persistent or why some groups always underperform academically and economically despite despite billions of dollars of entitlement spending over many decades. Sugar-coated, politically correct explanations and ‘nice’ discourse has fallen short at explaining the world, and people demand answers, even if such answers aren’t wrapped in a pretty bow of political correctness.
A lengthy 1994 New Yorker profile of Bill Gates aptly applies to many smart millennials today, who disregard obsoleted social conventions and niceties for bluntness and disheveledness, in their ‘pursuit of the truth’:
“Bill just doesn’t think about clothes. And his hygiene is not good. And his glasses—how can he see out of them? But Bill’s attitude is: I’m in this pure mind state, and clothes and hygiene are last on the list.”
Gates is famously confrontational. If he strongly disagrees with what you’re saying, he is in the habit of blurting out, “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard!” People tell stories of Gates spraying saliva into the face of some hapless employee as he yells, “This stuff isn’t hard! I could do this stuff in a weekend!”
Back in 1994, a less intelligent era dominated by shows like Friends, Baywatch, and 90210, social conventions were more important than they are now, making Gates’ behavior truly anomalous, but now it’s commonplace, almost expected, and (as mentioned earlier) conveys authenticity and honesty. In the 90′s the clubs were busting, but now everyone wants to stay at home, quiet, watching Netflix, being introspective, or posting pictures on Instagram. Nightclub attendance has plunged.
Or as summed-up by the brilliant Eric Winstein, creator of the online mathematics encyclopedia MathWorld:
Respectability is a prison. We don't see that because the door is open, we inmates want life&our wardens threaten time off for bad behavior.
— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 28, 2016
Right now I think we’re in something of a ‘competence bubble’ of sorts, where competence is valued more than ever as measured by social prestige, wealth, and wages, with ‘social skills’ and ‘people skills’ being less important. This is also related our post-2008 results-orientated economy, whereby quantifiable results have become more important than agreeability, as part of the push by corporations towards greater productivity and efficiency. Smart people, because they tend to be more competent, are especially suited for America’s competitive economic and social environment that prizes quantifiable, individual results over ‘collectivist’ traits like social skills.
To be continued…