Monday, November 17, 2008

Formality vs what matters

Nerds don't just happen to dress informally. They do it too consistently. Consciously or not, they dress informally as a prophylactic measure against stupidity.
-- Paul Graham, September 2004, What the Bubble Got Right

For example, teenage kids pay a great deal of attention to clothes. They don't consciously dress to be popular. They dress to look good. But to who? [...]
Nerds don't realize this. They don't realize that it takes work to be popular. [...]
The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about.
-- Paul Graham, Why Nerds Are unpopular

Clothing is only the most visible battleground in the war against formality. Nerds tend to eschew formality of any sort. They're not impressed by one's job title, for example, or any of the other appurtenances of authority.
-- Paul Graham, September 2004, What the Bubble Got Right
(This article also has highly interesting observations about the Net and finance.)

I guess I'm a nerd at heart, even though I've never written a line of computer code.
I always had this instinctive reaction against formality. My reaction is that if formality is very important to a person, there's something wrong. I'm guessing forms has replaced simple observation and perception. If the fact that a person doesn't wear a tie or is using the wrong fork blinds you to what qualities that person has, then you have a problem.

When I was at the United Nations hosted event for the Writers Of The Future event no. five, nigh twenty years ago, I turned up in a bright red shirt and without jacket. The organizer, Fred Harris, was worried about perceptions, I guess (I would be on stage getting my award), so he made me go to his hotel room to loan a jacket and tie. His senior, being more perceptive, asked me if I minded doing this. I said that actually I did, since my attire was a statement. Harris, not being slow, then thanked me nicely for doing it.

Seriously, I might not even do it today. If whether I'm wearing a tie/jacket or not is more important that who I am and what I've written, then they can go frig themselves. I don't have to pander to anybody.

And I notice that some of the most successful people in the world (Steve Jobs springs to mind) dress very informally. And I don't think any CEOs would refuse a meeting with any of them. So maybe people can learn.

---------
Update: re the Nerds article: I've blogged about this before... I can't believe the differences between what I hear about American high schools and what I experienced in school in my day in Denmark. This cruel and insane "popularity" war? Never heard of it. Don't understand it. What does "popular" even mean? Why would somebody admire somebody for being popular?
And the school administration's main aim is to keep the kids on the premises? Wha? When I was in school, we left the school any time we wanted at recess, to go buy snacks or to go browse stores in town. What are American schools, reform institutions?

Jes said:
I would much rather be a nerd anyway. Cool people have to conform to being cool. A nerd can be whatever he wants to be.

posted by Eolake Stobblehouse @ Monday, November 17, 2008   23 comments links to this post

23 Comments:

At 17 Nov 2008, 20:07:00, Blogger Kent McManigal said...

I have constantly been told that no one will take me seriously unless I change the way I dress. My suspicion is that as soon as I open my mouth I would betray myself and probably cease to be taken seriously anyway, no matter how I was dressed.

My favorite place I have ever lived was very informal. Not even the bankers or preachers wore formal clothing. In fact, if people showed up in town wearing suits and ties, they were obviously from out of town and people wondered what they were "up to".

 
At 17 Nov 2008, 21:04:00, Anonymous Jes said...

I would much rather be a nerd anyway. Cool people have to conform to being cool. A nerd can be whatever he wants to be.

"What are American schools, reform institutions?"

Yeah, basically. Or like glorified babysitters. Honestly, I don't know what the point of high school is. It's a waste of valuable years, and they don't teach you anything important. People say it's education, but to me, that's like calling professional wrestling actual competition.

 
At 17 Nov 2008, 23:14:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

Would recommend you look into the concept of Asperger's and other autism spectrum conditions ... and how a person with one of these conditions often is seeking to avoid extremes of stimuli, because they lack an "automatic filter" by which many of us simply exclude from our attention the many otherwise overwhelming stimuli of the real world. Clothing comes in to the mix as a measure against excessive skin nerve stimulus, among other things.

 
At 17 Nov 2008, 23:16:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

PS -- meant to point out, some definitions of "nerd" mean, people who lack social skills, in the autism-spectrum manner.

 
At 18 Nov 2008, 00:14:00, Blogger eolake said...

F.I., I have to admit that in my own case, high sensitivity could easily be a factor.

But I'm wondering why you think this would be a major factor for nerds wanting to dress informally?

 
At 18 Nov 2008, 01:09:00, Anonymous Dave said...

Clothes tend to be a way of identifying a group of similar people. A blue uniform with three upward pointing chevrons identifies the wearer as a sergeant in the US Air Force. As such, he is expected to behave in a certain manner. Similarly, certain designer clothes identify the "popular" kids; vivid colors, saggy pants, and headbands or baseball caps identify "gang" members or wannabes. Nerds don't want to be identified with either of those groups, so dress differently.

Everybody wants to be part of a group, including nerds. Clothes can ease the transition into a group. Or, conversely, clothes can state that the wearer does not want to be part of the group.

Eolake's bold red shirt was a statement that he did not want to be associated with the "suits", those who pretentiously or submissively were conforming to the norm of being serious via coats and ties.

But why do some people reject the idea of being part of a group? Rebelliousness, of course, when young, But some of us, as Final Identity touched on, lack some of the early brain connections that most people develop by age 5. We exhibit various peculiarities, but fall somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. We don't pick up on social cues easily, or at all. We must learn them instead, by trial and error. The popular kids know instinctively how to act and react to social cues, but we don’t, and are frequently taunted or humiliated for the lack. We take things at face value, like when a girl says, "That striped shirt is so cute.", we take that as a compliment, not hearing the poisonous sarcasm. Our reaction, to thank the girl, is then the subject of hilarity among the popular kids.

So those of us who are still learning social skills, the hard way, tend to be frightened to death of being found out, and dress differently than others to distance ourselves. And we recognize others like us by their non-conforming dress. Because we know our own imitations, we cut the others like us a lot of slack, and forgive their terrible faux pas, as our terrible faux pas are forgiven by them.

Females in high school communicate through a melange of modes. Those of us who cannot decode those modes are left out, observers in life. It can take many years, perhaps decades, before we learn the same social skills that others have by age 5. We are desperately searching for things we can understand, that behave predictably, without the need for interpretation.

Well, computer programming is IT. The computer does exactly what we tell it to do, dependably, every time. When something unexpected happens, We Can Figure It Out. Computers aren't into irony, sarcasm, situational ethics, talking about "us", none of that stuff. We feel incredibly comfortable, secure, and safe when dealing with a computer, versus unpredictable wetware.

Long, rambling, but the point is that Formality is really about conforming to the expectations of the group, and nerds, who frequently don’t understand the expectations of the group, have a real struggle when interacting with other groups. Mature nerds tend to be much more open to new things, be artistic; be left-handed; be creative; and be hated by those trapped in conformity.

 
At 18 Nov 2008, 03:15:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generalizing about nerds... lotsa room there... For Bill Gates, Steves Jobs & Wozniak, and, of course, the unibomber and Lee Harvey Oswald both were nerds.

What we call a 'nerd' is someone who behaves and probably dresses differently from most of his/her cultural group. Might be an anarchist who becomes president of the debate team, or another anarchist who kills teachers and classmates.

Most of us were, at times, quite nerdlike, solitary and rebellious (like Holden Caulfield) as we went through the universal experience of age 12 to 19. But a real nerd is not just recovering from some angst or hiding out while wanking 25 times daily. A real nerd really marches to a different drum of some sort.

Autistic folks... Asperger's Syndrome... these are involuntary conditions, apparently neurological. To label them 'nerds' is inaccurate and surely unfair, perhaps to the point of bullying. Persuading an Asperger's high-schooler to go to the teacher, in class, and ask her if she is wearing a bra, is quite possible (I saw this one), and is reprehensible. You cannot do that to a nerd... he will just scorn you, as one of the 99.999 per cent of 'others' who are so totally f**ked up as to not deserve an upraised middle finger.

Those whom we call nerds are just doing their own thing, and (healthily, I believe) just do not care what others think of them... not their business, and the nerd does not solicit others to 'like' him. He marches or dances or flies or swishes to his own inner drumbeat, and could care less what you think of his appearance or activity... except that some actively dress/groom in ways that say: "I am not part of your or whatever group.

High school groups/cliques can be like gangs or mobs, with 'dress codes' and their own 'values'... which nerds reject totally... and dress differently to express their personal exclusion of those 'values'--such as 'popularity.'

Lots of southern US rednecks probably think that Barack Obama is a skinny, effete, intellectual nerd... and he seems to be the most 'popular' guy on the planet right now.

Richard, retired USAF Lt Col, Fighter Pilot (204 msns Vietnam) and probably a 'nerd' here in Texas, if only because I am a liberal (one who can actually think).

Eolake... great blog. Really loved your short story about 'chemistry.' Thank you.

 
At 18 Nov 2008, 03:34:00, Blogger eolake said...

Very kind of you.

 
At 18 Nov 2008, 03:44:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard again. Anonymous because too uncool to figure out this form.

About high schools. These are just opportunities for kids to get away from parents, experience peer groups, and make choices... to learn or not, to party or not, use drugs/booze or not... whatever.

They have to be like jails because of the drug culture, which is everywhere in the high school culture. Anything offcampus is thought to be an opportunity to purchase or use drugs. About 20 years ago, my daughter got busted for smoking pot in a car in the school parking lot. I think all that stuff should be legal, to take the profit motive out of it, since the 'drug war' kills and corrupts more lives than do all the drugs put together.

Another reason is legal liability. Let a kid get hurt while the school has responsibility and it can cost big bucks.

Popularity... actual seekers of that are probably pretty insecure, perhaps. Eolake... in the US, our culture is so hypercapitalist market/advertising driven that it is hard for others to imagine, unless all that stuff has been exported to your country.

As is now crystal clear, this culture of greed and one-up-manship has almost sunk the world economy. High schoolers are swept up in material things... "Screw substance... just look at beautiful me and my beautiful toys and car." 'Popularity' usually is only about physical beauty and material possessions. Sexuality and power are in the mix, of course, as are racism and gender inequalities.

Substantive stuff, like having character or really learning something, is (way too often) for geeks and nerds.

It has perversely affected our culture and grown like a cancer since WW II. National imperialism and arrogance are big factors in the behaviors of economically advantaged high schoolers.

Enough.... I'll be quiet now.

Richard, father of five, grandfather of eight... and the kids like to say I am the 'Father of Cool' =them.

 
At 18 Nov 2008, 17:12:00, Anonymous brian said...

A nerd can be whatever he wants to be.

It's always seemed to me that nerds enforce rigid conformity too. They are just as harsh to those who don't make the grade as any "popular" types. Maybe it is their way of getting back. See "Freaks & Geeks" when a cool guy was forced into the AV Club. Of course those were geeks, not nerds. An important distinction. :)

 
At 19 Nov 2008, 17:21:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

Eolake: to answer your question (why 1. nerds dressing informally has anything to do with 2. asperger's-spectrum people). Here in the USA, the term "nerd" doesn't just mean someone who is INFORMAL in dress or interaction, but also someone who CANNOT FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE FORMAL. It's not just a person who is fascinated with computers; rather, it's someone who is fascinated with computers to the detriment of his social life.

Sometimes, as people like TI have pointed out, it's actually a disadvantage to have to conform to the "cool" norm that's pervasive in a given culture. But to utterly lack the capacity to fit in or conform points out an equally problematic issue, that of failure to relate to humans.

People on the Asperger's spectrum tend to fail to relate to their peers well, in exchange for having an amazing capacity to focus on certain rather specific (though sometimes pointless?) fields of interest. And then, their attempt to join their friends or acquaintances in on their own fascinations leads to greater dissociation, because the subject-matter overtakes the social interaction, rather than (what the Asperger's person had hoped) a sharing of common interests.

It's all a balancing act, the capacity to have technical knowledge of a subject, while also having human inter-relational skills. And certainly the two aren't always (or even, often) mutually exclusive. But in my general impression, the term "nerd" implies someone who has gained technical skills AT THE EXPENSE OF lost relationship skills. This can be painful for someone, I'm sure you can guess.

And the Asperger's syndrome does, in some ways, explain this phenomenon of "nerdiness" in relation to, among other things, clothing. Asperger's sufferers, and all people on the autism spectrum, lack filters. Their senses take in the wild, unmanageable panoply of the whole world, and they just try to manage as best they can, generally creating artificial filters by which they learn to obsess only on certain things. I (and probably you) can join a conversation in a noisy, crowded room, and focus only on one person's speaking. A true autistic cannot.

And that auditory difficulty in filtering is often paired with a tactile difficulty in filtering. Given that clothing can cause an overabundance of tactile stimulation, some autistics prefer utterly non-edgy clothing -- things that never change the sensation that they're giving to the skin. Soft, clinging, non-stylish. Hence, someone who is popularly labeled a "nerd" but who actually might be an Asperger's or autism sufferer, might wear clothes that are not only (a) non-conformist and comfortable but also, actually, (b) an indication of his inability to filter tactile stimuli.

It's all a rather wild generatlization. I'm just relating the two ideas for sake of comment. I'm not trying to prove, that ALL "nerds" (in popular usage) are poor dressers, or mandatory Asperger's sufferers, or that all Asperger's people are inherently wearing soft clothes, or ... etc. I'm just relating the two for an interesting point.

-----

On a different point, I'd also suggest, that, although it sounds well and good to march to the beat of your own drummer, there are times when it's quite lonely. "Nerds" tend to find this out in junior-high or high-school age settings. They were going along just fine with the idea of being fascinated with iguanas, computers, or roller coaster, and knowing everything there is to know about their own pet subjects. But then early adolescence sets in, and the natural human desire to find a sexy partner, and to fit in to a peer group such that promotion and worldly success might ensue, come along, and throw the kibosh on all that focused studying.

People who are SO genuinely autistic that they can't relate to others, may be the best computer programmers in the world, but their programs seldom see the light of day. That's because to have a successful programming career, you have to not only write programs well, but also interact with a distribution network and a corporate or business entity that produces and sells the programs. You have to work in a company. Autistics find out, painfully, that being good at their own pet projects often isn't enough to have a happy life.

And, like me, they find that you can't always get a date with the girl whom you consider the best catch (best looking? nicest? even, best at computer programming) merely because YOU'RE good at computer programming.

 
At 19 Nov 2008, 20:16:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, final. So many words to say nothing. You do so enjoy talking out of your ass.

 
At 19 Nov 2008, 20:49:00, Anonymous tc said...

Final Identity, thank you for that very helpful information. Something I had never thought of...in a school setting...or even of my generation, until recently. I am, however, starting to recognize traits that have made me want to start learning more about Asperger's and Autism.

Anonymous (not Richard)...you must be the most lonely person in the entire world. You come on here continually spewing your *vomit*. Wouldn't it be nice if you actually had a kind word to say; what a concept! :-)

I have read how you have followed this blog for over 2 years, now, and: you still won't make some sort of an identity for yourself; you don't seem to have anything kind -- at all -- to say (it's a wonder Eo doesn't just delete anything you ever say! What a patient soul he is!) to anyone; you don't appear to have a positive *bone* (and...spare us re: running w/a pun from that!) in your body. What IS your life's gripe?! Please take the *floor* and educate us of your soul's *plight*. If you would rather take the conversation offline, I could be available for that, too. Just please don't take away from others who are kind enough to share of their experiences and kind hearts...please.

 
At 20 Nov 2008, 01:18:00, Anonymous Dave said...

Final Identity is quite right about lack of filters and acute sensitivity to sensory input.

Eolake, do certain clothes drive you nuts? They did me when I was a kid. Wool gave me an eczemoid dermatitus. Itched like crazy. To this day, I wear almost nothing but cotton, and prefer very little cloth contact, especially around my wrists. This certainly limits my willingness to dress formally.

My son is the same way, diagnosed High Functioning Autistic at age 12(!). His resistance to change (Skippy peanut butter and Welch's grape jelly on white bread, daily, for 5 years -- nothing else, for example), lack of understanding of social skills, made his early life for both him and us, his parents, very hard. He insisted in choosing his own clothes, and in retrospect, he chose comfortable ones.

One thing that made a huge difference for him was in auditory filtering. His hearing was off-chart sensitive. He could hear a radio turned to zero volume in a classroom (he asked that it be turned off during a test).

He took a program called the Tomatis Method that retrains the ear to hear human voices in the right proportion. The improvement in his school participation was like night and day. His teacher reported him cooperating with others on projects for really the first time.

I suggest that if my son was trained to develop suitable auditory filters, other autistics, including Asperger's persons, can also. If you're working with an AP, check it out.

In 7th grade, we were hoping somewhat desperately that he would make it through high school. He is now a Junior in a major university, majoring in Business Administration.

 
At 20 Nov 2008, 12:49:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous (not Richard)...you must be the most lonely person in the entire world. You come on here continually spewing your *vomit*. Wouldn't it be nice if you actually had a kind word to say; what a concept! :-)

Call me crazy, but I like a little proof once in a while. Final wants us to accept what he says...why? He cites nothing.

Btw, not all the Anonymous who post here are the same person. I love this superpower you have, though, of being able to psychoanalyze someone despite a lack of any training and despite never having met them. Bravo!

 
At 20 Nov 2008, 18:48:00, Anonymous tc said...

"Anonymous said...
Call me crazy, but I like a little proof once in a while. Final wants us to accept what he says...why? He cites nothing."

It appears that you are a person that does prefer hard facts/data. Final spoke of something that [s]he(?) is aware of. A person doesn't always have personal experience or even data for something...especially as *tricky* as these 2 syndromes are.

If you are interested in data, check out the internet. That or...ASK if anyone has any...instead of whining about what someone didn't provide you!

"Anonymous also said...
Btw, not all the Anonymous who post here are the same person."

No kidding?! Are you serious?! Wow! I had NO IDEA! SO GLAD you pointed that out to me!

Actually...your *surliness* sticks out...like a sore thumb, in a LOT of them; that, I believe, would have to be your most poignant *attribute* (rather than contribution) of your *visits*! You just seem to have such a bitter soul through and through. As offered, before, if you were wanting to take this offline, I would be more than happy to *spar* with you there. I would rather not waste any more of Eo's blog space *chatting* w/you, here.

"I love this superpower you have, though, of being able to psychoanalyze someone despite a lack of any training"

Ditto to you, Anon. When did you get a chance to look at my credentials! lol! ;-)

"...and despite never having met them. Bravo!"

Again...I would be more than happy to talk w/you offline and get to know you there, if that is your desire. Lighten up...on yourself and...the world! And...despite yourself, try to have an awesome day! ;-)

Dave...

Thank you very much for having shared re: your family's personal experience and...thank you for having shared the information re: the Tomatis Method. Very interesting. I will share this information with a couple of my friends whose children have autism.

Congratulations on your son's continued success. It must be very rewarding to see how well he is doing. :-)

 
At 20 Nov 2008, 22:04:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No kidding?! Are you serious?! Wow! I had NO IDEA! SO GLAD you pointed that out to me!

You're welcome. Consider it a public service. I can't help but pity the mentally retarded.

Ditto to you, Anon. When did you get a chance to look at my credentials! lol! ;-)

If you had any, you would have mentioned them by now, or included a link to a website containing them. The first step would be revealing your identity. You are, obviously, effectively anonymous yourself. Since I am not pretending to know anything about you, your pathetic attempt at deflection by simply repeating what I said to you makes little sense.

 
At 21 Nov 2008, 00:25:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

[Trademark family-sized big post warning, proceed and read at your own risk]

"What does "popular" even mean? Why would somebody admire somebody for being popular?"
Well, being popular in school means being envied, admired. So, you admire the popular kids because they are admired by others. I mean, they are admired because you admire them. Or someone admires them. Well, somebody started admiring somebody at one point. I mean... Ah, fwaz! What is it I mean, anyway? What's the frakkin' point?
"Oh, these strawberries aren't for eating, these are for buying!"

Twisted people with tormented minds will INVENT a way to make life miserable, no matter how good you have it.
Do you know how come countries like Kenya or Ethiopia have so many champion endurance Olympic racers? Well, if your daddy actually DID run 10Km a day to school and back every day when he was a kid, like he kept telling you, he too would've grown up to become a world-class endurance runner.

I wonder if champion endurance runners are specially popular in school in Africa?...

I guess one of the reasons we didn't have such a popularity fixation in my school in the Lebanon of the Eighties, was because we were lucky when the war didn't get the school closed for too long periods. And when we became teens, we had to show our IDs at the local militia's checkpoint before they allowed our school bus to pass. Allegedly to stop Israeli spies infiltration. This kind of stuff is so outlandish, one would never dare make it up!

"to me, that's like calling professional wrestling actual competition."
What, you mean it's fake? No way!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Clothing comes in to the mix as a measure against excessive skin nerve stimulus, among other things."
Well, yeah, but who ever said that you've gotta either wear a penguin suit and tie, or go naked?
Kimonos are very comfy, from what I heard.

Eolake admitted...
"in my own case, high sensitivity could easily be a factor."

You know, you might want to try sex. Something tells me you're likely to find the extreme skin stimulation experience enjoyable. ;-)

Dave assessed...
"Nerds don't want to be identified with either of those groups, so dress differently."

Are you sure nerds don't WANT to be identified with sergeants in the US Air Force? :-)

Dave,
One important element you left out, is that the group might not be WORTH conforming with at all. If a nerd, geek or whatever finds himself in a group of morons/jerks, say a group of neo-nazi skinheads whose codes are all about "our race is cool, the others are sub-animals", does it really matter if he "just" rejects what these codes represent or is simply too evolved to understand such a level of stupidity?
I'm ready to bet you'd feel like a born outcast, were you schooled at age six amidst Kazakhstan goatherders whose idea of a good time is throwing stones at bound animals, and who called you a freak because you can actually read.

Long, rambling, but the point is that maybe sometimes "group outcasts" choose their own integrity over fitting in a group that's against their nature. Like, SO not the drama, or so it should be.
Ah. Reading further on, I see I'm not the only one to envision this.

I wonder what is really the formal difference between hounding dweebs to give them wedgies, and racist of xenophobic pogroms? Just a matter of degree, methinks.
I'll be even harsher: if school promotes such patterns instead of "unteaching" them, it's failing in its fundamental vocation of building a society. Sure, education is the job of the parents first and foremost. But school shouldn't be a downwards pull!!!

I have friends of all group categories. Except for one kind: those who despise people from a different group. I don't even need to shun them, they immediately and spontaneously shun me, and this suits me just fine. ("Suits" me, pun intended.)

Richard defined...
"What we call a 'nerd' is someone who behaves and probably dresses differently from most of his/her cultural group."

Actually, what I see [IMHO] as a 'nerd' is someone who doesn't give a damn about the whole "cool" system. Sometimes in part from inability to "compete", but most of all because they can see immediately what others will take years to learn, usually after graduation: that being "cool" is just as meaningful as the clothing fashions of spring 1871. Someone once made a big deal out of it, and in the end nobody gives a damn. But the nerds of 1871? Writers, scientists, inventors... whose names are tought today in school.
"Shyeah. But only nerds bother to learn them! Bwahahaaah!" -- (A random jock, who'll get stuck in a paternity suit a couple of years from now, and start drinking.)

"Those whom we call nerds are just doing their own thing, and (healthily, I believe) just do not care what others think of them..."
Now that's what I'm talking about.
The thing is, sometimes being healthy automatically singles you out. Have you heard of the tropical parasitic disease Elephantiasis? (Yeah yeah, I know, I'm a nerd and I sound like one. Back to the point if you please.)
In a nutshell, Elephantiasis is caused by a parasitic worm of the lymphatic system. The worm clogs the lymphatic vessels blocking the drainage, and causing chronic swelling, especially in the lower regions: legs and genitals. Over time, people affected end up with HUGE legs, that look like those of an elephant.
What's the point of telling you about such a revolting thing? [I suggest you DO NOT google for images!!!] Well, in sone regions of Africa, Elephantiasis is so widespread, that it's become the norm. A young girl who DOESN'T have legs like grotesque pillars of shapeless swollen flesh, will simply be unable to find a husband. She's decreed "butt-ugly". And by "butt", I mean the slim kind. :-P

I noticed that the recent Tex Avery cartoons had a series revolving around a nerd: Einstone. A prehistoric genius born among hopeless block-heads. Oy veyizmihr...
Another very ironic, reluctant nerd, was the hero of the movie Idiocracy. A perfectly average 20th Century joe, frozen for 500 years, awakens in a future where trash TV & Co, along with the Jerry Springer Family Syndrome (idjits have A LOT more kids), have turned Earth into a world of morons. The "genius" ends up saving the world, simply by being the only one with some sense left.

"except that some actively dress/groom in ways that say"...
Yeah, well, there are narrow-minded people everywhere. Including among nerds.
There are also bright minds everywhere, and this is why not all my friends, by far, are nerds. In fact, I take some pride in having collected very diverse friends, from lots of backgrounds.

Did I get that right, Richard? 204 flight missions in Vietnam?
Man, as much as I'd love to rant about Vietnam and Iraq and all, but... you have my respect. That's some feat.
And, surviving that high a number, it means you've been using your brains. I like people with brains. :-)
So, you're an army tough guy, but a liberal nerd? I bet people who love to categorize people must really dislike you.
"There are two categories of people in this world: those who divide people into categories, and those who don't."

"Anonymous because too uncool to figure out this form."
Not that I'm much of a decent geek, but I can help you out on this one: check the "Name/URL" option, just above "Anonymous", and type your name where it now says "Name", ignoring the optional "URL".
That way, you'll stand out from the category which our R.A.F. is so fond of. (That's Resident Anonymous Flamer, not Royal Air Force. In fact, we believe there might be a whole group of them, using hit-and-run guerilla tactics. Their leader has been identified as one Jalan Raja Omar.)

"for smoking pot in a car in the school parking lot. I think all that stuff should be legal"
Wow, you weren't kidding. You really are a liberal.
BTW, outside the USA, this is NOT an insult. The rest of the world is weird, hunh?

"in the US, our culture is so hypercapitalist market/advertising driven that it is hard for others to imagine"
Not as hard as you'd think. Thanks to Hollywood, the Simpsons and South Park.

"and the kids like to say I am the 'Father of Cool' =them."
I'm the supreme rolemodel of my brother's kids. And I think you're starting to become mine. (Half serious.)

Brian observed...
"It's always seemed to me that nerds enforce rigid conformity too."

So, you've dated Morgan in Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude too? Can't talk to the best chick in the whole game before you have a fully-equipped Nerd costume, complete with pocket protector.
I've got codes for this videogame, if anybody's interested.

"Of course those were geeks, not nerds. An important distinction."
Yeah, and some day I'll find the formula that differenciates them. According to my calculations, if 3X².(9YZ)^4A > mc², then mumble mumble.........

Final Identity defined...
"[A nerd is] not just a person who is fascinated with computers; rather, it's someone who is fascinated with computers to the detriment of his social life."

Booger from Revenge of the Nerds didn't exactly strike me as the computer type...

"But to utterly lack the capacity to fit in or conform points out an equally problematic issue, that of failure to relate to humans."
Sure, but a born inability to adapt to society is defined as a handicap; especially those with Asperger's. Why should THOSE adapt to Society, when Society is supposed to adapt to people in wheelchairs or a white cane?
As my little nephew would say, "I wish Society adapted to me with a candy cane." [Yeah, Yule is yon us soon, y'all.]

"in my general impression, the term "nerd" implies someone who has gained technical skills AT THE EXPENSE OF lost relationship skills."
It could very well be the other way round. Overcoming a handicap through a personal talent. Quite typical in autists, precisely.

"And that auditory difficulty in filtering is often paired with a tactile difficulty in filtering."
Not surprising. That difficulty in filtering comes from the innate hard-wiring of the brain. It's not about detection (i.e. the senses), it's about perception, i.e. the processing of signals by the brain. Some forms of schizophrenia have one perceive his body as alien to him, or disassembled.
In the end, it's very useful to understand the handicapped, but the main goal is to adapt the social world to those who cannot themselves adapt to it.
And yes, this includes the handicap of ordinary stupidity. It is smart people who must speak in simple concepts to be understood, and lower their expectations of those who just cannot evolve. (Half joking.)
Would anyone seriously expect Dubya to realize that's he's fucked up the whole world?
"I remain convinced that I did the right thing with Iraq." Nuff said.
A snake can't juggle, and a worm can't tap-dance. (Except Earthworm Jim in his techno-suit, he has restless feet, but I digress. Back to saving UFO-abducted cows then.)

"They were going along just fine with the idea of being fascinated with iguanas"
Sure, but you know, chameleons are even MORE fascinating!
Wanna see my big snake?

"knowing everything there is to know about their own pet subjects. But then early adolescence sets in"
I resolved THIS issue by developing a new fascination for the topics of puberty and human reproduction. Aaah, I so love biology!
:-)
But my school's library direly lacked explicit and relevant material. Boo!
):-P

Another amusing skill that can be very popular with the ladies is lower ventiloquism. The lower the better, as guerilla Anon so aptly pointed.
Works best after eating Red Gold On Fire jalapeño peppers.

Actually, TC, guerilla Anon is a very patriotic and *generous* person. Constantly spewing vomit around ensures that there will be no unemployment problems for surface technicians in the near future.
I think this deserves a *medal*.

"you still won't make some sort of an identity for yourself"
The mark of a true Arch-Villain: remaining forever in the unidentifyable *shadows*! I recognize a Master's touch.
One day, we *simpletons* will wake up and just notice that R.A.F. has taken over the world with a mutant mind-controlling death ray and an army of clowns. (Spelling? "Clones"?)
R.A.F.'s efforts AMMGABRO. Which saves me fortunes of aphrodisiacs and porn mags. That's so *kind*...

[Note to the most recent guests: that's local lingo on this blog.
A.M.M.G.A.B.R.O. = Always Makes Me Go A Big Rubbery One
It seems that Lord Jalan Raja Omar is the direct descendant of the pagan god Priapus.]

Dave tried out for size...
"To this day, I wear almost nothing but cotton, and prefer very little cloth contact"

Might I recomment the Koala Bares vacation resort? It's usually very relaxing. (Well, except when some serial killer is loose and dropping poisonous snakes everywhere. Or emeus run amok. Or ghosts drop by. Or someone slips into another dimension with cursed undies. But really, this sort of things rarely happens at all!)

"His hearing was off-chart sensitive. He could hear a radio turned to zero volume in a classroom"
Wow. Reminds me of Ben Underwood, the real-life Sonar-Boy. Not to be mistaken with the fictional Ben-10.
Woops! Geek alarm gone off. Gotta run! Ta-ta.

 
At 21 Nov 2008, 00:30:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

You know, guerilla Anon, I seem to recall a negative remark from you (one of you's?) when I published an article with my doctor title and credentials. The comment seemed to suggest I was a braggart. (Not that I'm denying THAT, but it's not the point. ;-)

 
At 21 Nov 2008, 11:22:00, Blogger eolake said...

"they are admired because you admire them."

Exactement!
It's patently insane.

It's interesting how nerddom can be plausibly described both as a dysfunction and a positive trait.
Maybe it depends on what we deem to be the mission of humans: to fit in with other humans? Or something else?

Thanks to Dave and F.I.
Yes, I'm quite sensitive to both noise and touch. In periods when I've worn a watch, for example, I always took it off as soon as I came indoors.
I've blogged before about "highly sensitive people".

 
At 21 Nov 2008, 18:03:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I confess I like formality. I like the European way of addressing other people by their last name (with "Mr" or whatever is deemed appropriate). However, IMO one should not dress formally for other people's opinion (after all, they interact with you and not with your clothes); you should do it in order to put yourself in the right mood for the occasion. Clothes affect you just like a mask would do. Extreme case: Wearing blacktie for your wedding will give you a festive mindset which a leather jacket plus jeans cannot achieve. (Reverse this for a bike ride.) I pity folks who go the opera in the same togs as for the cinema; they deprive themselves of all the fun.
YMMV.

Joachim

 
At 21 Nov 2008, 22:59:00, Blogger eolake said...

Yes, I can see that.

 
At 22 Nov 2008, 06:13:00, Blogger Pascal [P-04referent] said...

Well, Joachim (I mean, MONSIEUR Joachim), some specific people interact with my clothes to reach me, and I don't mind one bit the style of those nice ladies.
[Insert nerdy snicker at kinky innuendo here.]

 

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