For Future Historians’ Benefit….

As we know, one big problem with the study of History is our lack of access to the mind of the “common man.” I don’t know how common we are around here, but for the benefit of future historians, I think we should put up some discussions of vexing cultural issues. Who knows, maybe we’ll all end up quoted in some dork’s unread dissertation in 2136…

…suitably translated into whatever grunts and clicks Ebonics has devolved into by then, of course, but that’s a rant for another day. Anyway, today’s discussion topic:

Why do so many people want to be “geeks” and “nerds” these days?

Question inspired by this comment from dog on the previous post:

Meyers-Briggs was big with computer people in the late 90s early 2000s so this is not so much a comeback as a holdover, and significantly predates “generation selfie”. Lots of old school programmers tested consistently as INTP/INTJ, and it was part of “what kind of freak are you” games (along with for example something like “geek code”, a signature system that allowed you to communicate if e.g. you were a trekkie or a star wars fan in a cryptic way). _You_ rarely see it, because the silly fashion didn’t translate to millennials proper and the old timers are not spending much time in the kind of echo chambers where you get exposed to a lot of SJWs.

Not being a computer person myself, I keep forgetting that computer people are just people, meaning they’re no less silly, cliquish, and fad-chasing than the rest of us. Meyers-Briggs seems like a very short step above astrology to me — do I really need a long questionnaire to tell me I’m an extrovert? — but I shouldn’t be surprised that computer people like it. In my experience, “psychology” is to computer people what “computers” are to psych majors — randomly blinking ooga booga boxes that do some cool things, but are mostly a terrifying mystery. Liberal Arts people (of which Psych Majors are the most liberal) love Apple products not least because they promise to bury all that blinky ooga-booga stuff under “the user experience;” thus it shouldn’t surprise me that a quick-and-easy “test” that promises to unlock the secrets of the psyche appeals to the other sort.

Given that, I have to assume that the phenomenon of SJWs calling themselves “INFJ” or whatever is yet another iteration of the larger cultural trend of everyone under 35 calling xzheyrself a “nerd” or a “geek” now.

I realize I’m a bit late to this party. I first noticed this phenomenon when that “Game of Thrones” show was popular, and it’s been off the air for a few years now, so I’m probably pulling a Simpsons here, noticing and mocking a trend that’s already well over. Again, my only excuse is that we’re doing this for future historians’ benefit. Can anyone explain it to me?

My guess is that it was the first, crude attempt at bespoke identity-building. Agnostic — the creepy, lesbian-stalking weirdo cited in the “Dark Academia” post — had some good stuff about generational status contests back before he went completely off the deep end. Boomers and at least some Gen Xers, he argued, competed with each other in the material realm — who had the best car, nicest house, and so on. That kind of competition is simply too expensive for most of Gen X, to say nothing of the later generations, so they — the later generations — transferred their competition to the lifestyle arena. They competed over stuff like “who knows the most obscure band” or “who eats the weirdest fusion cuisine.”

The problem with that, obviously, is that it’s too easily faked, especially in the social media age — who hasn’t made a lame joke about liking something you’ve probably never heard of? To really compete, you need something that’s cheap, easy, and above all performative. That was the point, as I understood it, of that “dark academia” stuff — you don’t need to have read Dostoyevsky, but you need to put in the effort to be seen reading Dostoyevsky (or baking bread from scratch, or whatever that “cottagecore” stuff is).

Thus, my theory goes, it’s pretty easy to be a “nerd” or a “geek” or even a “gamer,” since computer stuff is available to everyone and you don’t actually have to be any good at the game (know how to program; have read Tolkien or whatever) in order to call yourself one. You just need to be seen doing it… in a selfie, which is of course static.

Or not. I understand that a lot of this stuff takes place on streaming social media platforms, so I suppose some of these folks actually have to play video games at least a little bit. But that’s a feature, not a bug, since, like the SJWs calling themselves “INFJ” or whatever, this seems to be almost exclusively a chick thing and even I’ve heard of GOTIS — “Girl On The Internet Syndrome,” which was a problem rearing its ugly head even back in my day, when “the Internet” was something you accessed with an honest-to-god landline phone. A guy playing video games is a “gamer,” and will be judged on his game playing skill; a girl playing video games is a girl, and will be judged on how much T&A you can see while she’s doing it. Image-search “Zoe Quinn” if you want to see what a low goddamn bar that is — she was apparently quite the smoking hotness among the “gamer” set, but normal guys… well, you’ll see.

I’m not going to say that’s the final nail in our culture’s coffin, but I will note how much of our ongoing civilizational suicide can be traced directly back to that kind of girl — the one who, with a LOT of effort, could make herself into a NormalWorld six, but who chooses to either abandon all effort and go full SJW fugly, or cocoon herself in a subculture like “geek,” where a six-with-a-lot-of-effort effortlessly becomes a 9.


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22 thoughts on “For Future Historians’ Benefit….

  1. Lupin41

    The switch from “nerd” being mathematically-competent, to simply “Another Cool Kid Group” happened largely due to The Internet™ and The Dot-Com Boom™. With an early ramp up including the Personal Computer In The Home Epoch (“Hello Commodore 64!”)

    Before Internet/Personal Computers, there wasn’t HUGE money in being “mathematically skilled”, aka socially awkward and simultaneously competent at something confusing.

    But the internet changed that.

    Now one of the WORLD’S(!) most rich/powerful/influential people is someone like Mark Zuckerberg: Technically competent at something confusing, and simultaneously unable to emulate a human-being while in public (see every Congressional appearance).

  2. MBlanc46

    Things sure have gotten complicated since the Paleolithic, when I was a lad. We had jocks and hoods. Guys who used pocket protectors were yo-yos. And a lot of indistinguishable people in the middle. But we all listened to Top Forty, watched the same movies—there was what was playing at the Tivoli and whatever the local TV station was showing at ten o’clock, that was it—and read, if they read, the same books from the library or the local bookstore. Sure, there were bohemians in places such as New York and San Francisco, but the masses had almost zero exposure to them. The turmoil of the 1960s shook that up, and digitization has shattered it into a thousand fragments. Even if the enemies of civilization vanished in a puff of smoke, it’s hard to imagine how things could ever be put back together into anything like a functioning whole.

  3. texinole

    To clarify things: Zoe Quinn was a (bad) game developer who slept her way to favorable reviews in gaming journals, but that was just the spark that became gamergate. The real scandal was (and stop me if you’ve heard this before) the shockingly coordinated mainstream effort to set the narrative and suppress dissent, awakening millions of mostly young men to the corruption and petty power politics of once trusted institutions. So, a dry run for current events. The convergence on display during and after gamergate was rejected by the community so an example was needed to dissuade such populist outbursts, and to this day boomers know of the incident as “spoiled gamers hate girls”.

  4. texinole

    RE the topic under discussion:

    When you see Lebron and co aping the nerd chic it’s pretty obvious it’s merely a fashion accessory. Computers and their geeks run the world. Remember in Revenge of the Nerds how the jock refused to even use a computer for purely cultural reasons? Now that the power of these machines are apparent to everyone you’d be stupid – in the jock sense – to ignore them. That has to have cultural knock on effects.

  5. Pickle Rick

    As an artillery Fire Direction Controlman, we used to say we were killer nerds, as we used math to drop high explosives on Hajjis. We even named our FDC vehicle “The Mystery Machine”- complete with the Scooby Doo font. Underneath it we had a SS skull painted. But that was self deprecating humor, because we knew we weren’t nerds, but we did consider ourselves the intellectual elite of the battery.
    The key was, we were artilleryMEN. No girls allowed to ruin the social dynamics of the unit. I suspect that’s what’s wrong with our society today, in that there’s no place for men to be men with other men.

  6. Maus

    Why the rush to be a geek or nerd? Look no further than good old materialism on overdrive. I went to one of the two “world-class” unis in the Bay Area in the early 80s. While I was happily rooting in the Classics, I had fraternity brothers who were dropping out as juniors to work as “programmers” for then outrageous sums of money and, more significantly, stock options, in these geek factories that were springing up like mushrooms after a rainstorm and snarfing up anyone with a rudimentary grasp of PASCAL. At the time, we laughed that these Darwinian losers were just bitter that they couldn’t date Tri-Delts. You can imagine who’s laughing last now, all the way to the bank.
    That this “get rich” mindset, particularly for work that did not require things like certification or licensure, became ubiquitous was brought home to me at the turn of the century by my teenage nephews. They and all their friends believed that the epitome of success was either to be a rock star or a professional gamer. Uncle Maus used to snap angrily at shitty guitar solos and suggest that practice did not require amplification as he listened to a cover of Green Day for the thousandth time. But he reserved his deepest scorn for the idea that anyone was going to be paid real money to play video games. Had he not poured countless quarters that had been earmarked for laundry machines into mastering the green elf in Gauntlet? You pay to play, not the other way around. Of course, the rise of so-called “e sports” wasn’t even a glimmering mirage on the horizon; but somehow the geeks and nerds managed to manifest it with sufficient reality to once again bitch slap ole Maus. Probably karma for having dropped PASCAL class to add reading some 1st century Romans in the original Latin all those years ago.
    Bottom line, the geek/nerd drive is the quest for material reward and the attendant social recognition based on nothing but the display of skill. NOT credentials, degrees, certifications etc. DISPLAY, as in my initials are currently atop the high score list for all to see. Let the weeping and gnashing of teeth commence. It’s not enough that I know my C++, or JavaScript, or Pearl (or whatever the damn kids are using now) runs tighter than anyone else’s. Other’s must see the Tesla I bought with my bonus and know that I have thoroughly pwned them. To a person who has toiled in relative obscurity trying to understand the premodern roots of Western Civilization, the triumph of tech is a sad coda to an epic masterpiece.

    1. Rangifer

      There was a time when “nerd” meant serious skilz- hardware, hacking, programming, etc (not gaming). It was a badge of honor, bestowed by fellow nerds, in recognition of demonstrated abilities. As reward, nerds could dress as they pleased, be strange & childish, watch days of Star Trek yet still perform miracles after 20+ hours of work. Gen Y/Z has adopted the lifestyle without having to prove any skills, making “nerd” very attractive. Match that with no peer scrutiny (thanks relativism!) and you have a generation of posers. From my POV, almost all current “nerds” are Lusers and couldn’t set the time on a Magnavox VCR if they tried.

      Hell, the Jargon File hasn’t been updated since 2003- a sure sign current gen aren’t real nerds.

  7. Wildgoose

    Lots of ragging on computer people, but remember that just as a lever amplifies muscles, computer software amplifies your brain. Software is already everywhere now, and more and more machinery is being turned into simple mechanics controlled by clever software.

    And it’s dangerous.

    It’s still the “Wild West” right now, but there really is a battle going on with the Elites trying to control all that data. He who controls the data – controls everything. Who you are. What you have. Everything.

    Decentralise, disconnect, archive. And there’s a reason why cryptography gets classified as “munitions”.

    1. Severian Post author

      In case it wasn’t clear, when I rag on “computer people,” it’s always with a small bit of envy attached.* They’re just people — as foolish and goofy (and weird and wonderful) as the rest of us. But since the Personal Computer is the controlling metaphor (or whatever Oswald Spengler called it) of the 21st century, as the cathedral was of the 13th century and the factory was of the 19th, our society is organized much closer in line with computer people’s particular strengths and peculiar weaknesses.

      *”a small bit” being, it seems, the most I’m capable of. My theory is that everyone has 100 “hit points” for the Seven Deadly Sins, but they’re distributed unevenly. I myself got very little in the way of Envy, but I got a triple dose of Sloth and Gluttony, and quite a bit of Lust.

      (I think the Cardinal Virtues work this way, too, but I’m much less sure how mine are distributed).

      1. toastedposts

        Lots of ragging on computer people, but remember that just as a lever amplifies muscles, computer software amplifies your brain.

        Computer software does *something* to our brains. I’m pretty sure Microsoft Powerpoint will be fighting for space on the crowded headstone of our civilization. Prior to powerpoint, managerial types had to *communicate*. Not … whatever is going on now. Every last one of the organizations I’ve worked in has been a screaming dumpster fire of ineffectuality, where everyone spent their time “meeting” with everyone else and trading slides. Documenting things, etc. We were supposed to be engineers! We’re not even allowed to *communicate* directly with the shop floor.

        That also segues into another point: Don’t be too fast to think that the nerds are winning anything. I’m a bit of a nerd myself (original meaning, non-ironic, and not for display.) I’m actually interested in the thing, not the social scene: I don’t actually like most people. Weekends at home where no one bugs me as I work on some esoteric personal project are the sort of thing I seek. One of the software projects which I’ve worked on recently is a dumpster fire: We’re expected to interact with other people *all the time*. They decided I was too much of a loner and needed someone else looking over my shoulder *as I wrote software* (pair programming), nevermind that they were perfectly thrilled with the stuff I wrote for them beforehand, and I haven’t been able to write anything since.

        Before chinese-lung-aids saved the world, they wanted to cram us into a hot-desking open-plan slave-galley where they could look over all our shoulders simultaneously and time our bathroom breaks. This job has been psychological torture, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with productivity. We have status update meetings 3 times a day which spawn other meetings, to the point where no one is getting anything done.

        It’s hard to think of an environment less friendly to the psychology of actual nerds, and yet that’s what everyones being herded into with the inexorable force of a tide of stampeding lemmings.

          1. BadThinker

            Another Tufte fan? For all his weirdness the guy is identified head on the massive cognitive death that has hit us through ‘making the numbers easier for the managers’.

      2. ganderson

        “I’m very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins
        I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
        I’m proud to be a glutton but II don’t have time for sloth
        I’m greedy and I’m angry and I don’t care who I cross”

        Just a note from good old Warren Z

  8. BadThinker

    I’m one of those crazy ‘computer people’. I’m even worse, I’m a “data” person (from before that was cool to be, these days everyone is a “data scientist” or some other insanity).

    My experience with the MBTI was as part of an HR program, an ‘introduction to psychology class’, and the my (thankfully short) stint as a dreaded Randroid. The girls especially liked MBTI because it was basically ‘smart person’ astrology. Matt Briggs has a good post on psychometrics in general (moral: Be Less Certain).

    What we are facing now is something (you’ve?) expressed I think (I lose track of who’s ideas I am stealing from now): We no longer have traditional methods for people to find *meaning* in their life (who I am, what tribe am I part of, what’s my role to play), so we invent “ESFP” and “INTJ” personality types as one of many ways to be part of the tribe, but also ‘stick out’.

  9. Nehushtan

    I do understand the appeal of pigeonholing other people, since it saves time and effort, but I have never understood the desire to pigeonhole oneself. (I don’t say “myself” because I personally don’t have this.)

    The best I can say for it if that if you know you are a Pisces, or an ENTP, you are saved the work of introspection. You don’t have to ask yourself why did this or that dumb thing and figure out where you went wrong and avoid it in the future, instead you can embrace end excuse it.

    It may be that it’s pesudoclinical, part of the modern trend of medicalizing everything (soon to be replace by the post-modern trend of racializing everything).

    1. BadThinker

      “You don’t have to ask yourself why did this or that dumb thing and figure out where you went wrong and avoid it in the future, instead you can embrace end excuse it.”

      This is EXACTLY it. The ability to say “this is just the way I am” rather than “I should change my behavior for the better.” Hence why women, with the Hamster, embrace stuff like this wholeheartedly.

    2. Wildgoose

      That’s a good point. It’s the old Calvinist Determinism in which everything is already pre-ordained.

      Only now these attitudes are based on your skin colour, sex or sexuality rather than anything else.

      Same attitudes, just a modern manifestation.

      1. Severian Post author

        There it is — the “I ain’t never gonna change / fuck tha h8rs” attitude that’s so prevalent everywhere, especially in pop music. It used to be understood that, while there are times when it’s good, right, and necessary to “do your own thing,” in 99 out of 100 cases where people have a problem with your behavior, it’s because your behavior is, in fact, a problem.

        “Imma be me!!!” And you, apparently, are a childish buffoon masquerading as a middle aged mother of three. Well within living memory, that was considered BAD. Now it just means you’re an “INFJ” or a “nerd” or what have you, I guess.

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