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Why Nerds Are Unpopular 1535

AccordionGuy writes "Paul Graham, who's known for his writings on Lisp and other Lisp-like languages as well as his essays on combatting spam has taken a bit of a detour from his usual topics. His latest essay is one that's a little more personal and that we can all relate to: Why Nerds Are Unpopular . It's a lengthy but engaging writeup of that chamber of horrors we call high school and why being smarter than the average bear is more of a liability than an asset during that stage in life. It's food for thought for those of us who've already been there, done that and been stuffed into lockers by the football team and it should give some hope to those who are going through it right now."
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Why Nerds Are Unpopular

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  • by BTWR ( 540147 ) <americangibor3&yahoo,com> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:12PM (#5328795) Homepage Journal
    Lisa Simpson found that it was a pheromone that caused people to beat up nerds! (This effect, of course, could easily be neutralized by spraying said bully with vinegar).
  • Helpful? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:13PM (#5328809) Homepage
    It's a lengthy but engaging writeup of that chamber of horrors we call high school and why being smarter than the average bear is more of a liability than an asset during that stage in life. It's food for thought for those of us who've already been there, done that and been stuffed into lockers by the football team and it should give some hope to those who are going through it right now.

    And I'm sure its going to do nothing but reinforce lots of negative stereotypes and Katz-style whining.

    I'm a nerd - I'm a computer professional - I was an athlete in high school and I'm still active today.

    People need to take a little bit of responsibility for their own lives rather than chalking everything up to "well, I'm going to get picked on because everyone else in the world is so much stupider than me."

    • Re:Helpful? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Frymaster ( 171343 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:21PM (#5328901) Homepage Journal
      wait a minute... i have to take responsibility because the football team stuffed me into a locker? that sort of "blaming the victim" mentatlity has lead to some serious backlash [disastercenter.com] in the past.
    • Re:Helpful? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lothar ( 9453 )
      Quote from the article:
      > Few smart kids can spare the attention that popularity requires. Unless they happen to be very good looking, or great natural athletes, or have older siblings who are popular, they'll tend to become nerds.

      It doesn't say that you can't be both - however it seems to be the fact that the majority of ners doesn't fall into both.

      As for getting picked on. Once it starts it is very hard to stop for as long as you are in that place ( school ). One tends to be branded forever.
    • Re:Helpful? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:49PM (#5329246) Journal
      People need to take a little bit of responsibility for their own lives rather than chalking everything up to "well, I'm going to get picked on because everyone else in the world is so much stupider than me."

      As far as the "Why Nerds are Unpopular" link goes, I mostly agree.

      On the other hand, the "stuffed into lockers" link, goofy though it is, makes a good point. In the adult world, you're liked more or you're liked less. But, if every day when you come home from work, a pack of more socially elevated adults beat you up, gave you a black eye or bloody nose, stole your money and shredded your papers, society doesn't consider that boys will be boys fun. Those people would go to prison.

      It's not obvious to me why that's something a seventh grader should be expected to suck up and blamed if he can't deal with it.

    • Re:Helpful? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:55PM (#5329317) Homepage
      American society is blatantly anti-intellectual. Most academic institutions prize athletic ability over intellect even despite the fact that they are meant to foster the latter. People in general don't like to made to feel inferior.

      The essay was wrong in one important aspect. There is an administration imposed heirarchy in high schools. This is based on athletic performance and petty contests of us vs. them. School administrations invest considerably time and energy in promoting the whole athletic bread and circuses.

      That said, it doesn't really matter that people end up being cast out. That is not such a bad thing. The problem is the ensuing abuse that often manifests itself in violence.

      You should not blame victims for being forced to attend what really is a glorified prison with all of the beatings and occasional killings that implies.
      • Re:Helpful? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by evilpenguin ( 18720 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:52PM (#5329993)
        Everybody needs to learn that the goal of society is to get the best out of every member and to make life better for every member. Every member. Society is not improved by aligning oursleves into subgroups bent on damaging or disparaging members of another group.

        In practice, this means the obvious: People shouldn't abuse nerds. But it does also mean the less obvious. Nerds shouldn't belittle stupid people who are bigger than they are.

        I actually learned this in college: "Do not get into political arguments with drunk football players." Call it Schwarz's Law. The truth is, it is easy to get along with people. We would all do better if we could just learn to shut up when we want to say or do something hurtful or angry. Yes, "jocks" can be brutes, but there is a smug and confrontational brand of "intellect" that enjoys rubbing other's ignorance in their faces. This is a kind of "nerd brutishness." You can be an intellectual brute. In the mind of the knowledgeable person, all s/he is doing is stating facts. But the superior physical strength of the brute is just a fact as well. How can the brute be blamed and the "nerd" remain blameless?

        I'm not saying that any assault is EVER justified. I am just saying that if the "nerd" were a truly smart person, s/he would realize that certain behaviors provoke and that those behaviors can be managed. In fact, it is possible to enlist a mass of people to your own side through the application of skills in human relations.

        I remember in adolescence, however, believing that this compromised my "individuality." I remained separate and I had a truly miserable experience. And it is not like my stand helped me in adulthood. In fact, it was not until I began to learn:
        1) Not to correct people just because I knew they were wrong.
        2) Not to criticize
        3) Not to order people around
        That I began to succeed. The only way to get someone to do something is to make them want to do it. Does telling people they are wrong, or telling people they are stupid, or telling people to do things make them want to do it? No. It makes them defensive, angry, and resentful.

        Now, to anyone struggling with these issues in school now: Yes, you are smart. Yes, you do know things, and you are excited that you know things. I'm not telling you to change anything about yourself. However, if you will just ask yourself a few questions before you speak, I hope you may make your life easier and you might enjoy yourself more.

        How would I feel if I were this person?
        Is this person going to be better for what I am about to say?
        Am I lifting this person up, or am I trying to raise myself by lowering this person?

        The brutes should ask themselves these same questions. In fact, we would all be better off if we did. In fact, I should probably have asked myself them before I wrote this! As I said, I'm new to this way of thinking myself. But if you are young and having trouble getting along, please, I ask you to think about this now and not to wait. Of course, everyone else should be thoughtful of your feelings too, but your behavior is the ony one under your direct control. And when you begin to select what you do and say in such a way as to lift other people, you will find that they give you what you want.

        Will what I say or do help this person to be their best?
    • Alternate subject: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:02PM (#5329386)

      "Why people with social problems lean towards academics"

      Whether they excel at them or not is an entirely different matter. Enough people on the site have said it... there are plenty of people out there who were dumb and unpopular. I knew of many people who were intelligent and popular too.

      I know... imagine that... academnically-smart, creative, athletic and popular people?

      I've got a bunch of uber-geeks sitting near me right now. They're fully grown. Wow they're awful. I cringe when they eat their soup with their mouth open. I cringe when they loudly complain on the phone about the arrangement of books in bookstores. Their body-odour wafts over here from time to time. I feel like yelling sometimes, "if you would just stop sputtering spitballs, farting in my cubicle, talking about your superior intellect, RPG characters and fantastic technical skills, you might have a better job and more friends." Unix admins... ugh. These guys don't even like eachother.

      They only bug me so much because I don't tell them to f-off and let me get my work done. People in that state get lonely and just want somebody to talk to... so they cling.

      It's inhuman for me to tell them go get lost, and it is in poor taste. So I put up with them. Some of them are not too bad, they're just not used to the local culture... others are born-and-raised locals, dumb as bricks, no matter how smart they tell me they are.

      What kind of idiot walks into your cubicle, reads your screen, tells you about the latest miniatures they painted, farts, and just stands there?

    • Re:Helpful? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CalCudahy ( 541967 )
      I wonder if you really read the whole article. Yeah, while the lead in raised some red flags of it being a Katz style jargon-fest, the author turned out some good conclusions. As a recent graduate of that horrible system and a nerd as well I can relate to his insight that everyone figures out that school-work is pointless. The teachers know it as well as the students that what we learn isn't applicable. Even the smart kids crammed and faked their way through class as much as the others cause they knew it didn't matter. The loss of a meaningful goal turns school into a holding pen.

      "We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that's exactly what happens in most American schools. Since the group has no real purpose, there is no natural measure of performance for status to depend on. Instead of depending on some real test, one's rank ends up depending mostly on one's ability to increase one's rank."

      Hey, it was only halfway through highschool that I realized that the only thing that I did that gave me personally meaningful results was swimming. Only by focusing on that to a crazy extent did highschool become bearable.

      Just my 2 cents. Cheers

    • Re:Helpful? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jtdubs ( 61885 )
      Then maybe you aren't the people he's talking about.

      Rather than bitching, maybe you should read the article, as the kind of people you are talking about is entirely different group of people than the one Paul Graham is.

      His article was actually well-written, thought-provoking and, in my eyes, appeared to be true.

      In other words, duh, RTFA!

      Justin Dubs
  • by DChristensen ( 98850 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:13PM (#5328811) Homepage
    It sucks still being stuffed in the lockers byt the football team, particularly because I'm the principal of the high school.
  • elitism... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TechnoVooDooDaddy ( 470187 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:14PM (#5328815) Homepage
    nerds feel it necessary to lord their supposedly superior intellect over others... they do it in their inner circles as well. This is the reason they get stuffed in lockers... You may have a bigger brain, but they got bigger arms... And don't give me that innocence crap, you KNOW you're guilty of looking down your nose at whomever because you thought you were smarter than they....
    • Re:elitism... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xthlc ( 20317 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:28PM (#5328992)
      I agree. I think that, while there is often a strong one-way correlation between nerds and smart people, the inverse is not necessarily true.

      Some of the smartest people in my high school were NOT nerds. True, they didn't take some of the ridiculous college math courses that we nerds did. However they did get straight-As and took AP courses in the natural sciences, history, calculus, languages, etc. They were usually involved in some kind of varsity sport that had a low jock-factor (like tennis or soccer). While they were popular, they seemed to float above the social hierarchy, never taking part in the beatings or humiliation but never exactly seeking a nerd with whom to hang out. They generally got ridiculous scores on their SATs and went on to the Ivy League.

      They were popular because they weren't pretentious, they were self-confident, and they knew how to talk to somebody without scaring or boring the shit out of them. Which none of us geeks quite had a handle on yet . . .
      • Re:elitism... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ATMAvatar ( 648864 )
        Some of the smartest people in my high school were NOT nerds. True, they didn't take some of the ridiculous college math courses that we nerds did. However they did get straight-As and took AP courses in the natural sciences, history, calculus, languages, etc.

        Don't confuse good grades with intelligence. Many people in my school's top 10% or even top 5% were dumb as bricks. For example, perhaps half the girls I knew in my honors/AP classes got pregnant immediately after starting college and had to drop out.

        At the same time, though... I must admit that my high school didn't have near the "if nerd then pariah else jock" aspect to it as some other schools. Many of the genuinely smart people were very social, even if most of the jocks were... well... stereotypical jocks.
  • by Vollernurd ( 232458 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:14PM (#5328827)
    It was the cse at our school, like all other schools, that the Geeks were singled out for "special" attention. However, that attention was infrequently hostile, and if you had the wit to deal with it (a decent put-down, offer people help in classes if they asked for it, laugh at their jokes if necessary, etc.) you soon got the respect and the social acceptence that came with it.

    Essentially, merely "being Geeky" was not enough to attract hostility, even from the footballers, but it was poor social skills aggravated by what the "geek" percieved as persecution.

    Simply laughing it all off is usually the best way to deal with it.

    It's like your parents used to say (shyeah! like /they/ knew) "Ignore them and they'll soon get bored."
  • by smd4985 ( 203677 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:15PM (#5328828) Homepage
    but if i had a quarter for every 'popular' kid from my HS class that later served me my meals at Uno's, Bennigans, etc., I'd be one handspring treo richer.

    and yes, if you haven't guessed yet, i'm a nerd ;) .
    • First of all your High School class must have had like 1200 'popular' kids.

      Second, why are we (and I mean we) still trying to measure ourselves against these people? I finished High School in 1993. In the past ten years my values have grown up. I am no longer jealous of the cars their parents bought them, or the nice clothes, or how many friends they had.

      I don't care that they all sell fucking insurance somewhere in suburbia now. and if they are happy, good for them. If not, too bad. I think I am doing ok, but I compare myself to real peers not my peers from 10+ years ago.
    • Re:dishwasher? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lugonn ( 555020 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:55PM (#5330034)
      What if you washed the dishes in the restaraunt and were still a geek? I've had every job you can imagine; construction, fast food, office boy, factory...but I wouldn't say that made me stupid or less intelligent. It was what I could handle while working my way through college.

      I also disagree with the article about what defines a geek, it's not brains or interests, it's how your rated by the opposite sex. It's not looks it's personality.

      In my case, If I'm interested in things that GIRLS think are corney, then I am a geek. Jocks can call you a geek, but only a women can certify your geek status by laughing at your pathetic attempts to hook up with them. This carries over into adult life as well, which is why geeks don't go to clubs(at least I don't).

      Looks will not get you geek status either, it is ALL about how you dress and behave. Ugly guys who dress fly and act confident always have chicks, so they cannot be geeks. I'm good looking enough to approach women with confidence, but after about 5 mintues of talking, the women realize I'm a geek and leave...that, and I have no game.

      So even though I have been out of school for over 10 years, I am still a geek because I cannot attract the opposite sex because my personality is that of geek.

      There is no hope is the point of the article I think.

  • US only phenomenon? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DeafDumbBlind ( 264205 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:16PM (#5328841)
    I'm curious if this happens all over the world or only in the states.

    Can anyone who grew up outside of the US comment?

    • by LeftOfCentre ( 539344 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:20PM (#5330318)
      You raise an interesting question. I can only speak for Sweden which is where I was born, grew up and live.

      The distinction between "nerds" and "normal people" definitely exists outside the US -- and is perhaps universal. Most people of basic school age don't spend a large portion of their free time in front of their computers coding. I think this intense focus on one particular area is where "nerds" were different from other people in their age groups.

      However, and I think this is an important point, in many countries high school is a kind of trade school. In Sweden, compulsory school stops at age 15 or so. Nearly all students then proceed to a volunteer school, gymnasiet, selecting one out of 20 or so three-year education programs which suits their interests. Programs included, among many others:

      The vehicle program: students were tought how to repair cars and other vehicles (and sometimes to drive them, with driving lessons and sometimes a license funded by the school).

      The nursing program: students were taught skills needed to work jobs at retirement homes and other institutions that care for people.

      The individual program: students that lacked motivation and sufficient grades were given a chance to catch up, aiming to apply for a regular program later on.

      The electronics program: students were given basic skills in handing electronics, and got jobs such as being electricians or electronics repairmen.

      The social sciences program: students received additional heavy education in history, geography and other social sciences, and got jobs that may include working for their local government carrying out investigations or other matters. People in this program sometimes would continue to college to develop additional additional skills.

      The natural sciences program: students were given a very solid ground (complementing that which they had received in earlier years) in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, material computational skills, electronics skills and computer skills. This program was largely theoretically oriented and was not meant to lead to a job directly, but provided the foundation for students to continue to college and become engineers and scientists.

      This particular specialization relatively early also explains why Sweden (and other European) college degrees are shorter in terms of years than equivalent US degreees -- the basics in the profession or study of choice were already taught in high school, so college was even more specialized.

      With that said however, I should point out that this specialized programs all included a relatively broad range of subjects -- but with a certain very heavy focus. The natural sciences program for example would include five maths courses, while most other programs would only have one or two. The social sciences program on the other hand would have more history and related issues than other programs. And many programs had courses shared by no other education program.

      This early specialization means that nerds separate from their schoolmates aged 15 or 16 and join other people in the natural sciences program (usually) who have the same inclination for programming, maths or science. They find "equals" and the risk of being rejected is significantly reduced, if not entirely eliminated.

      I did not find that my early interest in programming (which ignited around 11 or 12 years of age) caused any significant problems. Many classmates at the time were interested in gaming or the occasional programming on the C64, C128 (and later the Amiga) and joined me in technical discussions or to seek assistance. In gymnasiet, everyone around me were interested in science and technology and frequently engaged in more or less serious discussions on the topic.

      As someone already pointed out, the concept of "jocks" also is alien to European school systems. People who engaged in sports did so on their own free time, it was not something the school got involved in (other than providing the normal gym classes).
  • True dat. (Score:5, Funny)

    by yuckf00 ( 644870 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:16PM (#5328845)
    I'm writing this post from a locker now.
  • by iomud ( 241310 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:16PM (#5328849) Homepage Journal
    It's because of his lisp.
  • Plenty cool (Score:3, Funny)

    by KingBuggo ( 590186 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:17PM (#5328864)
    You are plenty cool when they realize you are smart enough to run a methlab.
  • Comedian Paul Rodriguez:

    You remember those kids in school who you called Nerds?
    You know what you call 'em now?

  • Big assumption (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Longfinger ( 568282 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:19PM (#5328882)
    Most of us think that the reason we were so unpopular was that we were smarter than everyone else. It's much more likely that we were/are unpopular because we're socially inept. Hint: acting like you're smarter than everyone else is socially inept.
    • Re:Big assumption (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BethLogic ( 561055 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:21PM (#5329630)

      Sometimes, people just decide they don't like you and work to make the six years of junior/senior high hellish.

      Just before junior high I moved to a new school. I knew I was smart, but I also knew that I wasn't alone. There were a lot of smart people at my school. It was the other smart kids (girls) who picked on me. I don't think I was any more socially inept than your average 12 year old girl, but I did march to the beat of a different drummer. And that, more than anything else, is what gets you singled out at that age. Oh, and the girls can be so much worse than the boys. Sure, I never got put in a locker, but the psychological tourture is worse.

      Fast-forward a decade or so... I'm well-adjusted, well-employed, and most of all, happy. Some how I managed to get through high school without changing to their beat. In fact, I pride my self in my (increasing) geekiness. And they have gone on to live their cookie cutter lives, attending the same colleges as everyone else, finding the same jobs and dating the same kind of men. Not the life I would have wanted.

      I guess the moral here, for those of you still trying to get through it, is find a few like mind people to be friends with and stick together. Some day you'll end up in an interesting job, knowing interesting people and that will make the struggle worth it.

  • Bullying (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ATAMAH ( 578546 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:22PM (#5328920)
    Jokes aside though - a very serious matter. Kids get bullied a lot as early as primary/secondary school and often it haunts them in high school as well. I used to do volunteer work for a charitable trust that was campaigning for teenage suicide prevention. It's pretty unbeleivable how many teens end their lives because they just can't take it anymore. And don't give me this bullshit about those that pull through and "become stronger". Some maybe do, but others still receive a pretty vicious mental trauma. Who knows how will this unnecessary abuse will reflect on their adulthood ?
    • Re:Bullying (Score:3, Insightful)

      I should probably post this anon, but I can totally relate to those teenagers. I was picked on all the way from K through 12 for a variety of reasons: being brown in an all-white town, having a stutter, keeping to myself, the list goes on.

      I love the people who say that kids who get bullied "ask" for it; it's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard. Let me tell you this, the more you try to keep to yourself and try to avoid trouble, the more it seeks you out. Maybe saying all those kids you taunted over the years deserved it functions as a salve for your conscience, but it doesn't change the fact that all they probably wanted was for everyone to just leave them alone.
    • Re:Bullying (Score:4, Funny)

      by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:31PM (#5329758) Homepage
      "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" I always wished Nietzsche was alive today so that I could break his legs and see how much stronger that made him.
  • by sielwolf ( 246764 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:26PM (#5328971) Homepage Journal
    If you define it as "someone who works in a science related field" then this is hogwash.

    Or if you define it as someone who is physically inept, weak, socially maladjusted, and the antithesis of just about everything that makes someone "normal"... why wouldn't nerds be despised and picked on?

    I mean, we are all adults here, right? We all know that people are prone to dislike what is significantly different (especially if it proves to not be "better"). And they are willing to take action if that person is weaker than them. Humans have one of the most aggressive social dominance instinct of all animals (psychologists believing because we lack "killing" implements such as claws or rending maws). Life isn't handholding and fairness and rainbows.

    Big fish eats small fish. Not a revelation. To try and reorder it as something else (nerds being "feared" for their "super intelligence") is just childish revisionism.
  • Popular? (Score:3, Funny)

    by sulli ( 195030 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:30PM (#5329009) Journal
    Sure I'm popular - I have tons of Fans! Does that mean I'm not a Nerd?
  • Nerd != Smart (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gosand ( 234100 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:31PM (#5329027)
    It's a lengthy but engaging writeup of that chamber of horrors we call high school and why being smarter than the average bear is more of a liability than an asset during that stage in life.

    Sorry, but I call BS.

    1. Being a nerd doesn't mean you are smart. I knew plenty of dumbass nerds.

    2. Being smart doesn't mean you are a nerd. I knew straight A students who were all around athletes and in the "cool" crowd.

    3. Being a nerd (or smart) doesn't mean you can't be athletic. See #2.

    4. High school is a traumatic time for pretty much everyone, not just the smart/nerdy people. And I use "traumatic" lightly, because I realize that high school was not that big of a deal. (I hope everyone else realizes that) It was just another period in my life.

    • by airrage ( 514164 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:34PM (#5329066) Homepage Journal
      Right on the money. I'm sorry, but if you don't shower and wear Pokemon t-shirts, you are going to be intimate with the inner workings of public toiletry.

      To all you high-schoolers reading this: use basic grooming standards! (do not use your friends as a standard).
    • Re:Nerd != Smart (Score:5, Insightful)

      by protohiro1 ( 590732 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:20PM (#5329620) Homepage Journal
      Hear hear! I was #1 whiner/complainer in high school. The popular kids do this and that blah blah blah. And I was right, it does suck to be a geek or a nerd in high school. But high school is tough for everyone. My girlfriend was a popular kid in high school...and her stories make me really glad I wasn't. The fact is that when you are 16 your hormones make you crazy...everything is the end of the world. Every insult is a life ending moment. Every crush is the one true love that could change the earth.

      The great thing about being a geek/nerd in high school is that you end up being protected from all that. Thankfully the emotional rollercoaster took place for me in my head, and my only real response was to listen to Pinkerton real loud. I could have instead been popular and given the oppurtunity to drink my problems away, to get some random girl pregnant because my chemical addled brain thought I was in love. I could have had the choice to turn a low self esteem compensation into a fatal drunk driving accident instead of just playing the cymbals louder.

      I think that nerdiness protected me from myself by keeping me locked in a reletivley pointless and banal experience, that still managed to feel earthshattering at the time. High school is tough. Its is going to be awful for everyone (basically). If you are still in high school I would make your goal to get out alive, don't take things too seriously and try not caring about the popular kids. They are just as stupid as you are. Some of them will end up not growing up and going nowhere. Other might end up actually growing up and being just normal people...or maybe even your friends.
  • The lazy version (Score:3, Informative)

    by gribbly ( 39555 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:40PM (#5329145)
    For those to lazy to read the article, the salient points appear to be:

    1) There is a correlation between being smart and being unpopular.

    2) The reason it's hard to be smart AND popular is that being popular takes up mental bandwidth that most smart people would rather use "making great things" (rockets and computers are used as examples). "Few smart kids can spare the attention that popularity requires."

    3) The reason "popular" kids persecute "nerds" is that, in general, pushing others down lifts you up and makes you feel better. Also, persecuting nerds is a kind of bonding process for "popular" kids. "...nothing brings people closer than a common enemy".

    4) Things are different when you leave high school. In fact "nerds collect in certain places and form their own societies where intelligence is the most important thing." (e.g., university).

    That seems to be mainly it. Interesting reading... it matches up with my experience of high school. Certainly the worst time of my life (so far).

  • The Nerd Myth (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mikosullivan ( 320993 ) <miko.idocs@com> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:40PM (#5329146)
    Allow me to take this opportunity to state that the whole nerd mythology is a load of crap. The stereotype of the smart but bullied science nerd is no more accurate than the universe of other racial, sexual, whateverual stereotypes out there.

    Speaking as a former member of the bottom rung of the high school social ladder, here's how things were in my high school:

    • The jocks weren't stupid: both of our valedictorians were jocks
    • The popular kids weren't all jerks: in fact many of them were popular because they were, gasp, nice people who happened to have mastered the baffling rules of high school social life
    • Many of the unpopular kids were jerks: in fact, some of the worst bullies I had the misfortune of knowing were roundly disliked.
    • Let's not forget the artsy types: forget the artsy girl in the paint-splattered overalls and square glasses who catches the quarterback's eye. The kids I knew who excelled in the arts also excelled in social life and in other endeavors.
    • Mix-n-Match: In fact, there were almost no patterns. There were smart/popular/nice people, stupid/popular/nice people, smart/popular/jerks... pick one from each menu and I could probably remember an example. I'll admit there were a few general rules (I never knew an unpopular football player) but generally it all boiled down to how well you could handle yourself in the tough social situations.
    It's all just stereotypes, folks. The many complaints we have here in /. about how society perceives technology and technologists are largely based on these stereotypes.
  • by sheyal ( 319005 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:54PM (#5329300)
    Half the replies on here are whining from folks about how "elitist" nerds are. NONE of you even think to ask how that attitude a) may have been adopted by nerds or b) if that's just yet-another social stigma populated by anti-nerds (ya know, like, way back in, like, high school?)

    Nerds weren't just the smart guys who used computers. They were kids in band (yes, I was) or theater. They were ANYone who liked to learn, and not all of them were "unbathed savages" as one particular must-have-been-a-jock pointed out.

    So many people on here are JUST like the adults of today: so EAGER to blame the problem on the victim. How many of you actually understand the point? How many of you went through the hell that is 7th, 8th, and 9th grade? No, the blame OBVIOUSLY must be that smart kids don't bathe. That's it.

    News. I bathed, I wasn't particularly socially unsmart, I was actually somewhat big (180 in 9th grade, and that wasn't fat). But I got crap too. Sure, after 7th grade no one had any guts to actually fight me (it helps when you're four inches taller than everyone), but the hierarchy was clear. And I wasn't alone.

    So, instead of modern day American society, where it must ALWAYS be the minority person's fault, or the woman's fault, etc., why don't we OWN UP to the problem and try to fix it, rather than shove it under the carpet and pretend it doesn't really happen like so many American adults of today?

  • by MORTAR_COMBAT! ( 589963 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:57PM (#5329340)
    I wasn't exactly popular, and in fact was a pretty big-time nerd. However I still picked on the kids 'nerdier' than me because I was too immature and insecure and just plain ignorant to know what I was doing was the same exact thing that all the 'cool' people were doing to me.

    That's it. Not missing out on 'prom night', not missing out on beer and sex and all that (which came in the dozens later). The only thing I look back on and regret are the few times when I snapped and put down people who I felt were even 'lower' than me. God, I hope they are kicking ass out in the real world and I hope they don't give me a second thought.
    • Hmm. My regrets from HS?

      1. Not beating the crap out of people who pushed me around
      2. Not getting laid more
      3. Not skipping more
      4. Not taking any programming classes, or even any computer classes (hey, I was gonna be an architect).
      5. Going to the shittiest school district in central Texas (Del Valle - may you rot in peace...)
  • by trcooper ( 18794 ) <`gro.tuoder' `ta' `pooc'> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @05:59PM (#5329368) Homepage
    No, you were not unpopular because you were smarter than everyone else. If it makes you feel good to think that, then fine, keep lying to yourself. There were many other reasons... Maybe because you didn't try to be social, maybe you smelled funny, maybe you shunned things like physical activity all together, maybe you came to school each day looking like a dork. I don't know but there are thousands of reasons you may have been unpopular.

    Slashdot and some of its readers seem to enjoy to perpetuate the myth that all athletes and popular people in high school are dumb while the unpopular people are for the most part misunderstood and are getting the short end of the stick.

    Being liked isn't tough. For the most part if you just follow three rules you aren't going to be shunned.

    1) Personal hygene. If you smell like feet, and your greasy hair doesn't look like it's been washed in days, people aren't going to like you. Shower daily. Wear deodorant. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Wear clean clothes.

    2) At least try to be social. People don't like people who don't talk or won't look them in the eyes. Smile, say hi to people you may not even know. When you talk to someone look at them.

    3) Maybe try to have similar intrests... If you shun everything most people like, you aren't going to have anything at all in common with anyone are you? I'm not saying you have to become a rabid sports fan, or become glued to watching whatever TV shows kids these days watched... But a little effort to have some of the same interests of your peers goes a long way.

    These three rules not only work in high school they also work in real life.

    • 1) Personal hygene. If you smell like feet, and your greasy hair doesn't look like it's been washed in days, people aren't going to like you. Shower daily. Wear deodorant. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Wear clean clothes.

      I had good hygene, the bullies didn't seem to care. I was a little smaller than average until midway through Jr. High, at which point the physical bullying tapered off and the emotional harassment started up.

      2) At least try to be social. People don't like people who don't talk or won't look them in the eyes. Smile, say hi to people you may not even know. When you talk to someone look at them.

      I tried that at first, and it worked in elementary school, i had friends and stuff. Then i got into Jr. High. One of my friends "became" popular and started bullying me, maybe to prove his allegience to his new friends, i don't really know. Other's picked on me too to a greater or lesser degree. Do you know what a fairly normal reaction to that is? To _hide_! If talking to someone will get you teased and bullied, then you tend not to speak up. You stay quiet, stay in the corner, try not to attract anyone's attention.

      3) Maybe try to have similar intrests... If you shun everything most people like, you aren't going to have anything at all in common with anyone are you? I'm not saying you have to become a rabid sports fan, or become glued to watching whatever TV shows kids these days watched... But a little effort to have some of the same interests of your peers goes a long way.

      Some of the people i had similar interests in turned on my and became bullies. By the time i found other people with similar interests, too much damage had been done to my socialness. When i found a group of people who had the same interests as me but didn't seem to get bullied (they were a Trench Coat Mafia type group) i desperatly wanted to belong, but it didn't seem to work. I was _already_ interested in the same things as them, anime, RPGs, computers, computer games. And we got along okay when we were together in class. However after school they would go off on their own and i wasn't invited. I hoped that if i showed enough obvious interest in their activites, that they would notice, decide i was worthy, and invite me to join them. However by that point years of hiding had destroyed almost any ability to try and actively ask them if i could participate, and i never worked up the courage.

      Part of what makes the misfits unpopular is stuff they do, but part of it is how others treat them, and social preconceptions in place before they entered the picture, and part of it is psychological damage done to them by previous bullies.

      I was rejected by the nerds, how sad is that?

  • by DunbarTheInept ( 764 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:00PM (#5329369) Homepage
    The reason for the bullying in school as opposed to out in the "real world" has nothing to do with maturity. The reason bullying stops after people leave high school is that high school is the last place where you are actually forced to spend time with people you don't have anything in common with. After you "get out" you no longer have to spend time with people you don't like just because they are geographically nearby and living in the same school district. And it goes both ways - the bullies are no longer forced to spend time with the people they don't like, and so their anger toward these people fades too.

    I suspect that if you took about 1,000 random adults, and forced them into a program where they have to spend 7 hours a day in the same building, doing the same activities with each other, for four years straight, that even among the "mature" adult population you'd see bullying problems resurface. And NO I'm not talking about working in an office or a factory, because that's not a random sampling of adults.

  • OH MY GOD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:25PM (#5329670) Homepage Journal
    I can't believe this made Slashdot, I really can't belive it. Well, now that I think about it, I can belive it. I'm just dissapointed.

    I saw the article on another site, metafilter, I think. and I thought it was idiotic. Basically a winy "People didn't like me because I wasn't smart." rant, with absolutely no scientific grounding whatsoever.

    Really, it's just excuse making. "nerds" don't want to believe they aren't popular because they lack social skills, but because they are feared for their intelligence.

    It's just not true, there are smart people who are social, and *ghasp* there are smart people who play sports, believe it or not. There were also outcasts who were idiots.

    I have a simple rule that applies to just about any kind of argument, especially sociological things like this. Show me real data, or shut the fuck up. An anecdote from a biased, self-serving viewpoint is not data.
  • by slux ( 632202 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:26PM (#5329703)
    I don't think being smart and getting good grades in school are really mutually inclusive. The way the school system works, you can get good grades just by working hard and having a good memory for example, you don't really need to be all that smart. OTOH, smart people don't have to be all that interested in studying or even necessarily good at it. I personally partially lost interest at some point in senior high (the equivalent of it here) and junior high wasn't challenging or interesting at all.

    I agree that we shouldn't be so self-centered as to think we are the smart ones and be so quick to classify people as intelligent and dumb. I should know as to a certain degree I used to think that way back in high school but while not everyone who is "smart" is bound to be a nerd and unpopular, I do think that Paul Graham's observations do have some value.

    I was unpopular back in high school, a nerd (still am I guess, but definitely not the same kind of nerd). I can think of at least one reason for it.

    I didn't really care about what I looked like. I had many interests and used to think it was not important. I just wore what I had and didn't go into shopping sprees to find cool clothes. Nerds usually have glasses too, I don't think it's because they've looked at the screen too much. They just don't look good and that is not good for popularity. Only later did I start to realize that I needed to dress well in order to gain more acceptance but it was too late then. Many nerds and other individuals concerned with everything else but how they look also do this in their adolescence too, of course. But as Graham points out, it isn't really a problem anymore. My father was one of those people, however, and my lack of interest possibly was partly due to him as well.

    I've decided that I will try to dress my children better and educate them about it when they reach that part of their life. Probably not the most important thing on your checklist for raising children but something I'd like to get right for my offspring. :)
  • Mentoring? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lpret ( 570480 ) <lpret42@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @06:47PM (#5329929) Homepage Journal
    I think one of the things I noticed most in the article by Graham was that kids don't realise that the world they're in doesn't matter. When I was in middle school, there was a programmer at my church who was willing to take a few hours a couple of days out of his busy week and sit down and teach me programming basics. It was working with him, and seeing people respecting him that helped me look past the ridicule I recieved at school and instead focused on the sheer joy I recieved from programming.

    It seems to me that what we really need is some sort of nerd mentoring. I'm in college right now, and it'd be ideal for me to go out and find a middle school kid who fits the nerd profile and help them learn to program. That self-confidence that is born from knowing you have valuable life skills is something that any preteen could use.

  • by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @07:05PM (#5330167)
    It's not the 18 INT that gets you stuffed into a locker, it's the 9 Charisma.
  • by ruzel ( 216220 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @08:04PM (#5330740) Homepage
    although, everybody was very sensitive to their needs.

    But even better:

    "And if teenagers respected adults more, adults also had more use for teenagers. After a couple years' training, an apprentice could be a real help. Even the newest apprentice could be made to carry messages or sweep the workshop.

    Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend."

    I don't think this point can be underemphasized. We think nothing of having a free *intern* in the office. Why couldn't a fourteen-year-old come into the office and hang around and ask questions? In some companies, it would be totally looked down upon. Frankly, in mine, I would consider it to be a boon to a parent's productivity -- and make them feel much better when they can tell the little jerk to go make copies.

    I just generally agree with Mr. Graham's views that our education system is generally like a prison system. Kids need to be out in the world exploring. The two main reasons I got through high school unscathed was because I was surrounded by beautiful countryside to play around in and when I went off to art school, I went to a place where my talents were appreciated for what they were. Everyone in my high school had a fairly mutual respect for one another and I think that stemmed from the faculty repeatedly telling us that we were special. Most of my friends thought that the computer skills I had inherited from my nerd Dad were "totally awesome. You know about this internet stuff?" It was practically science fiction to some of them.

    I guess I'm just trying to say here that I was really blessed in my experience and I wish all kids could have that. There is something wrong with the system and we all need to focus on that. Really I think that what Paul Graham is saying, what it boils down to, is that children are the only reason society exists.
  • by Julian Morrison ( 5575 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @10:54PM (#5331879)
    The article says "Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food"


    - if there weren't a minimum wage law making low-employables merely unemployable

    - if there weren't age related employment bans and/or social-services snooping

    - if there weren't irreducible minimum red tape and tax burden making every employee cost, even if they are a volunteer

    - if young people were not forced en masse into "education" whether they were willing to learn or not

    ...then would teenagers still be useless? All these things were not present so recently as the earlier half of the 20th century, and there was no "teenaged hormone madness" back then.

    How many jobs REALLY NEED a college degree to actually DO the job? (Rather than merely as a "is more intelligent than a goldfish" checklist item, to winnow the resume pile.) How many of those could not be instead learned apprentice-style, working up from office coffee-maker and gofer?

    Not vastly many. As demonstrated by the fact that many college dropouts go on to become successful earners, once they've conned their way into their first job.

    Truly, school is not merely a prison, but the very need for it to be there in the first place is a socially (and governmentally) constructed fiction.

    Oh, and as to the badness of letting teenagers run around at liberty: observe the ruin and havoc created by homeschoolers. (What, there isn't any? How surprising.)

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"