Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The rise of the bros, and the fall of the geeks

One of my favorite movies when I was growing up was the 1984 classic, "Revenge of the Nerds." If you haven't watched it yet, take two hours to do so--yes, it's available on Netflix:

The movie really spoke to me--a guy so nerdy that the kids at my private school for gifted children nicknamed me "Encyclopedia Yeh"...when I was in the 3rd grade.

Yet today's viewer would probably find it hard to believe. The'd marvel at the concept of computer programmers and homosexuals being abused and socially shunned. I'm glad that times have changed in the past 30 years, and that we live in a more enlightened society that tries to fight bullying and respects intellect.

At the end of the movie, the protagonists make a moving speech:
"Gilbert: I just wanted to say that I'm a nerd, and I'm here tonight to stand up for the rights of other nerds. I mean uh, all our lives we've been laughed at and made to feel inferior. And tonight, those bastards, they trashed our house. Why? Because we're smart? Because we look different? Well, we're not. I'm a nerd, and uh, I'm pretty proud of it.

Lewis: Hi, Gilbert. I'm a nerd too. I just found that out tonight. We have news for the beautiful people. There's a lot more of us then there are of you. I know there's alumni here tonight. When you went to Adams you might've been called a spazz, or a dork, or a geek. Any of you that have ever felt stepped on, left out, picked on, put down, whether you think you're a nerd or not, why don't you just come down here and join us."

Today, "The Big Bang Theory" is the #1 show on TV, and Chris Hardwick has his own talk show. Yet while I'm glad that nerds have a respected place in society, it saddens me to see what we've done with it.

Maybe it's because more recent generations of nerds haven't felt the same persecution, or that geekdom has become cool. Whatever the reason, nerds now act like the bullies that once terrorized them.

Today's startup culture can still be open and inclusive, but it is often closed and cruel as well. "Brogrammers" act like the jocks of yesteryear, privileged and arrogant. Worse, we're so self-righteous that anyone we disagree with suffers the wrath of the Internet mob, without due process or restraint.

Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the wisest man who ever lived, said, "If you want to test a man's character, give him power." We've been tested, and I'm not sure I like the results.

2 comments:

Arik said...

Perhaps being a nerd is different today. It's not about being a programmer. A lot more people are tech-savvy today and know how to program.
The brogrammers, who party and outcast those who are different would not be considered nerds back in the day. Because it's suddenly cool to be a computer geek (geek-chic?) who runs a startup, it draws many people who otherwise wouldn't do it.
Perhaps some people are over-compensating for being outcasts at a younger age, but being an nerd meant being put aside because you were smarter, or followed your interests, which were not necessarily main-stream. Throwing the best parties, and being considered cool because you have a startup does not make you a nerd.

Chris said...

Interesting point, Arik. During the dot-com boom, the Valley was overrun with MBA and management consultants who saw starting companies as the path to easy money. Maybe this is an analogous situation.