Yoky Matsuoka – robotics pioneer, prosthetics visionary, and a leading researcher in neurobotics.
Are geeks getting more ‘respectable’ or acceptable?
In a recent edition of the digital tech show TWIG / This Week in Google, Gina Trapani commented that she thinks over time geeks are becoming more accepted by mainstream society.
She identifies herself as introverted, one of the personality traits often associated with geekhood.
Here is a related post: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?
Definitions for the term “geek” include “computer expert or enthusiast”; “a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual,” and “a boring and unattractive social misfit.”
Trapani and the other hosts for the show – Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis – also commented about the topic in the context of discussing “The Social Network” – the new movie about the founders of Facebook, particularly Mark Zuckerberg.
Also read a thoughtful review by Jeff Jarvis about “The Social Network” in his Buzz Machine post The antisocial movie.
Here is a quote: “The Social Network is the anti-geek movie. It is the story that those who resist the change society is undergoing want to see. It says the internet is not a revolution but only the creation of a few odd, machine-men, the boys we didn’t like in college. The Social Network is the revenge on the revenge of the nerds.”
Leo Laporte mentions speculation about Zuckerberg having Asperger’s Syndrome. And Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Zuckerberg in the movie, reportedly studied people with Asperger’s for his role.
But personality traits of high ability people (such as overexcitabilities) may be misunderstood or misinterpreted as Asperger’s or other dysfunctions.
In his article Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children: Gifted and LD, ADHD, OCD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, James T. Webb, Ph.D. notes, “Some of our most brightest and most creative minds are not only going unrecognized, but they are being given diagnoses that indicate pathology.”
Related article: Timothy Kowalski on Asperger’s Disorder.
Do funny geeks make us more accepted?
The TV series The Big Bang Theory features “brilliant but socially awkward physicists” and has some really fun and witty writing and acting – though I can’t stand watching for more than short periods, on account of the aggressively over-used laugh track.
But does the show encourage more acceptance of real geeks?
Or, did the character of Steve Urkel on the 90’s sitcom Family Matters?
Back to the idea of Asperger’s: an article The Geek Syndrome (by Steve Silberman, WIRED magazine, Dec 2001) speculated that “Autism – and its milder cousin Asperger’s syndrome – is surging among the children of Silicon Valley. Are math-and-tech genes to blame?”
The author writes about an autistic kid who is “building a universe on his computer” and comments, “Once he gets out of junior high hell, it’s not hard to imagine Nick creating a niche for himself in all his exuberant strangeness.”
Social reactions to strange non-typical people
Actor, writer, producer Felicia Day says, “I don’t think I ever knew I wasn’t a geek” in the Girls Go Geek video in the post Felicia Day on developing multiple talents.
My related video: Felicia Day on Being Creatively Bored.
Some geeks (like Felicia Day) may be popular and admired, but others are judged as being “strange” or having “deficient” social skills. Which, of course, can prevent anyone from being more accepted.
But there are also larger issues such as how much mainstream culture is willing to really look at complex issues and appreciate complex people.
In his Huffington Post article Reversing the Dumbing of America, Tom Vander Ark declares, “America is not just increasingly anti-intellectual, it’s often just dumb. The rise of populism is, in part, an unwillingness to engage in the complexity of the society that we’ve created and mistrust of those attempting to do so.”
He thinks “T.V. probably cost America a few dozen IQ points over the last two generations. Will the Internet prove to be more of the same?
“Some critics think the Internet is making us dumb. The Internet fundamentally changes the opportunity set. All the world’s knowledge and all the world’s garbage are both just one search away. The Internet appears to exacerbate innate tendencies — the smart get smarter while others will simply find new ways to waste time or inflict harm.
He asks, “Will the Internet make us smarter? It’s up to us.”