Back before computing went mainstream in the early 2000s, at which point it was suddenly socially acceptable to spend your weekend nights on the internet, it was left in the hands of the the people who craved power in order to make up for their basement-dwelling, successless lives. It was the revenge of the nerds.
Before the nerds, computing belonged to pioneers and people who were fascinated by the power of the machine. They tended to be eccentric, bathe little, spend many hours computing, and have underdeveloped social skills. This provided a gateway for those who simply were socially inept to have power, because they could imitate the originals. They were fascinated by the ability of the machine to give them power.
In this way, computing from the 80s through the present has been somewhat like white nationalism: because it permitted anti-social behavior, it drew lots of people who were fundamentally incapable of being social.
Just as in the movie Revenge of the Nerds, their fantasy follows a Revolutionary narrative. Long oppressed, the nerds band together and displace the natural leaders who have held them back, and then a new nerd order brings neo-Utopia to the suffering.
Unfortunately, that is not how it works out. People with no social skills or ability to deal with reality outside of a computer or math textbook tend to make bad decisions because they have partial intelligences; they are good at one skill, but not generalized thinking as is required to understand human interaction or the world at large.
In fact, we might see them as people who channeled all of their functional ability into a single skill, but at the expense of function anywhere else. They claim to be geniuses, but in fact they are the antithesis of genius, which is a flexible and adaptable general intelligence. They are clever, but merely so, and only in a narrow zone where the wide range of possibilities offered by life is reduced to a narrow channel of symbols and rules.
The same ineptitude that confines them to this state is revealed once they have power and money and can act out their little plans. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Y Combinator, and their founders do well with technology, but when they try social engineering or solving real-world problems, they generally fail or at least, fail to achieve the massive results they thought they would.
Engineering, including computer engineering, has more than a “culture” a mindset, and that consists of looking at narrowly-defined rules and finding ways to apply solutions that technically work. Much like being a lawyer or politician involves technicalities, or a carpenter must trust the measurements given by a client, these professions are the antithesis of focus on the real world; they like a narrow symbolic representation of it regulated by rules based in human assumptions.
That results in the production of “nerds,” or people who hunch in dark rooms memorizing things in order to be powerful with them. The good nerds then move on to do other things with their time, so that they understand not just how to apply knowledge by why and for what goals. The vast majority remain hunched in the dark, studying the screen, trying repetitive solutions until they get the right one, while nourishing themselves on Soylent and bathing in Right Guard.
The nerd mindset alienates the individual from life. It assumes that life, like computers and math, should be distilled to a series of hard-edged square rules and be based in deconstruction, or separation of different threads of meaning rather than holism, or attempting to process them at once. The nerd views the computer and deconstruction as the source of his power.
As a result, nerds disdain many of the joys of life. They eschew bathing and complex cuisine; they see social interaction as meaningless unless routed in discussions of how to improve the world with technology. They have no need for ornamentation or elegance, and prefer utilitarian but slouchily comfortable living, the equivalent of sweat pants and beanbag chairs but in all areas of life.
America was not built on nerds. American culture — derived wholly from Germanic cultures, including the Anglo-Saxon roots of England — emphasizes realism (not pragmatism, which too often means “compromise”) and the pursuit of joy, which is the responsibility of each individual. It recognizes that no amount of improvement by technology changes the conditions of life or the obligations to the individual to master his own fate and find purpose, meaning, and some measure of joy in life to balance the pain of death.
These two clash because for society to be functional, it cannot be run by the nerds. The same may be true of our internet industry which seems to be rapidly imploding. It, too, is under assault by the nerd mindset. As one women in technology opines, nerd culture may be responsible for the gradual irrelevance of Silicon Valley:
As a woman in tech, I’m sick and tired of dealing with social outcasts in an everyday basis. None of my non-STEM friends deal with things like this. Every time I talk to them about having to work with people with zero social skills, that don’t share any interest in normal social events, that have zero social experience, that get creepy, that are the epitome of the neckbeard, I’m treated as though as I did work in some sort of hospice for the mentally challenged. They get to work and collaborate with normal, well-adjusted coworkers, which makes their work more fulfilling, makes them want to improve and get involved, and even have repercussions in their social lifes. Me? It’s like dealing with freshmen from high school. And I dread the possibility of encountering them outside work. Like, fear-for-my-life level of dread.
The real problem with IT? It’s filled with socially inept white men. Get rid of them, and see the industry boom. You think the Knuths, the Dijkstras, the Hamiltons, the Shockleys, the Moores or the von Neumanns of the past were socially unadjusted? They were normal people. They managed to get along with normal people…It’s impossible to work with people who are better described as “androids trying too hard to forget they are in part humans”. It simply doesn’t work like that.
And you are seeing the backfire already. China is gaining ground. So does Europe. Places where the neckbeard, socially inexperienced virgin stereotype of an IT worker doesn’t really exist. I’ve worked there with amazing and talented people who also knew how to relate to people, how to collaborate, how to work in groups, how to socialize. They were creative. That’s why you see a drop in quality in Silicon Valley: they are hiring robot-wannabe, academics-obsessed manchildren who have known (or worse: cannot know) any other life than coding/software/engineering. Of course they are going to stunt. There’s nothing new. No new ideas, no new worldviews. The same always-repeated mantras, dogmas, rule-of-thumbs and “deities”/idols they worship.
The revenge of the nerds consisted of the normalization of being a weird guy who lives in the basement with his computer and consumes nothing but chicken tenders and Mountain Dew because, in the internet age, that behavior was suddenly correlated with the middle class vision of steady jobs and fat paychecks.
If you needed more proof that the middle classes consistently render themselves into intellectual eunuchs by allowing themselves to be bought for pay stubs and an illusion of respectability, here it is. Despite knowing that this lifestyle is unhealthy and leads to warped bodies and brains, the middle class got dollar signs in its eyes and praised the dot-com “miracle.”
In the meantime, these hostile nerds are using social engineering to re-create a world in their image through the same mechanism, namely because as the current economic trend, it is where the money seems to be easily made:
Just eight companies—Facebook Inc., Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc., Alphabet Inc., Baidu Inc., Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings Ltd.—have increased by $1.4 trillion in market cap in 2017, a sum roughly equivalent to the combined annual GDP of Spain and Portugal.
As the tech sector has become bigger and more influential within global stock indexes, its ascent has helped take U.S. and Asian emerging stock markets to record highs—but left behind the less tech-heavy bourses of Europe, Canada and Australia.
…Global tech stocks are up 41.2% this year, roughly double gains of the broad-based MSCI AC World Index. So far in 2017, the tech sector is up 20.5 percentage points more than the next best sector, materials—leading by the widest margin of any sector since 1999, according to analysis by Morgan Stanley.
The U.S. tech sector alone now has a combined market capitalization of $5.4 trillion dollars, bigger than the $5.2 trillion in the entire MSCI Emerging Markets index or the roughly $4.8 trillion of its eurozone counterpart, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Public interest drives value, and this boom resembles the air time before a bust is revealed, which seems likely given the declining actual value of these tech companies. Until the markets have another fixation, most people will continue to invest in this pre-collapse sector.
In addition, the social engineering agenda of social media companies seems to be in decline as well. As The Age of Ideology ends, people are less confident about attempts to make human beings perfect through propaganda and punishment for a lack of political correctness.
The nerd mentality does not allow them to tackle these textured and nuanced views of reality, however. To the nerd, everything in the world boils down to a few equations, a statistical analysis, and super-smart software which seems to work for most of the people, most of the time. Time has shown however that nerd notions of good lead to manipulative evil:
We have a burgeoning genre of “OMG, what have we done?” angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.
Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves.
…Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines – intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history – or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated.
In the nerd world, the formulas reveal the right thing to do in the universal non-context of the laboratory, and this is then applied to the real world. Any bad results are seen as nonconforming data or user error, not a failure of the model to be specific enough, because the power of models is that they are generalized to the universal degree, allowing simple functions to have wide-reaching effects.
This mentality lends itself naturally toward social engineering, or having a centralized authority decide what is right based on their own formulas, most of which fail to recognize that their basic assumptions (like “all people are
the same equal”) are in fact not logical but reflect the needs of the model, namely to have something on which the formulas can act.
That faith in the process of “doing good” — even when the results end up not being so good — has imbued the nerd herd with the type of arrogance that comes with the fanatic. For example, they seem to talk a lot about privacy, but then get caught spying on users while lying about it (via /.):
Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers — even when location services are disabled — and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy. Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice. The cell tower addresses have been included in information sent to the system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages on Android phones for the past 11 months, according to a Google spokesperson.
When you are organizing humanity into a better world, nothing is wrong because everything is a means to that end. You get away with whatever you can get away with. And the nerd, hunched over his keyboard with eyes alight as he dreams of power, simply presses the button, accountable to nothing in his amorphous digital world.
It would be anomalous if it were odd. But instead, it happens across the industry because they also employ the nerd pathology in viewing you as their property to exploit, manipulate, and socially engineer:
A new study finds hundreds of sites—including microsoft.com, adobe.com, and godaddy.com—employ scripts that record visitors’ keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior in real time, even before the input is submitted or is later deleted.
A study published last week reported that 482 of the 50,000 most trafficked websites employ such scripts, usually with no clear disclosure. It’s not always easy to detect sites that employ such scripts. The actual number is almost certainly much higher, particularly among sites outside the top 50,000 that were studied.
…Englehardt installed replay scripts from six of the most widely used services and found they all exposed visitors’ private moments to varying degrees. During the process of creating an account, for instance, the scripts logged at least partial input typed into various fields. Scripts from FullStory, Hotjar, Yandex, and Smartlook were the most intrusive because, by default, they recorded all input typed into fields for names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, addresses, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth.
In the typical pathology of nerds, they do not understand the market for their technology, only that it works as instructed and therefore “should be” successful, so they find a way to make it pay for itself. In this however we find the seeds of their doom: the business model is not complete because it is based on the technology alone, and so it will eventually fail.
As we wait for that grand day, nervousness spreads through the markets. Tech stocks are trading at all-time highs but no one trusts the data that tech companies are reporting, or that these gadgets actually return value at all. As a result, smarter investors are pulling out — just as power users are withdrawing — setting the stage for a grand twilight of the nerds.