Monday, April 16, 2007

Why Geeks Should Study Acting

Chad Fowler says the best thing you can do for your career is destroy the geek culture.

He's right. And it's not just good for your career; it's good for your mental health as well.

Everybody knows that in the world of open source, community involvement is at least as important as the underlying technology. The landscape is littered with failed projects where great technology lost to great marketing. The success story of the moment is absolutely a marketing success and a social success as well as a technological success. Yet one of the worst ideas of the geek culture still persists - the idea that social skills are unnecessary, so much so that having a mild form of autism could even be considered a good thing.

The headline for the Wired article in the autism link is "The Geek Syndrome." The tagline? "Autism - and its milder cousin Asperger's syndrome - is surging among the children of Silicon Valley. Are math-and-tech genes to blame?" My emphasis.

That's the real reason geeks need to study acting. The idea of math and tech genes. It's disgusting.

If you're a geek, you probably come from one of a small number of specific ethnicities, compared to the larger total number of ethnicities available. If you're a geek, you probably don't work with many women, and if you do, those women are mostly receptionists, management, or marketing - in other words, if you're a geek, you're unusual if you work with women at all, and very unusual if you compete with those women intellectually.

And the idea of "math and tech genes" could sound very reasonable to you.

This is why you need to study acting.

If you study acting, you'll learn the social skills you need, but you'll also get something infinitely more valuable. Despite what you may think, acting is actually intensely competitive. People think acting is like just standing around talking; in reality, it's more like boxing.

If you study acting, sometimes you'll win; sometimes you won't. You'll compete with women, and sometimes you'll lose. You'll compete with people from outside the usual narrow range of ethnicities, and again, sometimes you'll lose. And if you're honest with yourself - if you approach acting the same way you approach anything you genuinely want to do well - you'll realize that some of the times you lost, you lost because you were outsmarted; and some of the times you won, you won even though you were outsmarted.

The average run-of-the-mill geek is outsmarted by women in the workplace so infrequently that sexism is the great ugly underbelly of the tech industry. The average run-of-the-mill geek comes from a narrow range of specific ethnicities, and is outsmarted by people who fall outside that range so infrequently that the idea of "math and tech genes" seems plausible. To anybody outside the geek culture, "math and tech genes" sounds like the kind of sick bullshit you'd hear from a Nazi eugenicist, but within the geek culture, it's taken to be so obviously beyond even debating that Wired can put it in a tagline without irony or fear of backlash.

Guess what?

Math and tech genes don't exist.

Your environment shapes you, and if you're a programmer, you're in an environment where you're consistently identified as being smart, and where the people you share this distinction with all share a variety of irrelevant genetic commonalities. If all those women who are smarter than you never come into your environment, you're not going to realize they exist. If all those scary people from outside the "normal" ethnic range who can outsmart you never come into your environment either, you won't realize they exist either.

Now this sounds like an argument for peace and universal harmony; but it sounds this way because if you're reading this, you're probably a geek, and if you're a geek, you're probably ignorant and you're probably isolated, and since ignorance and isolation lead to arrogance, that means that if you're a geek, you're probably arrogant. This is not an argument for peace and love; it's an argument for self-preservation. If you're a geek, your probable ignorance and probable isolation are probably a problem for you. One time I lost a great job due to the corporate/political machinations of a black woman, and the thing is, she wasn't even being particularly subtle. She could afford to be obvious; she was operating in the shelter of a blind spot. If she had been a Chinese dude, I would have seen it coming.

So I kind of lied. This is an argument for peace and love and all that hippie stuff. But I lied to make a point. Really, like every argument for peace and love, this argument for peace and love can also be seen as an argument for self-preservation. Because an argument for peace and love is always an argument for self-preservation.

The point of destroying the geek culture isn't just that we need to change society and save the world. The point is also to destroy the geek culture within yourself, so that you're not one of the people losing their jobs because they bought into the geek culture's bullshit and neglected their social skills. Be instead a good programmer and a good marketer - because you are in marketing. Everybody's in marketing; the only difference is between people who know they're in marketing and people who haven't figured it out.

Update - the Aspberger's thing is total bullshit, by the way. Amateur office psychologists have diagnosed me with both Aspberger's and ADHD. Both diagnoses were wrong. In the Aspberger's diagnosis, I was merely concentrating; in the ADHD diagnosis, I was merely having fun. A personality is not a medical condition.


  1. *snort*
    creepy truths abound.
    very nice writing.

  2. Just what I needed to read right now.
    Strange how the universe sometimes conspires.
    Thanks, mate.

  3. Yes, the universe does conspire! I just finished writing a reply to a post in an online classroom about how the educational system funnels people into categories. The topic was about how engineeers are often horrible communicators. My take it that no one expects them to communicate, so no one bothers to teach writing and speech skills to the nerds and geeks.

    Anyway, I finished writing that post and decided to browse Lorelle on Wordpress, found a link here, and the rest is history
    Good article. I actually thought about taking acting lessons to improve my social skills. I don’t think I’m too far gone in the social spectrum, but I often get beat up in office politics quite badly. I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse that I’m not alone.


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