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Advice for geeks?
September 30, 2011 12:52 AM   Subscribe

What advice would you give to a young geek? What are the best sites with that advice? I have a geeky younger brother, and I want him to avoid many of the pitfalls and social isolation that hit me and have hit others. I've already sent him The Five Geek Social Fallacies, the Nice Guys rant, and at least one Something Awful thread. Similar sites, as well as personal advice, would be appreciated.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn to Human Relations (49 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
How old is your brother?
posted by lukemeister at 1:07 AM on September 30, 2011


His age would be helpful to know. You might consider posting it to help people target their advice.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:09 AM on September 30, 2011


Ah wanted to be non-specific. He's 15, into Warhammer and Lovecraft. Creative, plays an instrument.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:12 AM on September 30, 2011


The Nerd Handbook to appreciate himself as it argues others should, but also How to Win Friends and Influence People and The Miracle of Mindfulness because they're wisdom texts that develop skills / points of view a stereotypical geek could really use sometimes.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:12 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is the two bits of advice I wish I would have had at that age and what seems a similar level of geekery:1) No one will place a higher value on your dignity and happiness than you do. 2) Sometimes, taking a real chance on something good will pay off. If you take no risk, you will reap no reward.
posted by driley at 1:21 AM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think there's nothing wrong with any of that stuff.

Sometimes, social isolation can be a good thing because it gives one time to think and figure out what *they* want - rather than what society thinks is a good plan.

There's obviously someone else who cares about him, who is also into Lovecraft, so it looks like he has a good role model who shares his interests.

I'm a "geek" but I am also happily married to an awesome guy (who everyone thinks is gorgeous and sweet) and have 3 littlies - and I wouldn't trade my geekness for anything.

I like being alone and thinking - and being myself and having the courage of my convictions unsullied by peer pressures, etc.

Anyway, others seem to have posted some good stuff up there - but I think just like a good wine, let him mature - because he will turn out just fine. :-)
posted by efrog at 1:26 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


For a start I would suggest that he ignores the utter dribble written in The Five Geek Social Fallacies. It's up to him to develop and lean as he grows, and he will. Like all of us he will experiment, he will form relationships based in a myriad of interests/likes/desires/uses/needs. He will learn that in some situations talking about role playing games or warcraft isn't acceptable, and in others it is. It's up to him to figure this out.
posted by the noob at 1:50 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the clickthrough rate for advice given to 15 year-olds is.

I think maybe I'd phrase my advice as, "I had problems with A, and B really helped me," versus, "you're the kind of person who is going to have trouble with A so study B carefully, mark my words for I am your elder."

What you do by example will have greater effects than what you try to actively push as a narrative. Kids that age, in my experience, already have ideas about how adults work and take "let me give you advice" or "this is the way the world works" type of statements as projection, as proof of not-getting-it, as wishful bullshit.

So the one thing you can do is to try to give more information about yourself and why you make the decisions you do as you go along. Just so that they have more information to process you with. You might even find out you don't know as much about yourself as you thought.

Anyway by 15, your younger brother could very well have solid understanding of how he compares to you and how he can avoid things you've struggled with. He may understand it better than you ever will. He's like a biological supercomputer dedicated to not being you. Could be you have more to learn from him than the other way around.

</bittermiddlechild>
posted by fleacircus at 1:51 AM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm still figuring most of this out! I want to help him young, before the bitterness and creepiness gets entrenched.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:02 AM on September 30, 2011


There are some relevant discussions of this at Paul Graham's website, including some general advice in What you wish you'd known, and the more specific Why Nerds are Unpopular, which discusses why school is such an artificial environment and why (parts of) the Real World are more hospitable for geeks than the artificial world of school; a brief excerpt:

It's important for nerds to realize, too, that school is not life. School is a strange, artificial thing, half sterile and half feral. It's all-encompassing, like life, but it isn't the real thing. It's only temporary, and if you look, you can see beyond it even while you're still in it.
posted by Jabberwocky at 2:07 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Spent time absorbing as much "non-geek" culture as you can, particularly stuff that's considered part of the cultural canon. A lot of stuff that geeks like and/or is targeted at geeks doesn't actually do a very good job of exploring the human condition, and someone who spends all of their time with that stuff can wind up with a pretty narrow if not downright warped view of the way people (and the world in general) work. So yeah, sure, read comic books, but also read Shakespeare, Donne, Bronte (all of 'em), Austen, Hugo, and Dickens. Watch science fiction movies, but also watch the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Fellini, and Scorsese. Enjoy MC Frontalot, but also take in some indie rock, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan.

In short, you can be a geek, but don't let being a geek and the cultural expectations that go along with that, define you. This will make it a lot easier to relate to others.
posted by valkyryn at 3:30 AM on September 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Your question reminded me of this discussion on the green. Please read it, with special attention to FeistyFerret's comments.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:44 AM on September 30, 2011


Shouldn't post before second cup of coffee: FeistyFerret's advice.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:58 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You aren't betraying your geekdom by enjoying 'mainstream' culture, caring about your looks/clothes, or going out for a drink once in a while. I know a maths professor who's an immensley smart man, but he walks around in a snot-coloured anorak with an enormous rip in the side because he is of the conviction that clothing doesn't matter. Keep clean and take pleasure from clothing, nice food, the odd stupid tune - they won't revoke your geek badge.

Geeks come in many flavours - some of the 'non-geek' things mentioned above are considered by some to be geeky. For example, over here Seinfeld is a show comedy geeks like, because it wasn't mainstream. The people who sit and talk about football for hours are geeks, just another type. I was considered a music geek because I listened to it rather than just had it in the background.

As Valkyryn said, read and read widely. Don't be that guy who only reads non-fiction. As he's a boygeek, and geeks and awkwardness around the opposite sex goes hand in hand, read things written by and about women, don't see them as a mysterious 'other' or the creatures we see in romcoms. Reading helps with this.

Having passions is a wonderful thing and any smart girl (or boy) will find this inexorably attractive.
posted by mippy at 5:00 AM on September 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I question the "social isolation" part of your concerns, because that may not be the issue as such. I fear that your concerns about "social isolation" may lead to advice that he should try to "fit in", and quite frankly, the people who weren't geeks in my high school were people I never wanted to fit in with. A sort of perspective-reality-check would have been far more helpful -- something that reassured me that having only four or five friends that REALLY dug me was way more important and valuable than having two dozen sort-of acquaintances that I had to pretend to be someone else in order to keep.

For the kind of geek that I was ("theater geek"), Glee would have been spot-on. Since he's creative and has performance leanings, that may also help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:02 AM on September 30, 2011


What was huge for me at his age was being brought to places/events where being geeky was the accepted mode. I'm not sure what that would mean in your area: Science fiction convention? 15 is definitely old enough to enjoy the hell of out that.

In my area there's a lot of clubs, shows, and other events where geeks are definitely in the majority. There's a huge sense of relief with being in a space where you're not just accepted, but rather the norm. I would try to share an experience like that with him.
posted by pie ninja at 5:20 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


How's his personal hygiene? This is one area where I think geeks have no defense if they aren't meeting the basic demands of society. Someone who smells bad or has visibly gross teeth is going to have a lot of social problems, and the fix is pretty basic. I don't have any good suggestions for convincing him of this if he does have any, er, weaknesses in this regard; I just wanted to say that I think it's an exception to the otherwise-reasonable sentiment that he should be allowed to embrace and grow into his geekiness freely.
posted by ootandaboot at 5:25 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like Succeed Socially, although it's more geared towards shy/introverted people than geeks specifically.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:48 AM on September 30, 2011


So I'm a self-identified geek, who's also weirdly somewhat of a social butterfly, even though I had little previous social experience before high school.

Things that helped me that I wouldn't have found offensive at the age of 15:

1) Being provided with fictional books that expressed gender relations in positive terms. Science fiction, primarily, by people who knew how to write humans. A plethora of reading material that is fun to read that describes human relations well allows geeks to kind of "game the system": even if they don't have a lot of social experience to personally draw from, they can say, "Oh, it's just like X character in Y."

2) MUSHing-online roleplaying where you need to write characters and interact with other humans in a text-based format. It is very easy to socially experiment there with the privilege of anonymity, to help him find his own voice and comfort zone. Many of these are designed for geekery, and feature worlds that he is probably already familiar with.

3) Go out yourself, and talk about your real life in real detail-including the bad bits about humans, and how you're dealing with them. Don't make this a Teaching Moment-talk to him like you would a regular friend. This will also provide data that can be interpreted for later, without being obnoxious.
posted by corb at 6:06 AM on September 30, 2011


Once he heads to college, his peers in general will start getting a lot more interesting and interested in other people's passions-- this will be a great opportunity to make friendships with people who, in high school, he may not have been able to connect with on that level. If he takes advantage of this, he'll end up with new friends and experience in building friendships with people who aren't superficially just like him, which is invaluable for the rest of his life. Or, more succinctly: don't write people off because of who they were in high school.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:27 AM on September 30, 2011


You know, first you need to get a fix on the kid's problems. Does he want more friends? Does he have any friends? What is he afraid of - existential issues, physical violence at school, being forever alone, that he's actually ugly and horrible? Is he the kind of geek who thinks he's better than everyone else or the kind who thinks he's a freak? Does he have a sense of whether he's straight or queer? Does he interact with adults much? Does he meet lots of other geeks or not? Is he more the brainy type or more the comics-trivia type?

And - is he the type who happily goes his own way or the type who secretly wishes he could fit in?

There really isn't blanket advice for geeks, because there are a lot of ways to be geeky. The advice that makes an average-bright comics nerd happy isn't going to do much for an IQ-off-the-charts kid who's teaching themself Sanskrit; the boy who thinks he's better than everyone else and that others are too dumb to realize it isn't going to be helped by advice for the girl who thinks she's ugly and unlovable.

Insofar as there is blanket advice for geeks, I'd offer: 1. get outside school if you can and meet adults who do interesting things and who will treat you as a fellow human being rather than as a kid; and 2. if you must do stuff for status, make sure it's geek status and not straight-world status - the happiest nerdy people I knew had nerd values, dated other geeky people and made their own tiny hermetically-sealed world; the unhappiest....um, didn't.
posted by Frowner at 6:55 AM on September 30, 2011


I also have a 15-year-old younger brother, who is not exactly sociable or particularly into anything. Anytime I feel like he needs help, I've learned to ask myself: Am I projecting?
posted by Nomyte at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Fitting in doesn't mean forcing yourself to like people or things or activities that you don't. It means simply not acting in a way that isolates you. It is very hard not to build up a Liz Lemon-like defense mechanism of pushing people away in fear of being made fun of. It means having empathy for people who might not have it back. The kid might like Dungeons and Dragons and not like football, but that's no reason to hold those people who like football in contempt.

(Aside: When I was growing up back in the olden times, geek and nerd had different meanings. They weren't pretty, and they weren't about one's interests. They were about one's social behavior. A nerd was the kid who had little social life, but didn't really care. They were there to do their school work. They were the kids who more than likely went on to be quite successful in their chosen field. Geeks weren't just kids with non-mainstream interests and hobbies. The social aspect was negative- they tried to be the jocks of their clique. They played the silly social games of trying to establish pecking orders and maybe even bullying their "lessers". And they would often hold the normals in contempt. It might have been reasonable, as they were likely the victims of bullying, but not excusable. They were the kids who got used by others, and they kind of liked it. They would fix people's computers and do their homework, either out of a desire to make friends and lacking the ability or self-confidence to just be friendly, or out of a more malicious desire to show how great they were, and how dumb the other person was.

I don't like the trend of trying to "take back the word" and be proud of being a geek. It isn't something to be proud of, and being proud of it is what makes one a geek.)
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2011


Have him read "Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo" by Wodehouse.
posted by michaelh at 7:18 AM on September 30, 2011


As a young, self-conscious nerd-man, I often held myself back due to feelings of inadequacy about my appearance, dress, and style. I found these essays about how to dress* to be very useful, because they initiated me into the language of clothing, and therefore enabled me to control the statements I was making with my clothing choices.

Clothing is a language we all speak, and I think a lot of nerds neglect their appearance out of _ressentiment_: because they don't know how to speak clothing, they reject its utility, to the detriment of their own confidence.


* The ones at the bottom, I mean: Suits, Pants, Dress Shirts, and Conclusion.
posted by gauche at 7:18 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm of a generation that is seeing more and more acceptance of the nerdy and geeky. So.. in general, support, help, encourage, but leave him to be just as geeky as he wants to be. Geeks develop at their own pace... High school, to be stereotypical, is not the time for geeks. College + is a geek world. However, stuff like Renaissance festivals, martial arts, volunteering at museums/places with adults/etc can be great for boosting self esteem and confidence and social skills.

Do look at it from a perspective of "what does he actually need help/support on vs what did I get traumatized on at his age' :) .......that said.... I totally would have appreciated some practical experience with girls at his age... I pretty much ignorant and inept till college, and even then there was a learning curve for me. But its ok to go at his own pace... things happen when they happen.
posted by Jacen at 7:24 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Balance. I think if I could distill my advice to my 15-year-old geeky self down to one word, that would be it.

Growing up, I had the luxury of having a fair number of friends even geekier than me, and of being in a big city where I could attend SF cons, so I could really indulge in geek culture. What I didn't get is that there are benefits to being able to participate in mainstream culture—if anything, I wore my geekiness as armor you would need to break through if you wanted to interact with me.

So, yes. Let your geek flag fly. That's totally cool. But being able to pass for a mundane is no betrayal of your innate geekiness, and can make your life better.

I was pretty athletic, especially among many of the geeks that I knew. I suspect that the intersection of geekdom and athletes is even smaller today than it was then. I have no idea whether your brother has any athletic leanings or not, but getting into good exercise habits now will stand him in good stead for the rest of his life. Not all sports are for dumb jocks.

The 5 geek social fallacies are spot-on IMO. Even before I read that document, I've met geeks who were clearly falling into those fallacies and had to wince.

Now, how to present this in a way that a 15yo will not dismiss? I dunno. I think that advice from a respected peer goes a hell of a lot farther than advice from grownups.
posted by adamrice at 7:31 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure you're actuallly a good guide to how to be popular/non-geeky, since you seem to feel you have the same flaws youself that you're trying to guide him away from. That may lead you to project on to him the issues you yourself have.

Also, the geek social fallacies document strikes me as ridiculous. I've known all kinds of socially healthy people who the statements in that document would be true of. Don't confuse him by making him think his natural adolescent tendencies to form intense friendship groups are weird or off.

Ah wanted to be non-specific. He's 15, into Warhammer and Lovecraft. Creative, plays an instrument.

If he's a good musician then the answer is easy -- tell him to practice a lot, join a band, and then get laid with some groupies. 90+ percent of young male bitterness and resentment is just due to not getting laid, once that's fixed you've handled much of the "geek syndrome".

General lessons I do think are worth teaching: habits that isolate you too much from others are bad, fitting into the world and other peoples' ways of doing things is very worthwhile, social facility and fluency are just as valuable a form of intelligence as any other, if not more so.
posted by zipadee at 7:40 AM on September 30, 2011


Insofar as there is blanket advice for geeks, I'd offer: [...] 2. if you must do stuff for status, make sure it's geek status and not straight-world status - the happiest nerdy people I knew had nerd values, dated other geeky people and made their own tiny hermetically-sealed world; the unhappiest....um, didn't.
posted by Frowner at 6:55 AM on September 30
I liked the rest of your advice, but I'm not sure I agree with this. It isn't the sealed off that makes the happy, it is the happy that gives the appearance of being sealed off. They have found a lifestyle and friends that work for them, so they aren't out searching for more. If a person IS not yet happy and content, the act of sealing themselves into a closed world won't help. In other words, they might seem like they are isolated, but they aren't from their perspective.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on September 30, 2011


Creative, plays an instrument.

He will have his entire life to join a marching band-- in high school, explore some other creative musical outlets and activities.

I question the "social isolation" part of your concerns, because that may not be the issue as such. I fear that your concerns about "social isolation" may lead to advice that he should try to "fit in", and quite frankly, the people who weren't geeks in my high school were people I never wanted to fit in with.

You know, though, once you get beyond high school, you find that "normal" people... aren't so bad. Or, at least, you prioritize certain social/personal attributes other than geekiness alone.

2. if you must do stuff for status, make sure it's geek status and not straight-world status - the happiest nerdy people I knew had nerd values, dated other geeky people and made their own tiny hermetically-sealed world; the unhappiest....um, didn't.

Hm. I don't 100% agree here. Your tiny hermetically sealed world is just that... tiny. And it might keep you happy, but it can be limiting. You can be a geek and still have a good, valuable job with an active social life. The people I know who live the most fulfilled lives incorporate their geeky interests into the rest of their lives as opposed to the geek with a menial tech job he uses to support himself while his social life revolves around [geek subculture] events and his [geek subculture] friends and his weekly [geek subculture] potlucks. One of the absolute most valuable lessons I ever learned in my life was learning what forms of status were worth pursuing and what weren't-- just because an activity will gain you status in a certain milieu doesn't mean that it's worth the time that could be spent on other things.

To a degree, I'd sort of argue the opposite of what you're arguing: my advice to a young geek would be that the whole world is open to you, if you just approach it like anything else as a problem to be solved and mastered.

At the same time, if someone regarded me as a geek who was a "project" that needed someone to "expand my horizons" about the non-geeky world, I'd tell them to go f-ck off and die. So there's that.
posted by deanc at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know, though, once you get beyond high school, you find that "normal" people... aren't so bad. Or, at least, you prioritize certain social/personal attributes other than geekiness alone.

No, I know. That's why I was questioning what the source of the concern for "social isolationism" was coming from -- are we talking about someone who can't seem to make any friends at all, or are we talking about a guy who has friends but they're just all in one clique? Because the latter situation will be self-correcting.

(Personally, I didn't avoid the jocks because of any sneering "feh, they're jocks" as much as I avoided them because "dude, they pick on me." The fact that I was avoiding them meant I'd already learned the "don't feel like you have to win the approval of people who are cruel to you" lesson.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on September 30, 2011


Hm. I don't 100% agree here. Your tiny hermetically sealed world is just that... tiny.

Ah, an unnoticed qualifier - "if you must do stuff for status"...meaning, don't spend your time pining for status in the straight world; if you can't do without pining for status, make your own world and make it count.

Although maybe things are different now/where LiB's brother lives - I grew up in a provincial, racist, money-happy suburb where many of the geeks/nerds were siphoned off by the Illinois Math and Science Academy, leaving those of us who [were forbidden by our parents to apply because they felt we needed to 'become normal'....I sigh and repine even now] um, did not go to IMSA very much alone in hostile territory. Quite literally, the people I knew who managed to be happy had their own music/drama world, spent a lot of time in jazz clubs in Chicago and really didn't interact much with their fellow students. In the climate of violence and snobbery where I grew up, this was an excellent idea - I wish that I had had fewer restrictions at home and been less damaged by my earlier experiences so that I could have joined them.
posted by Frowner at 8:15 AM on September 30, 2011


(Also, there's this mainstreaming of "geek" identity that is very different from the late eighties/early nineties - you're simply not a target of as much violence/social violence now if you do drama or are good at academics or like science fiction, and as a result there's a much greater variety of people in those mileux. Which is good, but a little disorienting because there are actually far fewer social commonalities.)
posted by Frowner at 8:19 AM on September 30, 2011


No offense, but you will probably be better off approaching him as an equal rather than a project to be worked on. The few vague descriptions you have listed ("geeky," "creative," "plays an instrument") don't form a basis for any sort of meaningful critique. The best thing— no— the only thing you can do is be a good example and be there for him when he really needs you.

P.S. You say he's into the same science fiction stuff that you enjoy? He probably already looks up to you a great deal. Be careful not to squander that :)
posted by grammar corrections at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2011


Frowner, I noticed the qualifier. Though I guess I'm projecting my thoughts about adult geekhood rather onto this question rather than teenage geekhood. As a teen, the things that contribute most to your happiness are your ability to succeed at something and have a social circle. In that case, succeeding at and enjoying something is more important than being mediocre at and doing something you hate with people you don't get along with... but it's not an end in itself: it a means of finding people and an environment you enjoy while you wait until you leave for college. Adult goals/ends are substantially different, and a tiny hermetically sealed environment is a prison rather than an escape.
posted by deanc at 8:48 AM on September 30, 2011


There is often a subtle (or not-subtle) competition over who knows more among the geeks I know, which results in a continuing series of statements designed to show that one geek knows more than the other. When this is applied to non-geeks, this is very off-putting. Neal Stephenson put it well here, on the paragraph starting with "Chester nods...".
posted by procrastination at 9:09 AM on September 30, 2011


being able to pass for a mundane

This is not a good way of thinking of non-geeks. People with 'cliched', mainstream interests are often far from mundane.
posted by mippy at 9:45 AM on September 30, 2011


> This is not a good way of thinking of non-geeks. People with 'cliched', mainstream
> interests are often far from mundane.

"[CITATION NEEDED]" or at least some clarification of this statement.
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:49 AM on September 30, 2011


I dunno, half the people I interact with at work? The person I sit next to loves Girls Aloud and drinking pints, but she's incredibly funny and entertaining.

It's as reductive as suggesting all geeks have poor social skills, which we know is not a univeral truth.
posted by mippy at 9:51 AM on September 30, 2011


Absorb without discrimination. I love to read, and in high school I read lots of scifi/fantasy. Now, I wish I'd read more stuff from outside those genres. If you like to read, find lists of recommended books or blogs online, at your library, wherever. Ask adults and peers you like and respect for book or blog recommendations. If you find a book you can't get into or a blog author you can't stand, put it aside and find a different one. Read poetry, plays, fiction, nonfiction, news articles, editorials. Read from Geek Canon and Dead White Guy Canon and Minority Canon. Read the blogs the blogs you like link to. Drink words.

The same principles apply if your passion is music, programming, art, film, or whatever else you love without reservation. Learn as much as you can, from as many sources as you can find.

Try to think critically about what you're absorbing. Develop your opinion by thinking or talking or writing. Read or listen to others' opinions. Argue your points or concede them.

Throughout this process, create your own things. Some of the things you create will probably suck. That's okay. Keep going.
posted by icfasntw at 9:52 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mippy: "mundanes" is what my geek friends and I called non-geeks back when I was about 15. These days they might say "muggles" (I guess that makes the Xanth series the Harry Potter series of the 80s…?).

I don't know if the kid in question views the world as I did, but I was phrasing my response as if he does. Also please note: I'm much better now.
posted by adamrice at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2011


I don't have any advice on sibling interaction but if you think he needs some help with social skills (especially in regard to romantic interactions), Graham Mitchell's Don't Be Creepy is a pretty good resource (check out the slides under "talks.")
posted by animalrainbow at 10:43 AM on September 30, 2011


If he comes to you with a problem about girls, let him know that in general the way dating or otherwise wooing the opposite sex works in high school is ONLY in high school, things change when you get to college, and even more when you leave college. For people with not much intellect or stuff going for them, their attractiveness as mates will top out by their early 20s at latest. For geeks who continue to cultivate skills that make them interesting and hopefully earn them money, they might not be at their most attractive as a partner until their late 20s or even 30s. As long as he keeps doing what he's good at and takes opportunities to fine tune his personal style and appearance and social skills, he will find he gets more and more romantically successful.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2011


There is often a subtle (or not-subtle) competition over who knows more among the geeks I know, which results in a continuing series of statements designed to show that one geek knows more than the other. When this is applied to non-geeks, this is very off-putting. Neal Stephenson put it well here, on the paragraph starting with "Chester nods...".

This reminds me of a blog post that my boyfriend brought to my attention (for background: we met as teenagers in a kind of "nerd sanctuary". It's a long story.)

A lot of geeky teenagers (not all, but I know I went through a phase like this, and so did a lot of my friends--the ones I'm still friends with in my 20s are the ones who outgrew this behavior) will develop the behavior described in the post as a kind of defense mechanism. If you're really good at/knowledgeable about a certain thing, you take refuge in it, and that's okay. But it shouldn't translate into denigrating people who don't know that much, or don't like, or are just starting to try out programming/comic books/your favorite genre of music/etc. Being a geek is about having interests, because interests are fun. And sharing your interests is fun, and a good way to have friends. Using your interests as a way to be mean to people? Not so fun.

As a kind of corollary, understand there's a whole world of topics that you don't know very much about, that are deep and interesting and important. Be aware of them, be respectful of people who are interested in them, try one out now and then, don't get tunnel vision. (I really like this comment, and actually that thread has a lot of good advice in this vein.)
posted by kagredon at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2011


What was huge for me at his age was being brought to places/events where being geeky was the accepted mode. I'm not sure what that would mean in your area: Science fiction convention? 15 is definitely old enough to enjoy the hell of out that.

He's going to a Warhammer Games Day today.
Thanks for all the advice. I realize lots of his 'issues' might just be projection. Lovecraft Bro says someone compared him to Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, but OTOH he's got a date on Monday.

I want him to get out of the geeky bubble. I don't think the 'fuck the mundanes' attitude I had at his age his helpful. I'm trying to keep him from using Internet slang in public, letting him know even I don't care about his message board arguments, and keeping him away from my Dad's fedora collection.

Plus the Nice Guy thing. I REALLY wish I'd got that advice early.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:19 PM on September 30, 2011


I want him to get out of the geeky bubble. I don't think the 'fuck the mundanes' attitude I had at his age his helpful.

You had that attitude at his age, but does he have it? And, you wish you'd gotten the Nice Guy message early, but does he need it? He's got a date, that tells me maybe not.

He actually sounds fine. I'd hang back and see whether he actually needs your help, and if so what KIND of help, rather than Thrusting Things Upon Him. Giving him "help" he doesn't need may turn him against you ("jeez, what kind of a loser does he think I am? Fuck that").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Don't be a dick". Good advice from a renowned nerd.

But I would say "don't put yourself in a box". Don't define yourself by other people perceptions, biases and labels. You are not a geek because society says you are. You are not *anything* because someone says you are. Define for yourself who you are and what you are about.

Like the things that you like, and the people that you like. If other people don't like the things that you like, that's their problem.

Be curious. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know". When you discover that you are ignorant about something - don't ignore it, learn about it.

Hang on to your passions - nurture them, develop them. Be a well rounded human. This is what will make you interesting when you're older.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:30 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


My high school geekself was saved by Very Far Away From Anywhere Else. It's by Ursula K. Le Guin, so has a bit of old-school SF cred, but it's about a nerdy high schooler's internal life and his friendship with a musician. It's full of emotional realizations I really needed at the time, and I think every geeky teenager should give it a try. And since it's a book, you can buy it for him as a birthday/holiday present (if the recent edition's cover is too girly, you might be able to find a used version in hardcover, which is plain blue under the kind of tacky dustjacket).
posted by rivenwanderer at 5:06 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I could go back to my high school self, I'd say: "Dude. Learn how to keep quiet and not say the first thing that comes to your mind. Relax. If anything, be the one who has the quality thing to say when everyone else has no idea what they're doing. Relax. Learn how to be a leader. Relax. Learn how to be patient with people. Relax. Talk slowly and plainly, and give people a smile now and then to assure them that everything's ok, because they might feel like you."

That would have made things easier as a nerd who just didn't know how to talk to people at all until I was about 20.
posted by hanoixan at 5:22 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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