Why Nerds are Unpopular

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athelas
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Why Nerds are Unpopular

Postby athelas » Mon Jul 09, 2007 4:25 pm UTC

I found this interesting article, which makes several interesting claims about social status and public schools in general. To summarize:

1. Nerds are unpopular because they "serve two masters", caring more about being smart than being popular. Since maintaining popularity is a full-time job as practiced by most schoolkids, they'll inevitably fall behind

2. Public schools today are essentially boxes where parents dump children during the day so that they can get their work done. Any educational function is usually perfunctory and second-rate.

3. The persecution exists because in school, children are left to create their own societies thanks to the minimal involvement of the leaders (teachers), allowing for a dog-eat-dog society.

4. As quasi-prisons, schools are insulated from the outside world; school existence is essentially without any real goal. In the real world, when there is a contest without any significant criteria, it's called a popularity contest. That is exactly what schools are.

It's a bit long, but a really good read; my summary does not do it justice. Anyhoo, thoughts?

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Postby TheTankengine » Mon Jul 09, 2007 4:45 pm UTC

I don't appreciate any of those ridiculous generalizations.
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Postby crazyjimbo » Mon Jul 09, 2007 4:55 pm UTC

I haven't read the whole article, but at about halfway through, I'm going to call bullshit. It sounds like the author is making their assumptions based on watching chick flicks and teen angst movies. Sure I can't comment on the American system so much, but I've never heard of a real school that's anything like that.

At my school, the 'smart' kids were just as popular as the 'non smart' kids. The smart ones were witty and funny, and generally respected by their peers because of it. Sure we had groups, but to class one group as more popular than the other would be stupid. People from the 'nerdy' group (none of which where exceptionally intelligent) had just as many friends as the footballers, and indeed, many of the footballers were very clever.

Maybe your schools really are like the movies, but if they are then I feel sorry for you America.

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Postby zenten » Mon Jul 09, 2007 4:58 pm UTC

My high school school had popular smart kids, unpopular not so smart kids, as well as unpopular not so smart kids. Being too dumb got you laughed at though.

However, being "nerdy" was not appreciated, if that makes any sense.

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Postby Wordmaster » Mon Jul 09, 2007 4:59 pm UTC

Reads like an entertaining personal narrative rather than a well-researched essay. Any real, non-anecdotal evidence for this stuff?

It still hits on some key issues (American schools, from the perspective of the student, are usually centers of socialization rather than education) but it's not exactly academic.

Oh, and by the way:

It's important to realize that, no, the adults don't know what the kids are doing to one another. They know, in the abstract, that kids are monstrously cruel to one another, just as we know in the abstract that people get tortured in poorer countries. But, like us, they don't like to dwell on this depressing fact, and they don't see evidence of specific abuses unless they go looking for it.


This is, as TheTankengine says, a ridiculous generalization. Any teacher worth his or her salt pays attention to the student body inside and outside the classroom, and we are constantly distressed at the horrible things kids do and say to one another. Unfortunately, there are plenty of teachers NOT worth their salt, but those that are work diligently to reduce the bullying and posturing that goes on in so many forms in American schools.

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Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Jul 09, 2007 5:03 pm UTC

In my own experience and observation, being smart and nerdy was fine, as long as you were physically attractive and therefore popular. The smart and nerdy kids who were not exceptionally good-looking were typically maligned and harassed, and this was typically.... me.

Also, if one more person says to me "Oh, it probably wasn't that bad," I'm going to fucking go mental.

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Postby Brian » Mon Jul 09, 2007 5:05 pm UTC

Being smart seems to make you unpopular.


No.

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Postby Jach » Mon Jul 09, 2007 5:18 pm UTC

I think it's more that smart people tend to be more antisocial at school (unless it's full of other smart people), and prefer not to have as many friends or be the center of attention. That's been the case around here, anyway. But we aren't bullied or beaten up because we're nerds; we're just respected from a distance and sometimes ignored, which we prefer (no I don't want to engage in small talk with you...). Well, I suppose the smaller nerds might get beaten up, I've been lucky with a height that most people don't have, so that probably intimidates them :twisted:. It's more common to see two dumb jocks fight over something as silly as 'one looking at the other'.
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Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Jul 09, 2007 5:22 pm UTC

Well, is this about popularity, or about how the 'unpopular' are treated, or bullying? They're mostly separate issues, since there were lots of non-popular, or un-popular, kids who made it through school without being bullied or harassed.

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Postby kilgore trout » Mon Jul 09, 2007 6:40 pm UTC

Being smart does not necessarily equal being a nerd. There are plenty of smart individuals, who also are popular. Personality is more of a factor in popularity. The article is not valid, and is based off assumptions, and generaliztions. As much as I would like to get really fired up and debate this article, there is just not enough substance to spark a good discussion.

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Re: Why Nerds are Unpopular

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 09, 2007 7:30 pm UTC

1. Nerds are unpopular because they "serve two masters", caring more about being smart than being popular. Since maintaining popularity is a full-time job as practiced by most schoolkids, they'll inevitably fall behind


No, (unpopular) smart kids are unpopular because they are socially inept. Just like the unpopular dumb kids. The popular smart kids, like the popular dumb kids, are so because they have some social skills.

Sure, if you're defining nerd to include a bit of social ineptitude (I haven't read the article itself), then nerds are unpopular. But that's about as enlightening as an article about how so many bachelors seem to be unmarried.

I graduated at the top of my high school class. Everyone knew who I was, and pretty much everyone who knew me personally liked me. I wasn't especially physically attractive, and didn't have any girls (that I know of) with crushes on me the way some of the athletes had. But I had a lot of friends, and they weren't all nerds themselves.

Of course, it's also worth considering who I myself chose to associate with most. The people I found interesting weren't the stereotypically popular/preppy types. So I didn't spend time with that type, and never became close friends with most of them. One can't exactly blame the overall social environment of public high schools for the fact that nerds themselves tend to self-segregate. (After all, this trend continues to some degree throughout life. Look at this site, for example.)
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Postby UmbrageOfSnow » Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:40 am UTC

I went to a quite small high school (graduating class of 70ish) and I think that smaller schools present less of the social problems for "nerds". Many of us smart kids, while not necessarily playing sports or drinking with what traditionally would be considered the "popular" clique, had about equal popularity.
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Postby 22/7 » Tue Jul 10, 2007 8:20 pm UTC

I've found that being physically attractive tends to trump just about everything else in being popular in high school, but a close second is definitely social skills.
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Postby Minirogue » Wed Jul 11, 2007 5:30 am UTC

well...I made it to about the third paragraph. At my school, you had people who hung out together, and other people who hung out together, and then some groups didn't like other groups or whatever... In all 4 years of high school, I never once heard anyone actually use the word "popular" to describe another person. Also there were smart people and dumb people everywhere, but as 22/7 said, physical attractiveness is what it really comes down to. None of my friends were particularly good looking, nor am I, and I noticed that all the good looking people were usually friends, but they didn't actually think that they were in any way better than the rest of us for any reason...well, sometimes, but that is a natural human flaw.

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Postby Peshmerga » Wed Jul 11, 2007 5:53 am UTC

Nerds aren't popular because they dress poorly, lack social skills, spend a lot of time on the computer playing video games, don't have a car nor a job, are skinny and pasty white (or really fat and hairy), and have some form of genetic disposition that would land them into such a position of nerdness such as tiny arms or an awkward face.

And glasses. All nerds wear glasses.

If you don't look like Image that then you're not going to be popular.
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Postby __Kit » Wed Jul 11, 2007 12:59 pm UTC

Its because some nerds are arrogant and give as all a bad name.

AND

because people in schools think popularity = being an ass.

At my school anyway. My school is such a FUCK!
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Postby TheTankengine » Wed Jul 11, 2007 1:46 pm UTC

Peshmerga wrote:Nerds aren't popular because they dress poorly, lack social skills, spend a lot of time on the computer playing video games, don't have a car nor a job, are skinny and pasty white (or really fat and hairy), and have some form of genetic disposition that would land them into such a position of nerdness such as tiny arms or an awkward face.


It's all so horribly, horribly true.
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Postby ehiunno » Wed Jul 11, 2007 2:26 pm UTC

<----- non socially inept, okay looking, complete nerd with a beautiful girlfriend (who also happens to be pretty nerdy).


if I do say so myself.

so, the stereotype its not always true

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Postby Peshmerga » Wed Jul 11, 2007 3:01 pm UTC

Oh no, I completely agree. I'm not bad looking, have a car, a job, a sense of adventure, and a beautiful girlfriend to boot. I also play video games constantly, come to this forum, and am really skinny!

But I tried really hard to have the things I have now- maybe nerds just don't try because they're scared.
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Postby scowdich » Wed Jul 11, 2007 3:46 pm UTC

In my experience, there's different subsets of nerds:

There's the ones that are not, and never will be, popular - the ones that play Magic in the library after school on Thursdays.

There's the ones that are somewhat popular, and may not really count as nerds - they may be more accurately described as geeks, depending on your definitions. I knew a guy in high school who was in AP calculus and bio, and played varsity football (he's an extreme example, though).

Then there's the nerds that manage to blend the two categories - they're the ones that hang out and can feel comfortable with both parties. Fortunately, I fell into this category. I still managed to do some (very) nerdy things, though...I designed t-shirts for our AP physics class, for instance. Varsity physics FTW!

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Postby ehiunno » Wed Jul 11, 2007 4:41 pm UTC

varsity physics?? I need one of those shirts.

I know a guy who is a recruited D1 Swimmer at DUKE, and is also a Computer Engineer currently interning at JLab. Now THAT is extreme.

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Postby PhantomReality » Wed Jul 11, 2007 4:44 pm UTC

"Nerds" are anti-social and group together...seemingly arrogent...simple jealousy anyone?




But honestly I think the "nerd" phenomenon doesn't exist that much anymore...by my high school was pretty fucked up, nerds WERE the cool kids.
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Postby doomofdoom » Wed Jul 11, 2007 6:38 pm UTC

Way back when (actually, only two years ago) I was in high school, the social life was highly stratified. I did a lot of stuff in high school. In addition to being salutatorian, I:
-played on the soccer team
-sang in choir, was in marching band and percussion emsemble
-was highly involved in theater as an actor and tech crew chief
-was part of my schools science olympiad team
-and I was involved with student council (which, mind you, is more of a popularity contest/status then actual leadership)

It seemed like nearly everyone at my highschool knew who I was, and I could easily fit into just about any social group. But who did I choose to hang out with? Not the popular people (although, in hindsight, I probably would have had more hot girls that way), but the quiet, nerdy, smart people. Most of them weren't nearly as busy as I was with my activities, but they were smart and thought for themselves. During lunch, we would sit outside at what we dubbed "the zen tree," a tree with a picnic table underneath. Nearly everyone else at the whole school would crowd themselves into the cafeteria, or what we dubbed "the sheep pen." Anyone who really wanted to be any measure of popular ate in the sheep pen.

Interestingly, I think I may have broken the system. A couple of my good friends and I started an underground movement to get one of our buds, Winston, a skinny little Asian kid (who also was the valedictorian of our class), to be prom king. It worked. And so, possibly the nerdiest guy at the entire school became prom king. On the final final ballot were three football players, and Winston. Basically, what happened is that everyone who was 'popular' split their votes three ways between the football douche bags (pardon my french) and everyone else at the school rallied behind Winston.

I came back from a year of college and found out that another good friend of mine (and fellow dungeons and dragons player), a skinny, nerdy little white guy (who also happens to be gay), was elected prom king that year.

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Postby Invisible_Insane » Wed Jul 11, 2007 7:00 pm UTC

Read about half the article, realized I'd seen 'Mean Girls' already (I was on a flight to London, and I'd aleady exhausted all other possibilities), and stopped.

There were roughly 4000 people in my highschool, making it far too large to be dominated by 'popular' people. Some people who did incredibly stupid things might achieve recognition within two or three social circles outside their own.

I was somewhat well-known in high school, for a few reasons:
I was on one of the largest track teams in the city (huzzah for instant 'friends')
My unusual appearance (My hair is copper-colored. I am <pc>african-american</pc>)
I was a notorious wiseass. I still am, really. Lots of people told me I was the 'smartest person they knew', and to my knowledge, this inspired no burning hatred.

In short, nonsense.
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Postby lesliesage » Wed Jul 11, 2007 9:41 pm UTC

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Postby iknoritesrsly » Wed Jul 11, 2007 9:52 pm UTC

Mighty Jalapeno wrote:In my own experience and observation, being smart and nerdy was fine, as long as you were physically attractive and therefore popular. The smart and nerdy kids who were not exceptionally good-looking were typically maligned and harassed, and this was typically....[not] me.


pretty much what MJ said.

i don't think popularity necessarily has anything to do with smarts at all. my evidence of this is that my highschool had 6 valedictorians and most of them were very popular, likewise, we had a few mentally challenged people who were equally popular (for different reasons).

i would further qualify, however, by saying that, popularity doesn't hinge always hinge on the same specific thing such as looks, or smarts, or knowledge, because people become popular for weird and sometimes unexplainable reasons. (i.e. it can even be as arbitrary as having an older sibling or friend who is very popular).

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Postby Aglet » Thu Jul 12, 2007 12:11 am UTC

Interestingly, I think I may have broken the system. A couple of my good friends and I started an underground movement to get one of our buds, Winston, a skinny little Asian kid (who also was the valedictorian of our class), to be prom king. It worked. And so, possibly the nerdiest guy at the entire school became prom king. On the final final ballot were three football players, and Winston. Basically, what happened is that everyone who was 'popular' split their votes three ways between the football douche bags (pardon my french) and everyone else at the school rallied behind Winston.


Just like in Heroes!

Anyway, I think it's a careful balancing act. If the school is really small (graduating class can't be more than about 200 people, I'd say), the popular kids are too small in number to do anything. If it's too big (graduating class about 400 or bigger, maybe), then the nerds can group together and happily ignore the rest. In between, perhaps, is where we get the sort of situation that Paul Graham is talking about.

Also, Mean Girls rocks.
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Postby __Kit » Thu Jul 12, 2007 1:31 pm UTC

The way I see it is there are no popular people.

At my school there are the people who try, and do a SHITLOAD of extracurricular activities. These people are generally nice, hard-trying.

Then theres the downers, who think they're tough, but are just asses, and they may shout abuse every once in a while because they don't really give a ---- if they get in trouble.

I don't personally get hassled, at all, but a couple of my friends do on occasion :(
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Postby ehiunno » Thu Jul 12, 2007 3:02 pm UTC

And so, possibly the nerdiest guy at the entire school became prom king.


I am probably in the top 5 nerdiest people at my school, and I was Ringdance (Junior Prom) king.

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Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Thu Jul 12, 2007 4:18 pm UTC

ehiunno wrote:
And so, possibly the nerdiest guy at the entire school became prom king.


I am probably in the top 5 nerdiest people at my school, and I was Ringdance (Junior Prom) king.

A friend of mine got elected Prom King.... she was a lesbian.

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Postby TheTankengine » Thu Jul 12, 2007 6:09 pm UTC

Mighty Jalapeno wrote:
ehiunno wrote:
And so, possibly the nerdiest guy at the entire school became prom king.


I am probably in the top 5 nerdiest people at my school, and I was Ringdance (Junior Prom) king.

A friend of mine got elected Prom King.... she was a lesbian.


Please tell me this is true.

It is way too awesome to be true.
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Postby ehiunno » Thu Jul 12, 2007 6:34 pm UTC

thats awesome.

One time they were dong the nominations for the (ALL FEMALE) homecoming court, and my class had a sub. A friend said my name (I am a male) and she put it on the list... I got enough seconds to make it to court.

but noooooooooo some snooty bitch that wanted to be on court got pissed off because it wasn't fair to the girls that wanted it. This girl wanted all her life to be on court and was the most conceded superficial, etc person and once they took me off she STILL didn't make it on, lmao.

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Postby misskwiz » Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:07 pm UTC

Seems like a lot of people stopped half way through or didn't read it at all. Which is fine but I thought the last half was a lot better then the first half. I enjoy Paul Graham's writing (I've read almost everything on his website) but he should stick to writing about what he does best, programming.

I don't believe that the situation he describes as why nerds are unpopular is true for my school, or of other schools. But I can certainly imagine it being true for some, or at least in the past.

But anyways, to be honest, I don't really care about that.

The much more interesting part is the second half of the essay where he describes schools as being "prisons" (quoted because its a silly way for him to have put it). School isn't jail time. And its not "dog-eat-dog" either. But at least from my experience, High School, is pretty much a place to leave us during the day (Don't know if its so they can get work done though although it makes sense).

I don't believe its the best use of my time. I would much rather be some place free of distractions learning by myself (at my own pace, which is so much quicker then a public school could ever offer), or maybe, just maybe instead of going to school I could have a programming job. Getting real world experience on something I love to do and will most likely be interested in for the rest of my life.

Although the problem is I'm not "the average teenager/student". And that's what public schools are here for.

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Postby 3.14159265... » Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:19 pm UTC

I used to give advice to all my "cool" friends (which really were my only friends since I don't like law abiding book worms much either, and in a school of 1000 it was hard to find another person that wanted to get drunk on a beach at 4am go swimming, come back and talk about the Basel problem).
My advice to them on how to get 5% more in math, was to wear tighter pants. My advice on how to get 20% higher in chemistry was to get nervous every time a girl talked to them and snort when they laughed. My advice on how to get 80s-90s in a class, was to show up one day dressed up as Yu-Gi-Oh or something.

Isolationism is more voluntary than you'd think.
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Re: Why Nerds are Unpopular

Postby thedancecmmndr » Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:07 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:I graduated at the top of my high school class. Everyone knew who I was, and pretty much everyone who knew me personally liked me. I wasn't especially physically attractive, and didn't have any girls (that I know of) with crushes on me the way some of the athletes had. But I had a lot of friends, and they weren't all nerds themselves.


Says the man with a frog on his head... :-)

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Postby PhantomReality » Sun Jul 15, 2007 5:56 am UTC

3.14159265... wrote:I used to give advice to all my "cool" friends (which really were my only friends since I don't like law abiding book worms much either, and in a school of 1000 it was hard to find another person that wanted to get drunk on a beach at 4am go swimming, come back and talk about the Basel problem).
My advice to them on how to get 5% more in math, was to wear tighter pants. My advice on how to get 20% higher in chemistry was to get nervous every time a girl talked to them and snort when they laughed. My advice on how to get 80s-90s in a class, was to show up one day dressed up as Yu-Gi-Oh or something.

Isolationism is more voluntary than you'd think.



That's fucked up...but sounds strangely familiar.
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Postby __Kit » Sun Jul 15, 2007 10:06 am UTC

Also I think I'm incredibly popular (no reason I wouldn't be) I'm nice to everyone, and everyone thinks I'm real cool, and can relate to them. So yeah, I'm popular, sorry guys :P ...

Though I'd imagine most xkcdians being popular
=]

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Postby lorenith » Mon Jul 16, 2007 6:17 am UTC

I dunno, at my school the teachers were pretty involved with the students, and the "nerdy/intelligent" group was actually pretty dominant in most of the classes. Everyone had their specific groups, but no one was really bullied or anything like that. Even if there wasn't always respect the groups would just stay away from one another in that case.

Coming from an American public high school too, maybe my school is just an insanely huge exception though...I wouldn't really know since it's the only one I ever went to.

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Postby LSK » Mon Jul 16, 2007 12:57 pm UTC

I'm a nerd, and I'm one of the most 'popular' people in my class. I'm kind, that's why. Unrelenting kindness and willingness to forgive and stuff like that will make people quickly forget that you can't dance or anything of that sort.

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Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 16, 2007 2:54 pm UTC

I think the general consensus here is "not being a complete dick works wonders for getting people to like you". In high school, I knew quite a few nerds who were complete dicks, just like many of the football players were. No one really much liked either group, though the athletes were more likely to be fawned over by popularity whores.
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