Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Will geeks inherit the earth?

Is it a left-brain world with right-brainers far afield or a right brain world with left-brainers far afield? Will right-brainers rule the future, or will geeks inherit the earth? The publishing world abounds with contradictions (some of which I address here).

Its latest contribution, Geeks will Inherit the World, argues that those who were outsiders in high school will ultimately prevail. How does this mesh with my claim that the world is fraught with right-brain bias?

For one thing, most of author Alexandra Robbins’ so-called “geeks” aren’t socially awkward, analytically-oriented left-brainers. Her outsiders include a “popular bitch,” a victim of racism, and a social under-achiever who is openly gay. They're certainly ostracized, at least by some, but not because they’re geeks.

Furthermore, much as they might deserve to, it’s not clear whether any of the particular individuals Robbins profiles will actually inherit the earth—or, at least, more of the earth than their more social counterparts. First, we only see these characters during a year of high school, and not years, let alone decades, into the future.

Second, what does it mean to inherit the earth, anyway? It's easy to proclaim that non-conformists are the true heroes and original thinkers, but how do their lives actually turn out? Many may excel in their chosen careers, but do they really come out on top overall? How many truly non-conformist heroes become leaders? How many truly original thinkers succeed in broadly publicizing their thoughts? In general, no matter how heroic you are in private, and no matter how original your ideas are, conformity, social connections, and social charisma play an enormous role in public success—and even, according to some, in success within your chosen field.

Third, the notion that geeks do better later on in life may conflate two different senses of “doing better later.” Doing better later may mean doing better in the future than other types of people do, or it may merely mean doing better than you did earlier. Many high school outsiders, even those who are properly called “geeks,” are simply late social bloomers, and become, for better or for worse, much more sociable later on--eventually enjoying many of the same perks as their more socially precocious peers.

None of this subtracts from my celebration throughout this blog of left-brainers and of left-brain talents. But, whether the arena is the k12 classroom, Washington politics, corporate America, popular entertainment, mainstream publishing, or even academia (think teaching ratings, collegiality ratings, and the role of connections in successful grant applications), a world that truly celebrated left-brain talents would be look quite different from the world in which we currently live.

1 comment:

LexAequitas said...

I have 2 sons (actually 3, but for this explanation only the older two are needed).

Son one is bright, highly analytical, has a good grasp on logic and math, has a rock-solid memory, is tremendously interested in science and is straightforward and honest and opinionated. He has sometimes rocky relationships with peers due to his honesty and shyness. Similarly, in conferences his teachers dismiss his intelligence as almost an afterthought, and focus most of their attention on whether he's giving them the proper amount of respect/writing neatly/organizing his desk/doing things on their schedule. His grades tend to be highly uneven.

Son 2 (3 years younger) is of about average intellect, has a tenuous grasp of logic, and a poor memory -- but is also friendly, extremely outgoing, and usually cheerful. He makes friends easily, has enough sense not to go against the teacher, and even his rebelliousness/mischievousness is often viewed by teachers with a smile and wink. His great talent is to get everyone to love him.

I can't necessarily say that son 2 will do well in life and son 1 won't. But so far, son 2 is having a far easier time and enjoying his life a lot more.