Does Geek Culture Reinforce a Fixed Mindset?

I just read “Nerds, we need to have a talk” at Thingist. It’s about the author’s perception of geek culture as excessively critical, judgemental and impatient with newbies and amateurs. I haven’t been part of geek culture for a long time, so I can’t comment on whether his perceptions reflect the general community, but I can certainly vouch for that attitude at the undergrad level.

One passage from the post struck me. The writer is describing his attempts to learn how to skateboard:

One day at the skatepark I was sitting off to the side just watching everybody else and kind of wishing that I wasn’t there. One of my best friends, Steve, came up to me to ask what I was doing.

“Oh, man, I suck at this. I’m just going to practice at home or something. I don’t want to get into anybody’s way.”

“What? Dude, you look like a weird-o just sitting over here, and you’re not going to learn anything by just staring at that thing. If I ever catch you sitting on this bench again, you’re not invited to the skatepark anymore.” (There were probably quite a few more vulgarities, but this was the gist of it)

I have never seen this attitude in the geek community. It’s always been “You’re doing it wrong, and you should give up because you suck at it.” or “if you’re not using $hip_new_language, then you’re a loser.”

“You’re doing it wrong, and you should give up because you suck at it.” That was pretty much my religion between age 8 and 24; I gave up on so many skills prematurely because I wasn’t immediately good at them.

Maybe it started because I was overpraised, but it never occurred to me until now that the geek culture I immersed myself in in university might have reinforced my mindset, by reinforcing the fear of “looking stupid”.

(As it turns out I never did manage to get past the “looking stupid” phase of becoming a programmer, largely because I didn’t realize that if I kept plugging away at it, I would eventually improve.)


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