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Imminent CollapsePart of the Nerd Herd

By Bill Andrews

Did you know that many of us are considered nerds? It’s shocking, I know, but true. The thing is, though, it might be true. Whenever I pass by EC or Random Hall, for instance, much as I love those dorms (and you folks inside them) I am reminded of my nerdic heritage. Even just walking down the Infinite sometimes, I see (or smell) an obvious nerd walking by and think, “boy, they’re in the right place.”

But never am I so forcefully reminded of our inherent nerdity as during conversation. I suppose you might think I’m ahead of the game, that the people with whom I converse can’t be too nerdy because of the very fact that they’re out somewhere, and talking to me. But you forget not only that I myself am a nerd and we all know nerds aren’t scared to talk to each other, but also that being surrounded by nerds all day increases any nerd’s confidence, making conversations that much more likely in all cases. But it can’t make them interesting.

I’ll be honest. This entire column is based on a conversation I overheard near the student center recently. Two guys were hanging out, perhaps even chilling, and one of them said, “Man, I had a rough day today.” The other, presumably his friend said, “Really?” The first said, “Oh, yeah.” There was silence for a few minutes. Finally, the friend said, “So, what happened?” To quote my west campus friends, OMG.

Now, it’s not just this one, boring, awkward conversation that struck me. It’s what it represents: all of us. That’s not to say we’re all shy, socially awkward, smelly engineers, of course; there are a few non-nerdy people I can think of, and I’ve had nothing but lovely conversations with them. And sure, I myself like to think I know my way around an interesting conversation, that I can keep my friends entertained and informed, without making them feel bored or lectured... sure. But I’ve had my share of “So, what happened?” moments too.

I’m sure I’ve gone on and on, refusing to let a bad conversation die, unknowingly prolonging the torture my victim feels. I bet I’ve brought everybody down inadvertently, talking about the death of my orphaned-widowed-differently-abled puppy, or something, at a once lively party. I’ve probably caused an awkward silence or two with a weird comment that was much funnier inside my head (as you well know, dear readers). Like I say, we all do this, not just because we’re human, but also because we’re nerds.

Of course, to be perfectly frank (if somewhat immodest), I don’t really have bad conversations all that often. It helps that I’m somewhat artistically inclined of course, but it also helps to know what to look out for. And I do look out, because much as I enjoy being a nerd/MIT student, I don’t think the bad-conversation directive is worth preserving. It perpetuates a negative stereotype that, while based in fact, is still deleterious to the nerd nation. That is the image people (non-nerd people) have of us already, and we don’t need to add to it.

But, if we as a people are able to overcome this conversation deficiency of ours, it could be the first step on a glorious path. Imagine: today nerds start talking casually and being interesting, tomorrow we might start overcoming other obstacles (general awkwardness, bad hygiene) and perhaps run for political office, and then the day after tomorrow won’t be like The Day After Tomorrow (because nerds wouldn’t let global warming happen all at once like that). Just imagine a world run by this new breed of friendly, sociable nerds that we’ll become; it’ll be a paradise. Even if it isn’t, and we don’t literally end up changing the world (like society always tells MIT students they have to), it can still be pretty nice to be able to talk casually to other people and to be interesting.

As might have occurred to you by now, especially if you are sitting in the middle of Killian Court sweating or getting rained upon, I bring this all up today for a reason. Many of you are commencing soon, and leaving MIT perhaps forever, like my fianc e always threatens to do. You are about to become professional nerds in some capacity (probably), but you have some time before it happens. Make the most of it. See if you can work on your conversations a little bit, try and make sure you’re not boring anyone when you talk, or interrupting them, or being confusing. I know all that’s hard for us, but since when does that stop an MIT student?

After all, a friend of mine once told me (in what I’m sure was not a bad conversation) “pizza is like sex: even if it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” Trust me: conversations are not.