Good Taste Is Bad For You

Like so many in my profession, I loved science fiction while growing up, and didn't get along all that well with my peers. Ok, I admit it, I was a complete nerd. You could spot me walking home from school, the skinny guy with his nose buried in a sci-fi, tripping over the cracks in the sidewalk. I loved the galaxy-sized ideas in those books.

Lately I've been rereading my old favorites, and I now see why my parents didn't appreciate the original Star Trek the way I did, and why so many people are turned off of sci-fi permanently after reading that first recommended title, usually Asimov's Foundation. The characters stink! They're incredibly wooden or shallow or overacted. Ok, it's no surprise to most of you, but I it was a shocking revelation for me.

I had terrible people skills, and Kirk seemed fine to me. As I lived and read more, Kirk got dopier and dopier. Now that I can do the small-talk thing at parties, and can appreciate those movie scenes where they don't say anything or blow anything up, but instead twitch their lips or avert their eyes shyly, Kirk seems positively inane. (Don't get me wrong, I still love him. I just don't have a good reason anymore).


I'll never enjoy Star Trek the same way again. What's scary is that this sort of thing has been happening to me more and more lately. Suddenly French cuisine is better than french fries. A $3000 stereo sounds better than a $200 one. It bothers me when my socks are different colors.

I've gone and developed taste. In fact, in some cases I've even worked at it. I took a class in music appreciation, and tried to taste the subtleties of that expensive Bordeaux I bought last year by accident. So now I have to spend twice as much to enjoy wine the way I used to.

As for science fiction, I still read plenty, but now I only find a couple books a year that are really good. Some of the others, I might as well be reading the lawnmower instruction manual for the character development. On the whole, I'm sure that my improved appeciation for literary subtlety has decreased my overall enjoyment. Good taste is a bad thing.

What Is A Nerd?

Clearly, then, given a choice, one should stick to bad taste. It saves money and makes you happier. Unfortunately, when it comes to people skills (the main culprit in my decreased enjoyment of sci-fi), age brings them to most of us whether we want them or not. You can't help but learn what pisses people off and develop mechanisms to avoid it. Like, when your girlfriend won't talk to you for a week, that's a clue.

Somehow, real nerds have some sort of teflon protection against learning people skills. The wannabe nerds, like me, end up partially adapted to human society, neither fish nor fowl. But real nerds piss people off right and left with nary a clue. These are the guys (yes, even wannabe nerds are allowed to use "guys" to refer to both genders) who still rank the Foundation series in the top ten literature of all time, and who wear funny suits and make respectful hand gestures when Spock enters the room.

Some people disagree, and say that what I'm describing are simply boors. It's true, neither boors nor nerds grok people. But there's a difference. Boors are anti people-skills. They corral you at the party and won't let go, and nothing will dissuade them. Their ultimate evolution is the Jehovah's Witness.

On the other hand, nerds are merely uninterested in people skills. They'll sit quietly until the conversation turns to something interesting, like how much RAM is optimal for a Web server, will loudly derive the solution by constructing a simulator out of olives and celery sticks, and will shut down again. If you were to give a nerd the algorithm for people interaction, he'd use it when appropriate if he didn't have anything better to do.

The really fascinating aspect is that, although somewhat rare, nerds are far more common than the masters of other philosophies. Nerdliness might be one of the easiest paths to Satori for regular people. That sublime indifference to people skills brings a state that's richer and more fulfulling, and the sci-fi is much better. I'll write more about it just as soon as I find my way back.

Substantive changes:
    1998-01-08: created.
Copyright © 1998, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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