Thursday, May 29, 2008

The unbearable banality of David Brooks

By non sequitur

Let's begin with what's really important here: myself. I've changed my nom de blog from jeffaclitus (or whatever it was the last time I posted all those months ago) to non sequitur. He not busy being born is busy dying, Only he who changes stays akin to me, etc.

I haven't posted much in the past year or so, but I couldn't resist a quasi-public forum to ridicule this column by David Brooks. Brooks's basic argument is that nerds have gone from pathetic wedgies-in-waiting to confident cultural icons.

But even as “Revenge of the Nerds” was gracing the nation’s movie screens, a different version of nerd-dom was percolating through popular culture. Elvis Costello and The Talking Heads’s David Byrne popularized a cool geek style that’s led to Moby, Weezer, Vampire Weekend and even self-styled “nerdcore” rock and geeksta rappers.

Hey, thanks for alerting us to the existence of Elvis Costello and David Byrne. Oh, but wait--Vampire Weekend! Uh-oh, someone knows a kid in college. But what about the Decembrists? Are they not nerd enough or not cool enough? Or did they just not show up in Brooks's frantic googling of "cool nerds"?

The future historians of the nerd ascendancy will likely note that the great empowerment phase began in the 1980s with the rise of Microsoft and the digital economy. Nerds began making large amounts of money and acquired economic credibility, the seedbed of social prestige. The information revolution produced a parade of highly confident nerd moguls — Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Larry Page and Sergey Brin and so on.

Yeah, you're right. No one has ever made fun of someone who knows a lot about computers. Certainly not Bill Gates.

But the biggest change was not Silicon Valley itself. Rather, the new technology created a range of mental playgrounds where the new geeks could display their cultural capital. The jock can shine on the football field, but the geeks can display their supple sensibilities and well-modulated emotions on their Facebook pages, blogs, text messages and Twitter feeds. Now there are armies of designers, researchers, media mavens and other cultural producers with a talent for whimsical self-mockery, arcane social references and late-night analysis.

I never thought I'd say this, but we're looking at the poor man's Tom Friedman. Where Friedman parades a long-list of well-known and well-placed people he "was just talking to at Davos," all reiterating the same twenty-year old platitude about globalization to which Friedman's devoted his column (and which he delivers with all the breathless enthusiasm his 90 IQ can muster), Brooks just lists a series of, well, not-very-recent technological and internet developments, apparently thinking that this shows him to be astonishingly au courant (what is this "Facebook" of which you speak?). Because nothing says "I know all the cultural trends" like suggesting an intrinsic link between text messaging and nerdery (or geekdom). Who's the purest embodiment of nerd chic you know? Idk, my bff jill?

Then there's Brooks's description of these new "cultural producers
with a talent for whimsical self-mockery, arcane social references and late-night analysis." I mean, come on. I don't know anybody like that. I mean, I'm certainly nothing like that...just because I blog under the name "non sequitur" and have already made snarky references to Vampire Weekend and the idk girl...

They can visit eclectic sites like Kottke.org and Cool Hunting, experiment with fonts, admire Stewart Brand and Lawrence Lessig and join social-networking communities with ironical names.

Seriously, this line made me laugh out loud. Oh, those kids, with their ironical names. And their experiments with fonts. In my day it was mind-altering drugs, but hey, times change.

There's really not much point in quoting and mocking the rest of the article. My favorite part comes at the end; it's a line set off from the rest of the article, written in italics: Paul Krugman is off today. It almost reads as an apology. In any case, it should.

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