Sunday, March 20, 2011

Math, Science, and Nerdiness

The Social Network, Mythbusters, Barack Obama - in 2011 nerds have won the hearts and minds of people everywhere.  The pied piper of nerdiness, Weird Al Yankovic, has been entertaining crowds for over three decades.  The song "White and Nerdy" (released in 2006) went platinum and became the biggest hit of his career thus far.  Weird Al's Twitter account currently has around two million followers.  Back when Weird Al first gained popularity, a listener may have kept their closet fandom a secret.  Now 18-34 year old males flock to Cartoon Network to watch Adult Swim TV shows with characters like Weird Al on a daily basis.

Shows such as Mythbusters, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory make math and science relevant to young viewers.  Whereas older generations had precious few science fiction outlets (mainly books and movies), children today have an endless amount of scientific and technological entertainment at their fingertips - computers, cell phones, tablets, video games, etc.  Gamers view World of Warcraft (WoW) as a way of life rather than merely a game.  Players of WoW can spend years developing their characters, community and even conducting virtual business transactions in game - all chronic habits parodied on the Web Series "The Guild."

Since "nerd" is the new mainstream, "hipster" seems to be the 2010s word to describe adolescents who wish to convey intellectual superiority.   According to Urban Dictionary, hipsters are "a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter."  Hipster may sound like a new concept, except that in the 90s that definition meant "grunge," in the 80s "punk," and in the 70s "hippie."

Unfortunately, much like the preceding groups promoting counter-cultural ideas, most hipsters do not seem to be trending towards the math, science, and engineering fields.  While young generations today have access to the world's information in their hand with their smartphones, many spend way more time updating Facebook photos than on learning the computer programming languages used to create the community in the first place.  The world continues to drown in a financial crisis engineered my mathematicians on Wall Street creating derivative markets that many people refuse to try and understand.
The field of robotics continues to produce machines which outperform workers across the globe.  How long can society remain content to watch an elite group of scientists and engineers produce a future beyond our collective intellect?

We no longer have excuses.  It is no longer uncool to learn.  The information is right here.  Let's do the work.

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