Monday, October 22, 2012

Popularity in high school can predict future success; then what about the nerds like Zuckerberg?


There’s an interesting story in the Huffington Post, that kids who were the most popular in high school actually do make more money later in life. Apparently this was a finding if the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, story link here 

There’s also an interesting column about why nerds are often unpopular. Paul Graham has a column, back to 2003, about the idea that nerds often want to be smart but not be popular; they want to create great things.  This can work in the adult world, particularly if you’re inventing the next Facebook.  But often in high school it can attract outright hostility, because popularity is often a matter of demonstrating your superiority to others in a social hierarchy,  Graham’s link is here.

I think some of this is left over from tribal societies of the past (or in some parts of the world now).  Societies need social structure and some degree of conformity and obedience to survive as a group.  Those who are “different” can be seen as a long term existential threat.   In a “real world” that goes global and becomes pluralistic, difference can be leveraged back into advantage.  I’ll get back to this again soon.

Graham’s take certain bears on the bullying problems.  I experienced a lot more problem in earlier grades; despite the fact that I was a nerd, I simply found my own peer group in tenth grade and we were pretty much left alone.

Today, I noticed a billboard Metro sign for a casino in West Virginia, and was reminded of the fact that many of the television ads against the proposition to allow more casino development has  been funded by the company (Hollywood) with the big casino 80 miles from DC in West Virginia.  Policy arguments aren’t made on the basis of truth; they are based on favoring established interests who have the money to twist the truth in well broadcast media messages.  That doesn’t sound like a good way to get to the bottom of policy questions.  (We still see some anti-libertarian papers expressing concerns about gambling addiction, as in Petula Dvorak's story in the Washington Post Oct. 15, here.) On the other hand, existing interests do give people “real jobs” and are already proving stable income to those with commitments, families to support.  As I wrote about a week ago, it’s very difficult for someone in my position to work in any partisan way at all. 

Below: Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Mt. Mitchell, NC, where I traveled Oct. 1991. 

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