Monday, June 27, 2005

Why nerds hate sport.

Have your ever noticed that Nerds generally don't like sport much?
(and I use the term to refer to fellow nerds with nothing but affection. Go buy the T-Shirt)

For instance, it's diabolically easy to beat Stilly at ping pong.
(To be fair, the guy just learnt to ride a bike.)

Me, I care a little about sport. I can appreciate a great sporting moment - as an example, I fell out of my chair during the Rugby World Cup Final last year. I'll follow the Cricket, but only with a mild level of curiosity. I can remember enough about weekend footy to hold my own in one of those tea-room conversations. But if all the rules for all the sports in the world just spontaneously fell out of everybody's brain tomorrow, I wouldn't cry.

Let's face it - Life is really complicated. There are seemingly endless traps and pitfalls of responsibility and obligation, crazy people and weird unforseen, inexplicable events. There are thousands of different goals anyone could strive for, many with no clear indicator of success...

And so it goes that if you can understand the Linux kernel, or something as innately evil as emacs, then you must be able to do pretty much anything. Nerds wear their insight as a badge of pride - that's why they love things that are innately hard to grok. They love command line interfaces, and magic words and secret chord combinations, things that mere mortals can't understand. Nerds pride themselves on their mastery of extremely complex systems.
It's the thing that they have over the rest of us. For example I don't know who invented brainfuck, but I guarantee they were a card-carrying nerd. The heroes emerge as people who can demonstrate the most magical skill in this ultra complicated world. Like the guy who wrote this.

What's this got to do with sport? Well - sport is exactly the opposite. It's a reduced instruction set. Sport takes complexity out of life. You can't touch the ball with your hands. The goal is twofold. Get the ball in the goal, stop the other guys from getting a goal. There are only eleven of you. Time is limited.

This reduced instruction set makes it far, far easier to pick a hero. And people love heroes. Kids have posters of their sports heroes on their walls - when you're nine, most people can understand the rules of soccer. It's easier for more people to see who's good or bad when you reduce the rules. That's why sports analogies are so prevalent in the business world - They're easy to understand.

I guess that's why sporting heroes like David Beckham or Shane Warne have such huge followings, while nerd heroes like Linus Torvalds or John Carmack remain relatively unknown in the wider world.

What can we nerds learn from this? Maybe that sometimes, to advance our cause, we need to make things simpler. Make it easy to pick a hero. Make it so more people will understand.

Microsoft and Apple learned this, and that's why they have such influence. The threats for Linux to take over the corporate desktop haven't materialised, because it's too nerdy. Too commandy or chordy or emacsy. And don't give me that crap about all the great windowing systems out there. Not one Linux user I've met ever grabs their mouse when pressed to do something serious - it's always straight to the shell.

(Of course, it could just be that nerds suck at sport, and had to find something else to do....)

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