If you believe the origin story depicted in Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network, a young Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook in order to meet girls.
Creative fiction or not, the real-life Zuck — who recently became a father to a baby girl called Max — wants the world to know about his far more progressive views on women.
And that of course is a good thing. The ratio of men to women working in the technology industry continues to to be massively skewed. Facebook’s own 2015 diversity report shows it is still a workplace dominated by white and Asian men, with 68 per cent of employees being male — down a mere one per cent from the 2014 skew.
At such a rate of progress the company might tip over from hegemonic masculinity to gender parity round about the time Zuck’s daughter is headed to college.
So what has Zuck just said about women and tech? That girls should aspire to be nerds.
He was responding to a comment posted by grandmother Darlene Hackemer Loretto to a status update on his Facebook (where else?) about his personal challenge for 2016 (more on that here) — in which Loretto mentions she tells her granddaughters to “date the nerd in school” on the off chance they turn out to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuck counters with: “Even better would be to encourage them to *be* the nerd in their school so they can be the next successful inventor!”
He’s basically making the same point as the new female-led Star Wars film — in which Rey, the skilled engineer protagonist, is depicted rejecting multiple white knighting attempts, because she knows how to take care of herself thank you very much. So well done Zuck for being zeitgeisty as well as right on.
And it certainly is excellent advice. Nerd has no gender. It’s just another word for expert.
Thing is, Zuck’s response glosses over another pertinent issue here: consumption vs creation.
Being the nerd is better achieved if you are directing your time to single-mindedly learning a set of skills, rather than being suckered into grazing within walled garden content farms like Facebook where mass market entertainment, co-mingled with advertising, is the ceaselessly refreshed algorithmic dish of the day, all the better to keep a passively engaged user-base clicking.
Facebook is a spare time killer. And spare time is where nerds are born — or rather self-made, by building and breaking things of their own making. Not by posting comments congratulating someone else on their creative new year plans.
If the Facebook origin story is true, Zuckerberg built his empire out of a sense of personal frustration. In 2016, personal frustration is just another Facebook status update — where would-be-nerds are encouraged to channel energy that might have been spent developing themselves into sustaining his eyeball-hijacking machine.
Want to be a nerd? Quit checking Facebook every five minutes and go build something of your own.