Saturday, January 06, 2007

Not "Just for Nerds"

There is a lengthy newspaper article titled "Chess no longer just for nerds: Game gains in popularity thanks to the internet" by Dave Mcginn in the National Post of Canada. Though there is not much new for my normal readers, it's always good to see chess receiving positive press. Here is a sample:

Thanks to the Internet, children and other players no longer need to find a friend at school or even someone in their hometown with whom to enjoy a game; they can easily go online and play fellow enthusiasts anywhere in the world.

Indeed, more than 100 million games are played online each year, Mr. Shenk says in his book.

Even more influential than the Internet, however, is the fact that "nerd" is no longer a term of derision. In a new era in which the richest man in the world is a lanky computer geek, technical proficiency is a point of pride, and T-shirts are sold reading, "Everyone Loves a Nerdy Girl," being a nerd no longer means being a social outcast. Nerdy things have become cool.

"The whole nerd thing has been turned on its ear," says Mr. Shenk, who believes chess is going through "an incredible resurgence on every level."


Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of truth in that.

And the internet is brilliant for chess.

Anonymous said...

yet the internet promotes chess as a solitary game rather than a social one.... For the last couple years, my buddies and i have met at coffee shops for weekly blitz. We get a lot of spectators and (believe it or not) a fair amount attention from females who come over and watch or ask us about chess. Many phone numbers have been acquired.... Chess is a fun way for friends to socialize (& talk smack) in a pseudo-competitive yet amicable setting.

Anonymous said...

I think that's an artificial division though Patrick - the internet can lead to social situations after all.

For instance, I'm actually a member of my OTB club due to someone contacting me via the internet. I've met many people from two correspondence sites I play on as well - one of whom I meet up with now and then a curry shop for blitz :)

Michael Goeller said...

I have to agree with Tom -- I think the distinction is rather artificial. I have had lots of positive contact with others around the globe via the internet and chess. And while I am unlikely ever to meet with most of these people over my lifetime, I consider many my "chess friends" and would extend them the same generosity and friendship that I show others I know face to face...

That issue of "virtual friendships" may connect back to the whole "nerd" thing somehow, since "nerds" have always been known for having virtual relationships with others while their more non-nerdy counterparts are, by comparison, more carnal and vulgar.... Nerds are much more capable of functioning in a mental or virtual realm.

In any event, I do think we have entered a new age where we are finally shedding a lot of our traditional notions about manhood and the body. You don't have to be big and muscular to be cool or attractive to women. In the agricultural and trades-based past, of course, physicality was associated with monetary success and social standing. Today, the opposite is more true. Some traditional notions may survive at lower socio-economic levels (or in the vulgar imaginations of Hollywood script writers), but among the striving middle class the "nerd" is already gaining ground.

Anonymous said...

Studies by Dr. Mehrabian and others have concluded that nonverbal communication comprises 93% of communicated meanings. Nonverbal communication (tone, posture, facial expression, etc) is impossible in "virtual" discourse. Thus, isn't it fair to say that the internet is inherently lacking as a social medium? Isn't it fair to say that internet chess does little for "nerds" in the way of socialization?

My main point is that internet chess is relatively non-social (ie, "nerdy"), while OTB skittles can be HUGELY, enormously social. Compare sitting alone at a computer screen clicking the mouse/keyboard *vs.* slamming down pieces in front of observers at a crowded coffee shop and laughing/talking trash with buddies. Surely this is more than an artificial distinction.

I respectfully think Michael has it backwards; I think "live" communication requires poise, elocution, meaningful eye-contact & quick-thinking while "virutal" communication (ie, *typing*) is crude and primitive by comparison. THere's a reason why many people fear public speaking, not typing! Instead of an erudite "mental realm", i consider the internet to be a cesspool for all things carnal and vulgar, and a place where anonymity replaces accountability.

Michael Goeller said...

Well, you make a good case! I think you should be a lawyer or something.... :-)

Frankly, I was just trying to see if we could connect the two threads -- the question of virtual/real relationships and nerdiness. They may not connect up perfectly in the end. But I don't think I've got it backwards.

As someone who goes to a chess club most weeks (as does Tom, from what I gather), I certainly agree that there is great value in that type of human contact. And playing at the coffeehouse used to be my favorite activity.

It just seems to me that there is some truth in the notion that nerds are somehow better equipped to function in the mediated environment of the internet -- perhaps because they have the communication skills necessary to compensate for the lack of non-verbal communication.

Michael Goeller said...

It might help to first define "nerd." Here is a definition from Wikipedia:

"Nerd, as a stereotypical or archetypal designation, refers to somebody who passionately pursues intellectual or esoteric interests - such as books and video games, rather than having a social life, participating in organized sports, or other mainstream activities. The Merriam-Webster definition is an 'unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.'"

I think Patrick wants to mainstream the nerds. I want to recognize nerd-dom as increasingly mainstream. That seems to me our main point of contention. There's no reason you can't have it both ways, especially since nobody fits the "nerd" stereotype exactly.

Anonymous said...

Patrick - the way you reference Dr. Mehrabian on the nature of face to face communication is illogical. You point out what internet communication lacks compared to face-to-face communication - fine, there are some lacks. But you don't point out what you also *gain* in internet communication, and therefore what face-to-face communication lacks! For instance, physical presence often gets in the way in face to face communication - try discussing the finer points of the Caro-Kann in the showers of your local gym, for instance. Likewise one can research and then reply at length in this media, using structured paragraphs for instance that would be hard to follow face to face. And there can be many voices on the internet, without it seeming like everyone is shouting at once. Often I wish in face to face conversation I could do what I can on the internet, ie, give my response twenty minutes to formulate after a quick visit to wikipedia.

In short - forms of communication are *relative* to each other. They all have gains and lacks compared to each other. There is not one *absolutely* best form of communication, which all others are weakenned forms of.

- Tom Chivers (I can't be bothered to go through the hassle of logging in to blogger-beta and coming back to post this, hence anonymous.)

Anonymous said...

"I think Patrick wants to mainstream the nerds. I want to recognize nerd-dom as increasingly mainstream." This is exactly right. I was just sort of lamenting that the article doesn't mention the former "approach"....

Tom: yes, the internet is unparalleled for proliferating non-emotional information such as facts, structured arguments, & chess variations. "Nerds" have no problem with such lifeless data. But "nerds" sometimes struggle in various social situations where emotional information comprises up to 93% of the total message. In the balance of human life, conveying emotions (love, respect, attention, confidence) is more crucial than conveying data. Yet the internet provides only a small arsenal of smilies ;) for this crucial purpose, which is why it falls short as a *social* medium. At worst, the net may be a sort of crutch that allows "nerds" to socialize and flirt instead of getting outside and developing real-life social skills. I actually know people for whom online gaming and online dating have largely replaced the real-life analogues of those, and i do not think this is a positive trend. Peace out. :o :) ;) :p

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't buy the chess surge concept.

1) Barnes and Nobles and Borders only
have about 1/4 of the shelf space devoted to chess now compared with five years ago. ( Contrast with Poker and Sudoku which have many more books.)

2) My office in NYC has so many Russians that it is common to hear more Russian spoken in the corridors than English. NONE of them play chess.

3) Most kids are more interested in videogames with life-like action. They lack the attention-span required for chess. Chess was more popular with kids when the technology was just not available. When I was in elementary school, the teacher let us play chess during breaks. This practice is non-existent in my kid's school.

Not saying that chess is not popular, just that this "surge" idea is wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

Patrick - sorry but I still completely disagree with you. Socially maladjusted people have always existed. The internet nor chess has caused this - so don't imply it has! Also sociality is not everyone's cup of tea, for instance, quiet introverts. So whilst for some chess & the internet & internet-chess especially might be a hide-away from reality, for many others it's equaly likely to be a path back toward some kind of social interaction. And once again you put face to face interaction on a pedestal above everything else - when this is illogical as I said before, which makes your interpretation and use of that (solitary) statistic illogical too.

On the subject of logic, how you can go from saying "the internet [is] a cesspool for all things carnal and vulgar" to "the internet is unparalleled for proliferating non-emotional information such as facts, structured arguments . . ." with a straight face is beyond me! The two are polar opposites.

Btw, I linked to your 'Chess for girls' thing from my blog - I did like that :)

(Tom Chivers)

Anonymous said...

Note that I referred to the net as "at worst, a crutch", never as a cause of poor social skills.

Yeah, we disagree. I have nothing new to add. Because I am typing in a little box i am hamstrung from expressing my nonchalant but respectful attitude to this 'discussion'. I will have to settle for a smiley. :)

Anonymous said...

Alrighty then!

A truce it is.