Entitlement & Access

NPR has an excellent podcast discussing Patton Oswalt’s recent essay on nerd culture in Wired.  Oswalt’s thesis is that nerd culture has been denigrated by the immediacy and widespread availability of once-difficult, more arcane pursuits (i.e.: it’s the Internet’s fault).  His essay is both well-written and deeply felt, but one issue that arises in the NPR discussion is the problem of nerd entitlement: that much of what Oswalt is really bemoaning is the opening of previously exclusive knowledge arenas to the masses, that inclusiveness and equal access are viewed negatively through this lens.

It’s a fairly benign attitude when applied to Monty Python quotes, but it’s hardly isolated to such pursuits; it’s a similar mindset as when people presume that minority students at top universities don’t belong there on their intellectual merits.  When an identity is constructed to be exclusive but is then forced — by law (as in higher education) or by technology (as in nerd culture) — to adopt more equitable admissions, those newly opened doors are often mistaken for lowered barriers to entry.

Online, this leads primarily to impoliteness.  In the real world, the consequences can be much more dire.

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