by Elana Varon

Survey Says: Geeks Are Cool

Aug 10, 20073 mins

A forthcoming book by Mark J. Penn, the CEO of PR heavyweight Burson-Marsteller, proposes that – are you ready? – geeks are not antisocial losers.

According to his polling about social trends, which he

relates in Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes, the most enthusiastic technology users also love a good party and enjoy talking to other people.

Penn, who in 1996 clued into the political leanings of suburban mothers and helped re-elect Bill Clinton with the votes of Soccer Moms, says those who shun new technology – using it only when they have to – are the most introverted. He calls these shy, retiring types “Reluctants,” and defines as “New Geeks” those who keep informed about the latest electronic gadgets, who look forward to new versions of operating systems and whose friends think they’re knowledgeable about new technology and computer software.

Some of the numbers:

  • Techies are twice as likely as the tech-averse to opt for a night on the town as their entertainment;
  • 58 % say they “talk easily to almost anyone for as long as they have to;”
  • 41% report they like to stir things up at parties.

See yourself here, or not? I mentioned these stats to a data center director I know, and he was pretty skeptical. He didn’t think they described many of his colleagues (who, are, if it need be said, fine and interesting folk). It’s certainly true that a party full of software developers (or a party full of magazine editors, for that matter) looks and sounds way different than, say, a party full of sales reps. But I don’t think how you like to party is really the point.

Penn doesn’t distinguish between the tech-fashionistas who lined up for the iPhone and the guys in the basement tuning the network (though I’d bet there’s overlap there). He merely points out that technology is so ubiquitous as a social tool and source of entertainment that anyone who wants to be engaged with the world has to be a little bit tech savvy.

So what, you say? Here’s the rub, according to Penn. When the today’s gadget hounds embrace technology

as something cool, they can influence the next generation to pursue technology careers. So they can

invent some other cool things. Thus

rescuing the United States from its persistent shortage of homegrown technical talent.

It’ll take at least another decade to find out. In the meantime, what do you think? Are technologists on the verge of becoming cool? Do we even care whether it’s cool or not? Mull it over while you’re having that margarita and let us know.