About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Flexing Your Social Muscle

Alan Turkus, Conversation
This article is intended for nerds who have trouble dealing with social situations--maybe you get along fine with your close friends but strangers baffle you, perhaps you want to interact with people but don't know where to start, or maybe you simply don't like interacting with anyone. Even if you're not shy or socially inept, maybe you know someone who is and could use your help. 

As mentioned in an earlier article, nerds often have the gift of being able to detach from emotion and look at situations logically. Cool detachment can be great if you're coding, balancing an equation or assaulting an AI's fortress, but it leads to problems when we're faced with situations that don't follow rational rules. The nerd brain that's tuned to purely logical tasks tends to be less able to deal with emotional nuances. (I'm not including physiological origins of social difficulties such as Asperger's, although the outcome can be similar.) A few articles out there suggest that the brain allocates mental resources from the social area to the logical, but I think they're just being polite. I've known many nerds who have great intellectual as well as interpersonal skills, which suggests that some nerds deliberately focus on their logical interests while neglecting the social skills necessary to maintain relationships. This may sound lonely or even sad to some people, but I've also known nerds who would argue that social interaction = social distraction, and they aren't in the least bit lonely. 

Dennis Skley, Monday Faces
While it's at best annoying, and at worst terrifying to deal with an apparently illogical world, life requires us all to talk with other people, whether it's the finance manager at the car dealership or (more likely) our co-workers, so there are definite advantages to developing our social muscles. Nerds who successfully navigate the social obstacle course often approach interaction the same way they approach any other problem--logically. So, what can you do when you find face-to-face interaction perplexing, draining or even threatening?

Start with what you know
If you're a computer gamer, find a local LAN party (in meatspace) and go meet some new gamers. If you code a lot, go attend a code challenge and talk to some other coders. Read comic books? Go to a convention and talk to people you don't know. The fact that you share interests will often obliterate the fact that you've never met these people before. The important part is to pay attention to what you and the other people are doing, and apply this observation to your interactions with people who don't share this common interest.

Follow the rules
Every interaction has a certain pattern, which is often less complicated than setting up a website, and if you remember these patterns you can navigate any situation successfully. I'm not saying you should remember every possible permutation of interactions, but understand how different types of conversations generally flow. Some advice from Cicero (written in 44 BC but still holds true today): speak clearly, let others have a turn, treat serious topics seriously, don't get uptight about unimportant stuff, never criticize people who aren't there, don't talk about yourself unless asked, and never lose your temper.

Find a tutor
This doesn't have to be the most popular person you know, but it should be someone you can trust who is positive and talks to lots of people. Go ahead and confide in the person that you have a hard time talking with other people and would like some tips. One thing you will discover is that everyone has difficulties interacting at some point.

FPS from the other person's view
Most people are motivated by emotion, and they will see your logical arguments as an attack rather than a sensible resolution. If you can figure out how they are approaching a situation, you can offer them a solution that appeals to their point of view and helps you at the same time.

Don't feed the trolls
Everyone gets angry, even Spock, so there's no shame in feeling emotions, only in reacting poorly. If someone says something hurtful, take a breath before you say anything. Sometimes the most logical choice is to walk away and let the other person look like a jerk than to argue with them.

These are simply a few broad tips to get things started. In a future article I'll give some tips for people who like interaction but know someone who doesn't, and I'll talk about the second suggestion in-depth, particularly specific behaviors that can ruin an interaction and how to quickly adapt to different social situations. 

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