Why, really, do nerds wear glasses? As a nearsighted nerd myself, I’d often heard the usual reasoning: reading strains your eyes. But surely non-nerds strain their eyes too, don’t they? Like by looking at screens like this one?
I think the causality is wrong: it’s not nerdism that causes bad vision; it’s bad vision that creates nerds.
I observed this phenomenon a year and half ago, at the start of my MBA at London Business School. I sat in the back of the U-shaped 80-person lecture theatre (yes, with an “re”). When our first lecturer projected an Excel spreadsheet on the whiteboard, I had to move closer to the front — I couldn’t see the microscopic print from far away. The past year and a half, I’ve asked to sit in the front 2 rows for all my classes, so that I don’t have a problem seeing the board clearly.
Now, what happens when you sit close to the front? You speak more often and with less inhibition, because you literally don’t see the 70 other students behind you in the class. You don’t have to shout across a long distance, so you see education more like a conversation more than a speech. You can’t get distracted by your iPhone, because the professor will definitely catch you. And so day after day, you are more engaged in the class than your peers in the back row, you pay more attention, you ask more questions… You are a nerd!
Remember back to where this all started, to when you got your very first pair of blue plastic glasses. Your vision had been squinty just before you saw the eye doctor, so your 10 year old self inched closer to the chalkboard. Once there, the teacher called on you more, you asked more questions, you talked less with your neighbors, you doodled less with your crayons… You became a nerd!
By the time your vision was corrected (and it had to get corrected each year as your eyeballs grew, remember), your position at the front of the classroom, and in your class, was set. You would always be a nerd.
If you did a study comparing the distance students are from the whiteboard with their academic performance, I’d bet you’d get statistically significant correlations. And if you extended this study to see how people did in life after school, I suspect you’d get lasting effects.
If my theory is right, then it might be worth seeing what happens if schools have no “front” or “back” of the classroom. If all 4 walls had chalkboards on them and our seats swiveled around, everyone would have some time when they were equally close to the board. Would everyone become a nerd, or no one at all?
It’s an interesting topic, and something I thought you might be interested in looking at closer. Assuming, of course, you are a nerd.