Droppin’ Knowledge

There's a late-stage crustacean nauplius larva in my coffee!

I wish more people dropped more knowledge more often.

It’s the reason strangers think I’m ‘interesting’, friends think I’m annoying, and family thinks I’m pretentious. I have a tendency to drop knowledge. Usually shallow, loosely-relevant biology knowledge. Frequently even somewhat unsure and mildly wrong. But I just can’t seem to hold on to it. A lot of the time this is my brain’s socially-unacceptable way of digesting and retaining something I’ve just ‘learned’, repeating what I heard in class in casual conversation. Other times it’s just rattling off fun ‘facts’ I read on the Internet about earthworm gut proportions or flocking robots. Perhaps none of it is substantial but I think it’s more fun than talking either about nothing or about our own mundane lives (because that is really usually just complaining).

Sometimes this desire for a casual-knowledge-accepting society leaves me to act as a nerd-vocate. Advocating for the tolerance of the nerd lifestyle and encouraging the positive connotations of the word “nerd”. When I was the Resident Assistant in the Honors Program freshman house, I made a bulletin board of awesome nerd profiles (somewhat in response to some negative attention from the campus community). I put myself on the board, of course, sort as a ‘coming out’ statement. [Plus, I just wanted to see a picture of my own face with the likes of John Green.]

A depiction of me by my shipmate, Mattie, after 1.5 weeks of acquaintanceship. Apparently my distinctive characteristics were Star Trek, Set, and blowing up the world with my mind. I think I made a good impression

There’s stigma against being ‘too smart’ or caring about something as nerdy as scholastic accomplishment more than social endeavors. Even on a college campus, it is a trait often associated with a lack of social skills or ‘unfortunate’ misordering of priorities. But this isn’t elementary school anymore, folks. You’re all smart, and it’s ok.

During my time on land with the Sea Education Association, before our Atlantic voyage last semester, I had the opportunity to get to know the students who would soon become my shipmates. It was like the first six weeks of college all over again, only I was two years older and cared exponentially less about what everyone would think of me. I was soon deemed the “nerd” in my house for talking about slugs and social justice too much, but we all got along wonderfully. There was one other student, a freshman, who seemed to be more on my nerd-level. Sometimes we got some funny looks while we argued about biodiversity over dinner, but we persisted. We exchanged cool youtube videos and started most of our sentences with “did you know…?” By the end of the voyage, my fledgling freshman thanked me for showing her that it’s ‘ok to be a nerd’.

I realize it is a fine line between being obnoxiously obsessed with “I just read”, “today in class”, and “did you know” and just expressing productive enthusiasm. But there is an equally fine one between being unwilling to share what we know and trying to actively know less.

So, next time you suffer the word-vomit of a Mary Krauszer biology rant, try not to take it as just showing off, take it as an invitation to share what you’ve got sitting in the “personally interesting” section of your brain.

I think the world would be a smarter, or at least more interesting, place if people shared what they knew in casual conversation. I’m just too clumsy to hold on to mine, so I wish you would drop some of yours too.

Nerd up or shup up, Langlow 2008.

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