A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short piece for The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog about Kobo, the eBook reader competing with Amazon’s Kindle. For the story, I attended a Kobo company party and noted that the Kobo team seemed to be starkly divided between those who came from publishing or marketing backgrounds and the tech people whose skills actually power the innovative device. Or, as I called them in the piece, “the nerds.”

At the party, the two groups were literally sitting on opposite sides of the room, and I reported that the techies were “almost all men, much less fashionably dressed, and possibly a little paler.”

It briefly crossed my mind that some of them might not be thrilled with this description, but I didn’t give it much thought until a few days after the piece ran, when I started hearing rumblings of discontent. The techies were unhappy, someone at Kobo told me, and an email discussion about what I’d written was raging. He sent me a few samples of what was being said.

“Much less fashionably dressed?” one of them wrote. “Who is this clown?”

“Well, at least he didn’t say anything about the techies’ hairstyles,” another chimed in. (I guess they’re sensitive about their hair.)

One surprising email suggested that they “mess up” my kitchen, and another even tried to deduce which specific techie I might have been referring to in my piece – and pointed fingers.

But I had never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. And so, to reconcile, I sent the techies a note.

“Dear Nerds,” it began, “It has come to my attention that some of you are displeased with my characterization of you in my recent article in The New Yorker Online as ‘almost all men, much less fashionably dressed, and possibly a little paler.’”

I then invited them to compose a response, and almost immediately I heard via forwarded emails that they were planning to meet at 6 PM at “Ming’s Desk” to draft their rebuttal. I waited anxiously.

When I finally got my reply, though, it wasn’t really a response to me, but more of a rallying cry to the nerd community written by someone named Ming, who was apparently their leader.

We must not let his man provoke us,” Ming wrote. “His challenge of writing him a rebuttal is an attempt to get us to play on his side of the court because he is a journalist and he can use his superior English powers to make us look bad…and stuff.

We are comfortable with who we are.  So what if we don’t spend more than six and a half minutes on our hair every morning? So what if we don’t shop at Armani and Hugo Boss without a sale? So what if we don’t have animated page turns or the five bundled books on the Android app?  It matters little.”

I had no idea what “animated page turns” or “the five bundled books on the Android app” even meant, and probably – hopefully – never will.

But, of course, Ming was right. And the future may very well belong to him.

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GREGORY LEVEY is the author of How To Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment and Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, both published by Simon & Schuster/Free Press. He has written for Newsweek, The New Republic, Salon, The Globe and Mail, and many other publications.

8 responses to “They Also Have Bad Haircuts”

  1. Don’t these nerds know by now that their look is the one that’s cool and marketing people are the squares. I always try to use my unchangeably bad haircut to make it look like I know something about computers, though the overlords have yet to accept me.

  2. Matt says:

    Oh, for fuck’s sake!

    Do that they not realize that their reply reads less like a manifesto and more like a surrender?

  3. In the words of Stacy London of TLC’s “What Not to Wear”, shut the front door! Not everyone needs to be model beautiful. In fact, that would be boring. But that anyone believes they are not judged in the blink of an eye simply based on how they present themselves physically is fooling himself. Otherwise, nobody would dress up at all for job interviews or dates. I’m a big believer in putting your best foot forward, even if you’re Quasimodo. So get over it, nerds! Dump the hate and take it as constructive criticism.

  4. Megan says:

    Pale is the nerd giveaway. Fo sho.

    I’ve heard projections that put e-readers at 10% of market share in 5-10 years. So those Kobo partiers don’t have really too much to celebrate.

    Go buy some self tanner & cute tops at TJ Maxx & go socialize at a bar.

  5. Gregory, I love that this piece exists. Enjoyed your wry take. And “five bundled books on the Android app” is probably nerd code for “gang bang”.

  6. Jude says:

    It has been my experience in the past that it pays to be on the side of the nerds. You never know when you’re going to need them.

    Pshaw! Dress code!

  7. Jeffrey Pillow says:

    It is my experience one never should mess with nerds. Do not underestimate their power. They have been known to win burping contests (particularly this hairy young fellow named Booger), properly execute a panty raid on the Pi Delta Pi house, and make sweet sweet love to your women while wearing a Darth Vader mask. Lastly, they have the backing of the Adams College chapter of the Lambda Lambda Lambda, and you don’t want Lambda Lambda Lambda sniffing the scent on your trail.

  8. Simon Smithson says:




    On the other hand, I salute their use of the term ‘clown’. I love referring to people as clowns. It’s so… diminuating.

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