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.