When I was in high school, being smart was not cool. If you aren’t familiar with the 90s, an afternoon watching Reality Bites can offer a quick and uncomfortably accurate portrayal of youth culture. We were listless, self-depreciating and all too immersed in our own angst. Of course, cool has always been a multi-faceted characteristic, much more gray than the black and white caricatures in television and movies.
In the last decade or so, something amazing has happened to cool. It got smart. There are still floods of people interested in what Taylor Swift had for dinner or keeping up with the Karshadians, but a new obsession has slowly crept into the public mind. Steve Jobs’ biography was a New York Times bestseller in 2011, Elon Musk is a cultural icon. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of facebook, is the celebrity we love to hate. Fame, and by extension cool, has been given a makeover.
This phenomenon can also be seen in the media we consume. Saved by the Bell morphed into its doppelgangers Friends and How I Met Your Mother. Then, out of the woodwork, emerged The Big Bang Theory. A situational comedy with tech undertones, the main characters are self-avowed nerds working in the sciences. Characters that might have been cool in other shows, such as Penny’s many attractive, intellectually challenged suitors, are portrayed as decidedly moronic. In an ironic twist that is all too common in social trends, what was once uncool is the new cool.
Equally important, female characters are being given tech-savvy roles at an unprecedented rate. Penny may have started out a pretty, vapid actress, but her role on the Big Bang Theory has evolved tremendously. The other female characters are just as smart and successful as their male counterparts. For a more in depth look at STEM women in the media check out STEM Media Trends.
What can we expect from a culture where smart is the new cool? Awesome things. If a few great minds who may otherwise have spent their time learning guitar or playing football are instead learning to code, biohacking the genetic code and innovating solutions to complex problems, we can expect exponential growth in innovation. An increase in STEM degrees will, hopefully, lead to an increase in physical progress over time. One thing is certain, a world in which children model their future careers on the success of Elon Musk is incomparably better than a world where children want to grow up to be reality television stars.
This piece comes to us from one of our talented content contributors, Erin Wildermuth. Her bio is below and if you would like to work with us you can email us here!
Erin Wildermuth is a communications professional turned scientist. She enjoys scuba diving, problem solving, and reading science fiction.