In this technological age, social stereotypes have undergone a profound shift.
Culturally, we used to worship movie stars, sports heroes and prominent business people. To a large extent we still do.
But slowly, we are entering an era where introverts are becoming more valued, or, The Age of the Nerd.
Many “geeky” things are now kind of cool.
This is a huge generalisation, but previously fringe activities like comic books, gaming and computers are all now entering the mainstream.
Even wearing glasses has become fashionable, much to my joy.
Carl Jung’s archetypes
Influential Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, theorised about the archetypes and the collective unconscious.
Jung argues that each individual is born with certain archetypes inbuilt into their unconscious mind that are reflective of society as a whole. These include the feminine archetype, and the god archetype – as well as the masculine archetype.
These archetypes form the collective unconscious, or the common identity that all members of society share.
Jung strongly influenced philosopher Joseph Campbell, who theorised about universal myths across all societies, and whose theories in turn had a big impact on the film industry.
In light of Jung’s archetypal theory, our conception of masculinity is evolving.
The meaning of masculinity
As a symbolic concept, masculinity is best understood not as a fixed entity, but as our ever-changing relationship with what masculinity represents. This is power, dominance, competition and strength.
Previous or alternate versions of the masculine archetype include the warrior, the conqueror, the explorer, the chief, and the gentleman.
Though the essence of masculinity is still the same, representations of masculinity in wider society and popular culture are taking on a new, distinct form.
Masculinity is still closely linked with power and dominance, but we have moved on from worshipping business tycoons like Richard Branson, and advertising moguls like the fictional Don Draper (though we still have Donald Trump).
Our archetypal man wearing a suit holding a briefcase is slowly becoming man wearing a hoodie and glasses holding a laptop.
We’re starting to turn our attention to technology nerds.
The digital generation
Partly because of how our generation has become digitised, it is now cool to be a nerd. Although I fear this presumption may be reflective of the digital ‘echo chambers’ that we live in, rather than any significant cultural change.
For certain demographics, especially millennials, social life now often plays out online. Therefore, we can mislead ourselves into thinking that the digital world reflects society at large.
Cultural elitism means that the dominant culture in society will pervade our online experiences, tricking us into thinking this is the only reality.
But any trip out into the real world will show us how different our own experiences can be from the general population. We would see how diverse society really is, and how hard it is to define universal experience.
The cultural elite defines stereotypes
Go down to the shopping centre and listen to the conversations between people (try not to be too obvious). Try going to a football match and listening to what people say (or shout) there. Hunt around in some of the less obvious forums online, where discussions depart from officially sanctioned topics of the BBC, The Guardian, or even The Daily Mail.
In the circles of the cultural elite, which are comprised of university graduates, private school alumni, white-collar workers in the service industries, London business people, the creative professions, this is becoming The Age of the Nerd.
It pays to be computer-literate. By this I mean having been trained in computer science, engineering, or have the ability to code. The ability to build and create the technology that defines our society is a huge advantage.
Although financial capital is still the most significant factor and predictor of wealth (obviously), technological literacy and ownership of technology is fast catching up as a competitor.
Being wary of stereotypes
Sadly, pervasive cultural stereotypes conspire to keep many groups outside of the circle of power.
Films, books and TV programmes, so crucial in our media-dominated society, encourage us to build identities of white, male, middle class hackers who somehow magically understand technology. This is a subversion of the masculine archetype.
Real life follows this pattern, as technology pioneers Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are now household names. These nerdy tycoons all look very alike, and as brilliant as they undoubtedly are, perpetuate the stereotypes.
So while I am happy it is suddenly cool to wear glasses, I think we all need to be wary of stereotypes. Anyone can be a nerd, you just have to have an unhealthy interest in staying indoors and learning about stuff.
Balancing the masculine archetype
In reality, the masculine archetype is not directly equatable to being ‘male’, but only when the archetype has become unbalanced. A healthy version of the masculine archetype would expressed as powerful, benevolent wisdom.
If we’re not careful, technology is going to become as one-sided as business, politics and the media already are. We must not allow the stereotype of the nerd to blind us to the fact that anyone can learn about technology and become proficient at making it in some form.
Even if you are the coolest person ever, with 20/20 vision and a stylish dresser, and even if you are – gasp! – a woman, you can still learn about technology, and you can still participate in this defining force in our society.
Are you inspired to learn more about tech? Check out this post where I explain why women should want to work in the tech industry.