Monday, November 3, 2008

Street Smarts

I hate the term street smarts. It’s an attribute that is often presented as the polar opposite of book smarts, which is another term I despise. What book are we talking about? Text books? Cook books? The Anarchist Cookbook? Coloring books? The Bible? What about books depicting the street?

I find people classify book smarts as intelligence that can be measured by tests, teachers, and schools (i.e. academic success). It carries a derogatory connotation for some people, as someone who is book smart can be perceived as lacking in other forms of intelligence (such as lacking the ability to effectively communicate to someone ignorant).

There is not only one type of knowledge worth knowing, and there are important things applicable to daily life that can’t be learned in a classroom. However, the experience gleaned from formal education is required for many real-life applications, despite what street smart advocates claim. In fact, the work habits and the dedication required to finish school are often more important than any piece of information learned.

I digress… back to street smarts. The word street has become synonymous with urban rap culture. However, most people thought of as being from the street in fact spend most of their outside time on porches and sidewalks. Why not porch smarts or sidewalk smarts? In fact, not standing in the middle of the street is a sign of having street smarts, as one would get run over. This is actually what most people mean when they say street smarts; they mean common sense. We’ve all seen the buddy comedies; the rigid W.A.S.P. is paired with the street-wise brotha from the hood and together they must overcome the odds. The white guy always loosens up by the end of the movie (a reminder that it’s fiction), and the black guy at some point has to apply his knowledge of the street to get them out of a jam.

This kind of movie is a psychological pacifier to the American public at large. It’s supposed to make black people feel like white people now respect them for being cool while simultaneously making white people feel good about a white guy and black guy getting along (so they don’t have to go out and do so in real life). The very presence of these movies proves the vast difference that still exists. White people don’t mind being called uncool because they control everything.

In practical terms, what are street smarts? Is it being able to talk a hooker down from thirty to twenty? Is it being able to track down weed at 3am on a Tuesday? Is it knowing how to hotwire a car? These might be useful skills, but not only are they illegal, they can all be learned in schools and books. These activities are merely negotiation, networking, and electrical engineering (respectively) applied to criminal endeavors.

This is the basic problem with the term. It wouldn’t be so bothersome if street smarts weren’t applied mostly to minorities and those who don’t do well in school, as if it’s a suggestion that their skills are best applied to some sinister cause outside our mainstream, productive society. Sadly, there may never be any street inspired rebellions; they often don’t show up to the meetings on time.

I don’t think of myself as book smart or street smart; I’m more Wikipedia smart.

Privacy and Social Networks

The fact that employers look up a person's myspace or facebook page doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that they may not hire someone because of petty things that have nothing to do with that person's ability as a worker. Corporations are cold, soulless machines that want us to believe that the buttoned shirt and slacks cubicle existence should be enough fun to sustain anyone without the need for such indulgences as drinking, concerts or parties. Frankly, I wouldn't want to work for a company who wants to hire boring people. When I send a resume, I send a few pictures of me playing beer pong in a toga just to make my stance clear.

This all comes down to the fact that people lead fractured lives, exhibiting different personalities for when they are in public or private settings, respectively. Even private life is itself fractured among extended family and varying circles of friends. There’s a big difference for many people between how they act among distant relatives and among high school pals. This is disheartening, in a way, as it encourages the division of people into incompatible sub-cultures. I wouldn’t be surprised if entirely different dialects could be derived between polite dinner table conversation and barroom banter.

I think it would be interesting if privacy disappeared. I imagine pretty soon we would stop faking our public lives and all live our private lives openly. Once we realized what we’ve been hiding all these years is all basically the same, I can’t imagine any of us would choose to act the way we do in formal settings.
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