Social Skills Decelerator

This post is a consequence of a conversation I had with my wife this morning.

I was telling her about how a friend, who also went to IIT Madras with me, recently said something like “I’m surprised XXXXX (another mutual friend) has so much confidence in himself even though he went to <local college>. A lot of my self-confidence comes from IIT”.

“It is precisely because XXXXX went to <local college> that he has so much confidence”, my wife countered (she studied in an engineering college that is very similar to the aforementioned <local college>). And then we started talking about respective lives, and experiences, and all that.

The big insight (I’m writing about this because I think my wife is too lazy to blog about this – though it’s her idea) is that in different schools, you build reputation based on different things. In 11th and 12th standards in schools where people are mugging for JEE, for example, the primary currency for reputation is academics (both my wife and I went to such schools – different branches of the same school, to be precise).

In other schools, it’s due to extracurricular achievement. Some schools place a premium on sport. Others on gadgets and shoes. Yet others simply on good looks. And some on who you know. It’s not a finite list, except that each school has its own “portfolio” of things that help build its students’ reputations.

Coming back to my wife’s big insight, it’s that in IIT, at the prime ages of 17/18 to 21-22, the primary currency to build reputation still remains academics, and that is not the case in other colleges. And in some sense, in terms of building social skills and generally increasing one’s confidence in life, these are the prime years.

And the other thing is that academics is a zero-sum status game – there might be infinitely many “nine pointers” but there can only be one class topper. And if reputation is based on academics, it is likely to be based on relative grading. So at the prime years of your life, when you are looking to build social skills (social skills are positive sum), you are playing a zero-sum academic game for marks. You are not only not building your social skills at an age when you should, but you are actively destroying them by indulging in too many zero-sum status games.

The other corollary, of course, is that by indulging in status games where there can only be one winner, we are all (most of us at least) effectively turning ourselves into losers.  By being in an environment where reputation is built only on one (zero sum) dimension, our confidence is shattered.

Some of us come back from this shattered confidence, and at some point in life (albeit belatedly) start building social skills. Others, unfortunately, never recover.

My wife is right – people are not “confident despite not going to IIT”. They are “confident BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T GO TO IIT”!


One thought on “Social Skills Decelerator”

  1. Totally disagree with you on this. I feel that such a generalisation is weird coming from an IITian. From my experiences, those who do well ‘academically’ in an IIT are generally called ‘ghissus’ or ‘maggus’ and people don’t mingle with them. What you’ve pointed out might be true albeit in small circles. This experience varies highly from circle to circle. Just in my college, you could hold a social status for let’s say, having the most capacity for alcohol, or being the best at dramatics or something. In general, I think it emulates the real world where having a charming personality gets you a high social status. It also varies in year to year. For example, (due to the skewed gender ratio), having many female friends made you popular in the first year. I can bet a 100 bucks that 80% of the guys know this one guy and some might secretly hate that guy. Another sort of socially respected people are the ones involved in politics (read General Secretary). People generally respect them (especially juniors)

    Another sort of social status would be within groups, for whoever is best in that group activity. (Quizzing, debating, etc.)

    In some ways I feel like IITs give you more confidence than a local college. The ONLY people from a local college that are more confident are the ones with a lot of passion for doing stuff, etc. But in an IIT, on an average people are more confident in life. (Some are more ‘grounded’ because they see such capable people)

    The sort of colleges you must be talking about are the ones from Tier-I cities. Yes, people dress well there and might be socially much more confident than IITians.

    All I’m saying is that your IIT vs Non-IIT argument is flawed. (Based on my experiences with meeting people from IITB,D,R,KGP) don’t know much about IITM.

    If I was asked about it, I can comfortably say that being a topper or a nine pointer brings you much more disgust (read this guy has nothing else in his life other than academics) than it brings social status.

    Check out Alma matters, you’ll understand that kids are out here to create an identity for themselves.

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