You also have to be technically adept, ideally at something that will pay your bills later on. The cool nerd is cool because s/he is a producer and a consumer in the mainstream market. S/he is the Übernerd.
The old style nerd, who might have been intelligent but had no social or economic traction, still exists. But s/he is now socially invisible or an accepted figure of fun: the Unternerd. Think of the collector, the cat lady, the basement dweller. They are more marginalized now than they were when they were just nerds.
I agree with some of it. On the issue of public schools, I’ve made my opinion known before. Nevertheless, I agree with Joe that Graham goes overboard in that direction. Public schools have some great teachers, some lousy teachers, and a whole lot of mediocre teachers. They were not designed as holding pens, though they’ve certainly degenerated into holding pens in many places.
I do think Graham is right about about two things. First of all, the relationship between teenagers and adults has changed a lot over the last century or so. There used to be a lot more crossover between the two groups, whereas now we’ve built a separate world for teenagers.
The second point is closely related to that. Teenagers in a big, public high school don’t get much of a sense of life on the outside, and often don’t know that there are places that are vastly different than big, public high schools. As Graham says, that can contribute seriously to unhappiness and depression. (He’s also right that there’s nothing natural or innate about teenage moodiness.)
As he mentions, these issues are much more common in the USA than in some other countries. In Germany, kids around age 11-12 are split into separate schools based on their aspirations. Those who plan on attending college attend Gymnasium (academic high school) while those who aren’t interested in higher education can enter vocational school. Also, the concept of apprenticeship still exists to some degree. That system allows some differentiation, while the American system traps everyone together. Some students simply don’t get any benefit from reading Ernest Hemingway or studying pre-calculus.