Deeper down, however, what Fallon makes fun of here isn’t necessarily geek behavior, but the behavior of those with a superiority complex. After all, since I was a child on the playground I have known the type who ridicules others for their being in some way lesser. It was never something I experienced in relation to technology, and very rarely in relation to intelligence. It was usually about how popular someone was or how athletic they were. In other words, this was typical alpha male behavior, and it was jocks, not geeks, who were the ones acting it. In this, I find Fallon’s overlap of opposite stereotypes interesting.
I’ll admit that in high school I did know one very classically “nerdy” guy who was extremely intelligent and showed no qualms about letting everyone know. I beat him at chess and he damn near freaked out, walking away in a puff he quipped, “There are seven aspects to intelligence, and I know I beat you in at least four!” He went on to a proper geek career, but today he’s a much milder personality.
I’ll admit that in professional life, I did know a database administrator who was extremely alpha. It was as if she had taken Sun Tzu to heart and wielded power so none would forget to fear her. She played office politics of the highest order, and would destroy people for apparently no other reason than to remind people she could. She was not at all geeky, but she was definitely acting the alpha.
So why did Fallon’s characterization of “Nick Burns: Your Company’s Computer Guy” strike a chord in people? If it is a distortion mixing geek and alpha behavior, which I firmly believe, why is it funny? Things are not funny if they hold no truth. The SNL writing team certainly pulled enough truth from alpha behavior to be funny. I could do the same thing by skitting a “mid-level manager,” and portray a much more common and accurate stereotype. After all, I’m certain everyone has suffered a manager with a superiority complex. They also manage to accurately pinpoint some geek behavior such as using Internet jargon and talking over other people’s heads. But I do not believe most common users experience is that of a character like “Nick Burns.” So why the popularity of this skit?
It is because while most people have never met someone like Fallon’s character, they have been made to feel stupid by the knowledge that geeks wield. Watching his obnoxious character makes them justified in attributing those injured feelings as the geek’s fault, not theirs. Although most geeks do not try to rub it in anyone’s faces, people nonetheless feel belittled or inferior. All but the rare geek exception may try to be helpful and kind while talking to others about technology, but it does not matter because people perceive that they are not part of the technorati. Computers make people feel stupid, and those who understand computers only confirm and exacerbate those feelings.
I never try to make people feel stupid. I never have, technically or otherwise. When I explain things, I’ll often stop and ask, “Does that make sense?” or, “Follow me so far?” This usually annoys those medium-level users as they feel I’m being condescending. Those that don’t follow most often just nod their heads even if I have lost them, despite that being my specific intention to prevent. One never knows the technical literacy of the other, so one is trapped between talking below and being insulting, or talking above and making people feel too stupid to admit that your explanation is inadequate. Geeks are damned either way.