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Four of the Worst Media Portrayals of Technology in History

Our media's great at plenty of things. Unfortunately, showcasing technology isn't one of them.

If you're reading this website, there's a good chance that you self-identify as a geek. That probably also means that you're fairly well-versed in technology topics, or at least have a passing familiarity with them. If you do, you're not alone.

These days, technology is everywhere. Even the non-tech savvy have access to the kind of sophisticated computing tools that would have made the geeks of yesteryear green with envy. At the same time, technology has become woven into our popular culture, as well. Given that reality, you might expect that our movies and television programs would be getting better (and more realistic) at showcasing computers and technology. Sadly, that's not the case.

Instead, seemingly every time we go to a movie or turn on a television, we're confronted with some ridiculous representation of technology that makes little to no sense. It's a tradition with pretty deep roots in our media culture, and it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon. If you're willing to let your brain melt a little bit, it can even be somewhat entertaining. To that end, here are four of the worst portrayals of technology in television and movie history.

'Jurassic Park'—1993

Although it seems unfair to reach back into the early 1990s to pick on an otherwise successful movie, an exception must be made for the original Jurassic Park. Why? It holds a special place in the hearts of everyone that's ever cringed at a depiction of technology in a movie. First of all, the computers that control most of the systems in the fictionalized theme park appear to be running an operating system that looks like what may have happened if Apple tried to port the original MacOS into UNIX in the 90s instead of in the early aughts. For a taste of how silly that turned out to be, check out this running replica of Nedry's desktop from the film. Appearances aside, the movie had another cliché moment in store for audiences: the scene when Lex (who is approximately 13), disables the park's security after exclaiming, "It's a UNIX system!" as though that means anything at all. It's a phrase so nonsensical that it inspired its own subreddit dedicated to terrible depictions of technology in movies and TV, which is thriving to this day.

'Independence Day'—1996

When you're making a movie that involves an invasion of Earth by an alien race, it would make sense to take a few liberties with the kinds of technology that the aliens might possess. After all, nobody could say for sure what's realistic or not when it comes to advanced alien technology, so you can't possibly get it wrong, right? Wrong. In the film (which is very entertaining, if a little implausible), tech genius-turned cable television engineer David Levinson records, deciphers, and weaponizes an alien signal he discovers flowing through Earth's satellite systems. His tool of choice? An early Mac laptop. In the space of less than a day, Levinson finds a way to write a computer virus that is not only compatible with alien computer systems he's never seen, but that is also capable of disabling the shields of every single alien craft in the vicinity. It all makes for a fantastic movie ending, but as anyone who has taken even a basic programming course can tell you, there's no way that you could write code that would work on an unfamiliar system, let alone one that takes advantage of security flaws you couldn't have known about in advance. Unless, of course, the aliens were subcontracting their security out to Facebook or some other semi-competent outfit.

'CSI: NY'—2004-2013

If you were starting to think that movies had the market cornered for stupid depictions of technology, think again. To prove it, one need only turn on almost any episode of CBS's long-running police procedural CSI: NY. It's the kind of show that only works because the audience isn't expected to know much about the high-tech tools and techniques used by criminologists and police to solve crimes. When it comes to scientific concepts, they seem to make something of an effort to hue towards realism (they don't always succeed, of course). When it comes to computers and other technology, though, they're not even making a token effort. Take, for example, their foray into online VR game Second Life in the episode "Down the Rabbit Hole." When the main character Mac Taylor confronts a criminal in VR, a chase scene ensues, which is as pointless as it is perplexing. What will he do when he catches the guy? Why didn't the criminal sign out? If you're handcuffed in VR, are you under arrest in real life? I guess you'll have to watch to find out.

'Arrow'—2012-Present

In a sign that the spread of technology is doing nothing to deter the technological stupidity on display in mass media, the currently-airing show Arrow keeps piling on the techno-nonsense. A particularly egregious example of it can be found in an episode titled "Lost in the Flood" which features computer "expert" Felicity Smoak engaging in a furious hacking battle against a smirking adversary. What makes the scene so odd is that you never get to see what anyone is doing, but they sure are typing away at breakneck speed. If you look closely, the enemy hacker launches an attack by hitting the "backspace" key on his keyboard, which is such a lazy mistake that it defies description. The scene concludes with the good guys launching a counter-attack that's so effective that the bad guy's computer explodes—launching him across the room in defeat.

If this list proves anything, it's that mainstream depictions of technology in movies and television shows aren't getting better. If anything, they're getting worse. One wonders what horrendous example of tech-butchery 2019 has in store for us—and if it's going to live up to our grand pop culture tradition of treating technology like some unknowable magic, rather than as the central feature of modern life it really is. Only time will tell, but all signs point to yes. At least, that's the answer I found when I hacked the digital magic eight ball website.

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