The entertainment industry only knows two ways to do IT. (That’s Information Technology for the non-geeks – not IT as in the “IT factor.”) Either push creative license to the breaking point, knowing the audience will usually just go with it, or try to make it believable enough that the general public’s short attention span and natural channel-surfing tendencies won’t kick in until the commercial break. If that didn’t strike home with you, what’s your take on these movies?
- Independence Day – Even the geekiest hacker in the darkest basement can’t write a virus in a few hours that can shut down an entire alien fleet in 10 seconds – and upload it via Windows 95. It would take at least a weekend, or about 100 cans of Red Bull and a challenge to their hacking status.
- Tron – A lot of dedicated gamers would like nothing more than to be sucked directly into their favorite system and really live there, but it just ain’t happenin’. And, if it does, we have the name of this really good doctor.
- The Matrix – Yeah, that’s it. Your entire life is one big dream and you’re really just a living, breathing battery in a vat of gooey liquid nutrients with a huge plug up your … neck. Completely unbelievable? Or Microsoft’s secret mission?
Now, compare that to these TV shows that actually got it right.
1. Star Trek: The Original Series – 1966 to 1969
Claim to Fame: Cell Phones, Video Conferencing, and Stun Guns
As the ONLY Star Trek to true Trekkies, this cult classic was definitely before its time. Considering everyone was still fumbling with rotary-dial phones in 1966 and a long-distance phone call was a major event, the ability to instantly communicate from planet-to-Enterprise or Enterprise-to-Starfleet Command was pretty far-fetched.
In today’s world, everyone above the age of two seems to have a Personal Communicator – or “cell phone” to the non-Trekkies. Phasers have turned into stun-guns and tazers, and video conferencing and webinars are commonplace. Too bad no one’s figured out how to get that “Beam Me Up, Scottie” thing to work yet.
2. The IT Crowd – 2006 to 2011
Claim to Fame: A Funny (and Sometimes Too Honest) Look at IT Stereotypes
Like all good stereotypes (or bad ones, for that matter), there’s always a grain of truth if you look hard enough. With The IT Crowd, you don’t have to dig too deep to find those golden kernels.
- Yes, turning your computer on and off again really does fix most problems. Shhh – don’t tell anyone, but it works with servers, too.
- Yes, a lot of crazy-smart IT support people are both fashion- and socially-challenged.
- Yes, IT Departments really will hire computer-illiterate managers to supervise a highly technical staff, and it can be hilarious or tragic depending on just how twisted you are.
- Yes, they do have obscure inside jokes that reference things that you have never even heard of.
- No, they never get tired of answering the same basic question every single day – sometimes, from the same person. Ummm, NOT!
3. Big Bang Theory – 2007 to 2011
Seasons: 4+ – Contract has been extended into 2014
Claim to Fame: Precise Scientific Information and Social Ineptitude
This popular show definitely gets the science behind the actors’ lines exactly right. Just to make sure, they keep a real, live physicist on the crew. While making all kinds of technical lingo (almost) sexy, this show takes a humorous approach to the socially backward personalities that sometimes accompany true genius.
Sheldon, one of the most popular characters, seems perfectly happy and a little clueless as he cuts the rest of the characters to the quick with his brutally honest (and hilarious) observations. He also uses a ton of techno-babble to explain – in painful detail – something that should only take about three words in plain English – a normal occurrence in IT.
Some people have questioned the creators of this show with a theory that Sheldon is an attempt to place someone with Asperger Syndrome (a disorder that often combines focused genius with a complete lack of social skills) in the spotlight for some hidden motive. According to Jim Parsons, the actor who plays Sheldon, this definitely is not the case.
4. The Office – 2005 to 2011
Claim to Fame: Email Surveillance
One episode in this mockumentary brought to light what could happen if you convince the tech-support guy to give you access to your employee’s email accounts: You just might find out they don’t want to hang with you outside The Office.
This mundane example points out that corporations do have the right to monitor any electronic communication that passes through their system – including employee emails. While the main reason is to prevent corporate espionage, embezzlement, and other unethical activities, it could also reveal that the guest list to your wild party didn’t include an invite to the boss – not a great thing if you’re up for a promotion.
5. Doctor Who – Originally from 1963 to 1989, Revived in 2005
Seasons: 26 Original, 6 New
Claim to Fame: The Sonic Pen
Although this show is filled with improbable premises – as in a lead character who has to “regenerate” to take on a new body (shouldn’t we all be so lucky) every time the actor is replaced and a time traveler who chose a blue police box as his vehicle of choice (instead of a DeLorean, come on!) – it did get one IT thing right!
Doctor Who’s amazing, multi-purpose Sonic Screwdriver has a few features that are just like real high-tech tools. Although no one in their right mind would try to detonate landmines using any screwdriver (sonic or otherwise), law enforcement does have automatic lock-pickers and that miniature sonic lance is curiously similar to modern-day lasers. Both of these devices are controlled by computerized systems delivered by your friendly IT workers.
6. MythBusters – 2003 to 2011
Claim to Fame: Crazy Experiments
Ever wonder if that crazy story you heard is true? Just watch this show and, sooner or later, you’ll find out. These guys are on a mission to test every myth and urban legend out there – some of which even turn out to be true.
Instead of wondering what Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, and crew get right – the question should be, “Do they ever get anything wrong?” With painstaking detail and enough screw-ups that you know it’s absolutely real, this duo always provides an interesting 60-minutes worth of sometimes dangerous experimentation.
Here’s just a short list of the IT-related myths they’ve explored:
- Cell Phones and Onboard Navigation Systems: Busted – The FCC, not the FAA, has banned in-flight cell-phone use because passengers, due to their position in the sky, will hit against too many towers, clogging the airways – not because of potential crashes.
- Beating Speed-Monitoring Cameras: Plausible – But, you’d have to push pedal to metal to the tune of 200 MPH to do it – definitely not worth the speeding ticket.
- Bees and Flying Laptops: Busted – Thanks to a popular viral video, this gang decided to prove whether or not 1,000 bees could fly off with a laptop. Armed with a veritable hive of bees, bee-safe glue, and some protective clothing, they tried it out without success. They estimate it would take nearly 23,000 bees to do the job.
So, with a few exceptions, the more realistic representations are a lot less exciting than those blockbuster films. What did you expect? Most programmers don’t get a chance to save the world through exceptional coding skills every single day. They save that for Saturday nights.