On Being a Luddite

I have been thinking lately about The Social Network, which came out a couple of months ago, but still remains one of the few memorable movies I’ve seen this year. It shouldn’t be so interesting. So many of the scenes take place in front of a laptop, whether Mark Zuckerberg is banging away at Facebook’s code, making friends, or ordering a pizza. But I can’t blame director David Fincher, this extended computer noodling is expected from any movie set in the present.

And this makes me feel bad for the screenwriters of tomorrow. How interesting are laptops? Most people are content to conduct their entire lives in front of a screen, and while that may have made life easier, it remains exceedingly boring to watch.

What if The Sting had been set today? Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s wire scheme would have instead involved a few pat emails, some hacking into their mark’s bank account, and a congratulatory coffee at the corner Starbucks. Dorothy would never have stayed in Kansas if she had the Weather Channel app on her iPhone. Tornado Warning—unless you want to be spun clear to Oz, get out while you still can! And you know set today Revenge of the Nerds, both one, two, three, and four would have taken place not in a frat house but in a computer lab.

Any simple set of tasks that people used to obsess about and spend precious shoe leather on are now easily solvable by the internet. Banking? Online banking. Shopping? Amazon. Movies? Netflix. It’s just not the same world when everything is convenient. Even the Jetsons, the greatest prophecy our generation received about the future age, looks outdated now. Jane could have done most of the cleaning not pressing innumerable buttons but using her iBook.

What are screenwriters of the future going to do? Some workarounds are funny—others, like the Act I “Dying Cellphone” bit, are overused. This clip is courtesy of FourFour.

I know I sound like Andy Rooney. I’m sorry. Go ahead, prove me wrong in the comments.

11 responses to “On Being a Luddite

  1. I think it’s going to be less about screenwriters working around technology and more about real people realizing that life happens away from the computer.

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  3. I recently wrote an article on that whether the “information age does make us dumber” as we’re kind of dependent on our devices and the internet today. It’s terrible! And who started the whole thing? Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan sharing soupy mails at a time when ICQ was still in fashion.

  4. You just have to wait until virtual reality becomes practical and widespread. Then instead of showing people sitting in front of screens, you can show them zooming around cyberspace! Everyone’s life will be like an episode of Red vs. Blue. Then you can scrap your movie’s budget, because making machinima is cheap.

  5. Cinema-wise, the internet is boring to watch, but I think the trick is to find the real narrative within the realm of cellphones and web-access that writers across the board haven’t found yet. I don’t think it’s making us dumber or that the content is hollow. I think that people’s willingness to embrace a MUCH larger swath of entertainment for essentially stuff that’s free. Sure, I could watch Jackass for 11 bucks, or I could watch 2 hours of morons hurting themselves for free.

    Once future writers find that narrative, that base in which the 21st and 22nd writers can work with, we’ll be fine.

    • Nice point, and one I hadn’t really taken into consideration. How many good movies grapple with how technology has changed us since the digital age? Maybe the Social Network, the Matrix, or You’ve Got Mail. I don’t know. Let’s brainstorm here.

  6. Actually, I’ve always complained that films don’t accurately deal with the way people use technology today. Real-life computer usage is rarely depicted except in thrillers and mysteries (cf. Lindsay Lohan using AskJeeves in “I Know Who Killed Me”). I challenge screenwriters today to really grapple with portraying our interaction with machines…

  7. The clip is hilarious…I had no idea that the “no signal” line is used so prevalently. I don’t think I have seen a single movie in the first two minutes, though.

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