Non-paranoid visions of networks in movies
February 28, 2005 3:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some examples of popular movies that cast technology, specifically networking technology, in a good (or at the very least a non-paranoid) light.

I'm working for a professor who is writing a paper on cyberspace and culture. She's looking for examples of how the Internet and other networking technologies (like cell phones, GPS, RFID tags, etc...) are represented in popular movies. Unfortunately, the only examples she can come up with are movies that are paranoid and/or pessimistic about networking technology. The examples she gave were Enemy of the State, The Matrix and The Net.

But what she wants are some examples from all the viewpoints, positive, negative, neutral or some mixture of the three. That's why I'm turning to you guys for help. I have virtually no knowledge about movies. The best example I could come up for something positive was You've Got Mail. There have to be better movies out there for her to use as examples, please help!

PS> The more realistic the movie (i.e. not so much science-fiction or fantasy based), the better

PPS> I've gotten her permission to do this, so she's under no illusions about where the answers are coming from.
posted by thewittyname to Media & Arts (28 answers total)
Man. The only thing that jumps out at me is Galaxy Quest, in the scene where the fanboys work together via the internet or some other type of network to help get the Tim Allen & Sigourney Weaver characters through the maze of the bowels of the spaceship near the end of the movie. It isn't central to the plot, however.

While the movie overall is completely unrealistic, on a very basic level it could work for you, because there is no denying that fanboy-type exists for real in geek culture, and what they do is probably exactly what your typical Trekkie would also do, if faced with a similar situation.
posted by contessa at 3:30 PM on February 28, 2005

Jumpin' Jack Flash, Sneakers, er more later, perhaps.
posted by edgeways at 3:42 PM on February 28, 2005

This made me think of a Japanese TV show I read about in Wired magazine, Keitai Deka ("Cell Phone Detective") about a teenaged girl who fights crime with the help of her super cell phone. Probably not what you're looking for -- I'm sure she'd be more satisfied with an American movie than a Japanese TV show.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 3:47 PM on February 28, 2005

I second Sneakers. More on the realistic side. Could be construed as pessimistic though.
posted by mnology at 3:49 PM on February 28, 2005

I'd second Sneakers.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:50 PM on February 28, 2005

Lain by Ryutaro Nakamura had a lot of interesting views on technology. Some positive, some negative. It's anime on a four DVD disc set.
posted by sled at 3:52 PM on February 28, 2005

Sadly, the first thing that popped into my mind was Jason Biggs' webcast rendezvous with Shannon Elizabeth in American Pie. Oh, and if it weren't for Jay and Silent Bob might never have struck back. Snoochie bootchies.
posted by Loser at 4:06 PM on February 28, 2005

I think some of the computer/networking aspects of Minority Report are presented in a very positive, idealistic light, at least early in the film. I'm thinking particularly, of the way Tom Cruise deftly "conducts" all the data available to him to find and prevent violent crime.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:10 PM on February 28, 2005

Oh, and if she is willing to consider text as well as film, she MUST check out the writings of Cory Doctorow (from bOING bOING). Much (all?) of his published work is available under a CC license at .
posted by Rock Steady at 4:14 PM on February 28, 2005

The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

uh, this is helpful because, uh, so you can see the opposite of what you were looking for.

that's the ticket.
posted by Hat Maui at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2005

Er, try again.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2005

posted by invisible ink at 4:18 PM on February 28, 2005

If she has a lot of time on her hands, Fox's 24 series is always portraying technology in both positive and negative lights.
posted by invisible ink at 4:26 PM on February 28, 2005

Uh. Sneakers is realistic? In the sense of not being as outrageous as The Matrix, sure, but it's still pretty far-fetched. I think it's a good answer to your query, but I'm not sure that there are many realistic depictions of computers that are central to their plots (I'd be happy to be proven wrong, however). And don't even get me started on depictions of artificial intelligence.

Maybe someone should start a web site to debunk move computer science, a la Stupid Move Physics.
posted by casu marzu at 4:30 PM on February 28, 2005

This is not directly useful, but it's interesting.
posted by carter at 4:33 PM on February 28, 2005

This is not a terrifically exciting example, but in the first Bridget Jones film, Bridget begins her ill-fated romance with her boss via IM. Surely there are several examples of flirtation being conducted via IM or email in films?

And I know I've seen the internet - or law enforcement databases - used for research in films a number of times... though buggered if I can think of an example of either right now.

(Sorry that's not more helpful! If I can think of real examples, I'll be back...)
posted by hot soup girl at 6:36 PM on February 28, 2005

You've Got Mail? I'm not sure, since noone paid me enough to see it.

"Plot Outline: Two business rivals hate each other at the office but fall in love over the internet."
posted by Aknaton at 6:37 PM on February 28, 2005

In Clueless, cell phones are a pretty big social facilitator. And Cher has that bitchin' clothing management system.

WarGames? Pessimistic, but not anti-technology so much as anti-blind-faith-in-technology. Plus the role of morality in creating/using technology comes up a few times.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:15 PM on February 28, 2005

Johnny Mnemonic. It's been too long to comment on its level of pessimism.
posted by patgas at 7:30 PM on February 28, 2005

Strangeland (with Dee Snyder, he of Twisted Sister fame) and Neither of which I've seen. Neither of which will probably be the non-paranoid example you're looking for.
posted by patgas at 7:35 PM on February 28, 2005

It's an exploration of the interpersonal relationships formed via text chat, voice chat, and webcam, the bonds formed beteen people, the connectedness of the communities that result and the genuineness of those relationships as they progress and sometimes spill out into "real life". It has the good, bad, the frightening, and the inspiring all going for it. The movie relies heavily on "cyberspace culture". I highly recommend it.
posted by mztreskiki at 7:59 PM on February 28, 2005

Oh! How about docs like Triumph of the Nerds and Nerds 2.0.1?

Never seen Hackers or Clockstoppers, but the promos looked like their heroes are teen techies.

Since you're open to negative examples too: The Net. Ugh.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:02 PM on February 28, 2005

In Almost Famous, there's the scene where the kid slash rock journalist, while following a band around the country, finds himself trying to get a story in to the home office under the wire. This being the early seventies, his editor explains that he can use the "mojo wire," a device that can send text over a phone line. He tells the kid that it 'only takes seventeen minutes per page'. Big audience laugh.

To me, this scene says both "Wow, our modern technology sure kicks the ass of our old technology" as well as "Thank god we can send text across the country at the push of a button."
posted by Clay201 at 9:56 PM on February 28, 2005

Clay201's example is an interesting one. Are you looking just for contemporary networking examples, or would precursor technologies fit too? There must be various classic westerns and newsroom flicks where the telegraph is an important plot feature.

Woody Allen's Sleeper has a lot of humorous takes on future tech. It's been a while, but didn't they have video telephony?
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:53 PM on February 28, 2005

I think the trick in finding these sorts of films is to recognize that when a technology becomes domesticated/accepted, it becomes less visible. One example might be the old landline phone system, which nobody noticed except for phreaks. Another example might be the Orvakian behavioral control pods, which have also slipped from public consciousness. I'm pretty sure Foucalt, among others, had something to say about this, along with Lyotard and the usual suspects.

But all kidding aside, when the technology becomes benevolent, or is seen as much, it is present by its absence--it is almost implied, rather than foregrounded antagonistically. Of course, there's also Herbie the Love Bug and its sequels. You might also look for the key terms "deus ex machina" and "film" for examples of technology saving the day at the last minute, a feature of almost every Star Trek episode.

I read once that the original ending of Rainman had the savant furiously assembling a discarded motorcycle after speed reading an old shop manual, then bursting through the barn doors and through the suprised evil federal agents. And, to completely digress, I saw the guy that Rainman was partially based on the other day, reading a big book of golf statistics in a public library.
posted by craniac at 10:36 AM on March 1, 2005

Also, the denizens of the email list "" could probably give you a bajillion examples.
posted by craniac at 10:39 AM on March 1, 2005

Hackers, when the internet all comes together to have at the Gibson that the guy from short circuit was smuggling.... oh just see the movie.
posted by softlord at 7:56 PM on March 1, 2005

Related, perhaps: The Use of Computers in Movies. Not really all that insightful (or funny, for that matter), but does give a couple more examples.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:03 AM on March 2, 2005

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