I spend a lot of time in the company of computers. I’ll happily profess that I know a thing or two about how they work, and then more often than not will regret doing so because whoever’s on the end of my professing will immediately ask me to fix the problem they’ve got with their wireless router. At this point I will try to move the conversation on to on area in which I like to think I’m even more at home, popular culture. As long as they then don’t start going on about Truffaut films (not seen any) or Desperate Housewives (can’t stand any), I can happily chat away about modern music, film and TV for ages.
Now aside from that introduction putting you off the idea of inviting me to a party, there’s a link in there between my two conversational subjects (I have more, but don’t get me started on the boring travel stories). Computers are great at media; digital techniques are all important in film (most blockbusters couldn’t survive without CGI), people like Mike Skinner and Daniel Bedingfield can record hit songs on their PCs without even leaving their bedrooms (some may wish they never had left), and now that most of us are up to speed with broadband we can access all this stuff in the proverbial comfort of our own homes.
But media? The media is rubbish at computers. Well, to be fair, it’s more accurate to say fiction is rubbish at computers. Almost without fail, the portrayal of computers – and those magical people who work with them – is incredibly unrealistic. OK, so I’m not expecting to turn on Hollyoaks and see realism. But it gets hard to suspend my disbelief when I see these computers that make wooshing, beeping, bubbly little electronic sounds every time someone clicks the mouse. Every time! It’s not just sounds, it’s the way every single window has to flip round, zoom in and out and do a little dance instead of just popping up like real windows do. Hollywood computers are the worst for this – Sandra Bullock’s computer in The Net? It’d have been out the window in five minutes if I’d had the lead role. Maybe I’d have then escaped all her identity-theft problems and the whole film would have been much more relaxed.
On the other hand, it would be very nice if PCs started up instantaneously like they do on TV. It’d also be quite cool if there were as many Macs knocking about (I’m sure that comment’s going to get me into trouble). Macs are everywhere in film and TV because: a) the people who make film and TV tend to use them in the first place and b) they just look cool. In real life, you can throw a stone and a dozen Windows boxes will be in range, but the only shiny, translucent Macs around are the ones in the special section of the department stores. And the ones on the BBC’s inexplicably popular Hustle.
As for the people who work with computers, in TV and film they range from simply disfunctional to absolutely repulsive. Most of us in the office enjoyed Channel 4’s hit-and-miss sitcom The IT Crowd, but come on, we’re all a bit cooler than that. Aren’t we? We certainly aren’t like Jurassic Park’s treachourous, egg-stealing, obese, magic-word-demanding Dennis Nedry. Then again, if someone could point me towards an IT department staffed by the improbably glamourous likes of Antitrust’s Lisa Calighan and Goldeneye’s Natalya Simyonova… well, let’s just say that my blog posts could well come to a sudden end.
Come on media types, we all use computers these days. We know how they work. We know they can be exciting, and the people who work with them are often saints, but we also know that they tend to be simply useful, relatively non-flashy tools. The computers, I mean, not the people.