8 Common False Computer Tropes In Hollywood

Written by Jordan H.

8 Common Computer Tropes That Need to Die

Even with most Hollywood producers carrying an iPhone loaded with Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat, and Clubhouse, movies and T.V. still show a lot of flashy technology that is not used and may never be used. In this article I describe some of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed in Hollywood.

Overall, it’s not atrocious. Most movies do it right. But some myths still slip through.


8. Zoom And Enhance

Zoom and Enhance

I’ll pick low-hanging fruit for my first pick. If you’ve seen any episode of CinemaSins you know about he zoom-and-enhance cliche. A favorite out of hollywood directors to promote tension while still keeping the plot moving.

As any photographer can tell you, if the camera didn’t capture it, it doesn’t exist.

That said, this cliche is becoming a bit more real. We are now able to upscale or enhance video that a decade ago we would have had to squint at to see faces.

7. A.I. is God

A.I. is God

I’ll admit, A.I. is pretty creepy. But A.I. is far from being all-knowing. It’s just math. There’s nothing sentient about it (yet).

Essentially A.I. just hijacks the predictability and pattern of the unverise. Sometimes it’s wrong. A lot of times it’s right.

6. A.I. is Politely Looking the Other Way

A.I. is Polite

Less common (although still present in media) is two characters discussing something very sensitive (like “this organizaiton is pure evil…here’s our exact plans to destroy it.”) over inesucure communication like company email.

It may have been believable in 2002 when A.I. was still in its infancy. But even small software firms now use A.I. to scan emails being sent and calls being made to determine if there’s a threat to the organization. Just set up a trigger to alert the manager, C.E.O. and security department when certain behaviors occur, and, bam! Your bad guys (or protagonists) are in jail!

5. Hand-Waving

Hand Waving

Proabably the most guilty of this sin is Minority Report_, although films like _De Ja Vu are guilty of it as well.

Here’s the thing. Interface design is hard. And, sorry, GUI people, but I’m giving a shout-out to hardware manufacturers here. Even for something as simple as a mouse, it’s the default go-to because early creators of the computer found it to be the most comfortable to use for an extended period of time.

And the keyboard isn’t so simple, either. Remember how long it took you to learn touch typing? A lot more time passed as manufacturers debated where keys belong and how the “clack” should feel.

As you can see, we humans are very tactile creatures.

So when I see people waving their hands around or rotating a single dial to perform some arbitrary action I cringe. I’m sure it simplifies storytelling, but it doesn’t match reality.

4. Bleeping Computer!

Bleeping Computer

No, I’m not talking about when a program won’t compile.

In just about every single movie I’ve seen computers have sound. And I don’t just mean a Slack notification when the supervillain messages the hero. Even information screens emit a high-pitched “trill-ill-ill-ill” when they slide into view.

If you talk to most developers this is rare. It might have been cool in the early 00’s when you could have the Friends theme song play as a wav file whenever you logged in to Windows XP.

With more and more technology grabbing our attention, our computers are fast becoming a zen garden to escape from the noise of notifications.

3. No Company Owns the Technology

The Technology

You have a Dell laptop that has Google Chrome. You ask your Amazon Echo to buy the newest Apple iPhone and have it delivered to your house. It’s shipped in a General Motors delivery van.

Brands love to make their products smell like them (that’s part of the game). But somehow in sci fi–unless it’s a driving plot device (pun unintended)–devices just exist. Nobody sells them. They just somehow exist.

I’ll give Star Trek a pass since they’ve declared time and time again that money isn’t a thing anymore. But what companies did the Empire contract with to complete the Death Star?

2. Transparent Displays

Transparent Display

The Expanse is one of my favorite shows, but even they aren’t immune from the curse of the transparent display.

This bothers me. Because think about it. Even with your laptop out in a coffee shop, you undoubtedly look left and right before typing in your account password to make sure nobody’s looking over at your keys. And did your lover send over a naughty picture? At least you can sit over in the corner and blush with no one the wiser.

If you have a phone or a tablet with a transparent display everyone sees what you’re doing. And as ubiquitous as devices are, it’s unlikely you’ll wait until you get into the privacy of your home to check your messages.

Plus, have you ever tried to read a transparency that’s lying on a cluttered table?

Unfortunately, phone manufacturers are jumping on the transparent display bandwagon without thinking through how impractical it may be.

1. “30 Keystrokes and I’m In”

Stereotypical Hacker

My parents watched a show they said was terrible. I forget the title of the show, but one of the lines that makes my dad crack up was “30 keystrokes and I’m in.” And, yes, we’re talking about hacking (well, technically, “cracking.”)

With a few exceptions most security breeches happen due to very mundane slip-ups:

  • Video conferencing with the admin password in the background
  • Clicking on a fishing email.
  • A bad actor is allowed access to a computer system due to social engineering
  • Forgetting to log out of a system.
  • Someone calling to inform you about your car’s extended Warren Tea

That’s usually what a cyber attack entails. 90% of it doesn’t involve some special command. Even attacks on nation states like STUXNET a few years ago happened because somone let their guard down and plugged an infected flashdrive into a computer.

In a way, films propogating this myth can be dangerous. Because most people are expecting a cracker to just appear on your screen, laugh maniacally, and ask to wire him (or her) $50,000 to an offshore account. But they often fail to account for more mundane ways of circumventing security. Maybe that one follower who is asking where that photo is taken is trying to find out your travel patterns. And do you write your passwords on a piece of paper or put it in a password manager?

Honorable Mentions

  • Technology works (as expected) 100% of the time. Trust me…it does not.
  • Instant communication in space. Seriously, it should take at least a few seconds.
  • The programmer hermit. If you walk around the Google campus you’ll undoubtedly see more bike shorts than pocket protectors.
  • Only men are good at programming. Thankfully this trope is dying a well-deserved death. But it should be obvious that it’s false.
  • Testosterone-Fueld A.I. While sometimes I think my computer hates me, really it’s just doing what I tell it to.
  • Programmers not using the GUI. I’m a fan of the terminal as much as the next geek. But most developer use the GUI at least part of the time.
  • Single-Purpose Terminals. You know, that one screen in the top right that is soley for showing how close that one missle is to the hero’s base. That’s not for checking email. That’s not for error messages. That’s for a display of that missile.
  • “The attackers didn’t leave a trace!” shock face. Of course they didn’t. That’s their job.

In Conclusion

Just like doctors critiquing how off House or Scrubs can be with medical accuracy, I decided to take a look at hollywood myself and talk about some less poignant things I find wrong. I’ve found movies are getting better about technology accuracy, but we still have a long way to go.

Have you seen any other inaccuracies in film or television? Please comment on Twitter or LinkedIn and tell me what you think!

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