Computers in the Movies

A few months ago usability guru Jacob Neilsen wrote a great piece on the Top Ten Usability Bloopers in the Movies — basically, a list of the most common unrealistic computer features that show up in the movies. Like the hero instantly recognizing and using the interface on a strange computer system; or the huge blinking fonts that shout “Access Denied.”

The whole article is a hoot, but even better was a follow-up article detailing the corny computer action in the 1996 film Independence Day. The highlight of incredulity occurs when Jeff Goldbloom reaches the alien mothership with his trusty laptop, instantly connects with the alien network, and uploads a virus that destroys the ship and saves planet Earth. I rolled my eyes when I first saw that scene, but Neilsen and his readers really have fun with it. For example:

If the interface was wireless – was that 802.11a/b/c/g/n/whatever, some WiMax variation, some cellular platform etc. and how nice that the FCC allocated a compatible frequency range to the aliens.

Also:

Did the aliens really design their APIs with a call to blowUpTheShipAsSoonAsTheGoodGuysGetFarEnoughAway(), as an easy-to-get-to routine? (sadly the answer is probably yes)

One reader notes that the aliens obviously failed to protect their network with “Norton Anti-virus, Alien Mothership Edition.” But another reader counters that

They disabled Norton Mothership Edition – it kept on pestering them to get updates and to upgrade. It’s difficult to get new antivirus signatures when the nearest MotherShip Software Authorized Retailer is 100 light-years away.

Only computer geeks will really get the humor in all this, but it amply illustrates the license that scriptwriters take with technology when the scene calls for a computer.

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