Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This guy doesn't like how encryption is portrayed in movies

Here's an enjoyable criticism of how the entertainment industry handles the topic of encryption within film and television.

Like the author of the essay, I am curious enough about encryption to chuckle at its use as a dramatic plot device. I've kind of resigned my interest in entertainment media enough to accept that any sort of technical information that is communicated within a dramatic work is likely to be factually inaccurate.

I believe that most dramatic writers do not have an interest in understanding technical issues more than they need to. Technical information to them falls in the realm of setting. It's decoration to give the story flavor. The writers will research just enough technical information to sprinkle a few technical terms into their stories. It's meant to pass as genuinely technical to the broad, and largely ignorant, audience. I believe that the level of technical sophistication within most dramatic works is just high enough to be outside the level of technical comprehension for most audiences and well below the level of people who are actually knowledgeable about the field.

The only work of drama that comes to mind that handles technical information well within their stories is Numb3rs. Even though I really don't watch the show much, I appreciate what Numb3rs' creators are doing. I kind of see it as an exhibition of different mathematical curiosities that works a dramatic story into the show.

One question that challenges me about technology being misrepresented within entertainment media is whether it's a good thing. I am reminded of a conversation I had a number of years ago with a public relations person for a propane gas trade group. She told me that every time they saw propane gas misrepresented, i.e., exploding, within film and television that part of her job would be to send the people responsible for the misrepresentation an informative letter. It's hard to say whether propane gas continues to be misrepresented with film and television. I certainly don't see actors commonly remarking about how nice it is to have a clean, useful, and reliable energy source all thanks to propane gas.

What is the damage of misrepresenting encryption and other pieces of technology? The most damage is the proliferation of people who believe that dramatic elements are applicable within the real world. The way that we as people interpret our fiction is kind of funny that many people cannot differentiate sufficiently advanced technology from magic.

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