Technology (Or The Absence Of It) In The Movies

The movie based on The Hunger Games was released yesterday in the U.S.  The dystopian story is set in a post-apocalytpic future North America.  In this future (as described in this piece by Jeremy Hsu) certain technologies we take for granted aren’t present.  While the Hsu analysis focuses on faulty linkages between technology and progress, I want to make the point that technology is as culturally defined as it is defined by physical and resource constraints.  Just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean that we will always be able to do that thing.   For instance, we lack the capability to launch humans to the moon, though forty years ago it was something we did several times.

Another recent movie that can illustrate that point is Hugo, based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Hugo is pretty thick with technological themes and concerns, both in front of and behind the camera.  There’s the use of 3-D film technology, the emphasis on train transportation via coal, the operation of mechanical clocks and other devices, and the emergence of film as a new medium. Of those things, its the mechanics of the film that compare to the missing Internet and other ‘forgotten’ technologies from The Hunger Games.

In Hugo the demonstration of what could be done via mechanical means is not just a symbol of the period (1930s Paris), but a sign of what we used to be able to do.  While there have been myriad benefits from the shift from mechanical to electrical/electronic (fill in the blank), the moves forward were not without consequence.  In learning new technologies we often lose old technological knowledge.  This is rarely intentional, but often a side effect of the increased benefits from doing things the ‘old way’.

At the very least, this kind of thinking might help you enjoy some movies a little bit more.