Life Imitating Art or Art Imitating Life?
The Intertwine of Technology, Pop Culture & The Questions That Arise
28 February 2022
Ju Yi Wong
Many would be familiar with the sci-fi horror TV show, “Black Mirror” - a sharp & suspenseful anthology series touching on the positive and negative effects of futuristic technology. While some of its award-winning plots seem far from believably executable in real life (i.e. being trapped in an endless time loop as punishment, insurance companies tapping into people's memories in order to settle claims), our world moves and catches up with technological development far quicker than one would imagine.
But do we actually know which comes first? Do technological creations and advancements inspire films and television shows or is the idea first conceived in the entertainment world? More importantly, can we ever fully discern if technological advancement is the way forward or have negative implications that are more harmful than beneficial?
Sci-fi aside, there are plentiful pop culture classics that have foretold several inventions of the 21st century - decades before it's time. From cartoons to blockbuster movies, we take a look at some of technology’s evolution through various lenses.
1. Dick Tracy (1949) & The Apple Smartwatch (2015)
While most Gen Z’ers would think smartwatches are a thing of norm today, Apple wasn’t actually the first brand to conceive of this idea in 2015 - nor was it Cupertino, Huawei, Seiko or Samsung.
Back in 1946, the idea of wearing a tech gadget on the wrist was originated by “Dick Tracy”, an American comic strip about a crime-fighting police detective in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. (Perhaps also the inspiration behind the famous 1989 cartoon series, Inspector Gadget)
2. The Creation of Alexa (2013)
As smart devices evolve, virtual assistant technology did as well. Amazon’s Alexa is owned by an estimated 40 million people in the US alone. While Alexa has various intuitive skills such as the ability to take on interactive cues and alerts if there are possible dangers, Alexa made headlines just a few months ago for reportedly telling a 10-year old girl to “plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs” after she asked for a “challenge to do”.
3. The Jetsons’ Flat Screen TVs (1961) & NASA’s 3D Printed Food (2018)
Baby boomers & Gen X’ers would remember the infamous Jetsons family, a futuristic cartoon series set in the year 2062. Whooshing away in flying saucers and living in buildings above the clouds, the Jetsons family had featured flat-screen TVs in their home - the home appliance which would only have then been prototyped in 1964 by a few university professors.
In another episode, the Jetsons family are seen “printing” out their food in just a few pushes of a button on a machine. While this invention feels like something still far away - in 2018, NASA developed a 3D Chef (appropriately named “Chef 3D”) to make 3D printed pizza for astronauts in space.
4. Boston Dynamics’ Robo-Dog (2020) vs Black Mirror’s Metalhead (2017)
The Jetsons also featured robots as housemaids and cleaning assistants. While robots have often been shown in various films and television shows, Massachusett's-born Boston Dynamics has taken a clear lead in producing commercially-available robots in 2020 with the purpose of utilizing them in human-hazardous areas like nuclear plants and oil rigs.
Maybe I’m a bit more of a skeptic when it comes to robotic advancement; while robots are perfect replacements in human hazardous areas, we should also factor in the fact that they can also be hazardous to humans. According to several studies in 2013, industrial robots are linked to thousands of preventable accidents towards humans per year around the world. Robots behaving as antagonists have been clearly depicted in world-famous shows like The Terminator (1985), I, Robot (2004), and Black Mirror’s Metalhead (2017), which coincidentally looks a lot like Boston Dynamic’s robo-dog, Spot as well.
(Turns out: Black Mirror’s Metalhead is indeed inspired by Boston Dynamics Robot Dog, as per described by the show creator in a 2017 interview)
5. Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” (2016) & China’s “Civility Code” (2020)
Perhaps one of the more famous episodes of Black Mirror, “Nosedive” is set in a time where people can rate each other from 1-5 stars for every interaction they have, which can impact their socioeconomic status. Individuals can earn points from morally “good” behaviours (i.e. saying “please” and “thank you”, complimenting a coworker) or lose points from “unacceptable” conduct (i.e cursing and swearing at someone profusely or being tardy).
The individual rankings will either give you access to more privileges (i.e. upper-tier access to the property) or limit you (i.e. not being allowed to board specific flights).
While this social conduct system sounds like a twisted approach to measuring morale and humanity, China had implemented this system in Suzhou, a city in the eastern Jiangsu province in 2020. According to Suzhou’s civilization office, the “Civility Code” was aimed to encourage citizens to behave and act better in social situations. Starting with a base point of 1,000, Chinese citizens would be rated accordingly, mostly based on social settings such as getting bonuses for volunteering and getting demerits from traffic violations.
Despite there being over 5,000 voluntary registrants on the app (according to the state’s offices), the Chinese public had immense backlash for this system - noting it as dangerously oppressive, a “brutal measure in the name of civility”, a deprivation of rights to public service, and even comparing it to the Nazi’s usage of Jewish star badges back in WWII.
Although app development has been momentarily withdrawn, citizens anticipate that the program would still be relaunched later under a new name.
Moral Ending: Is There One?
The notion of how technology further advances (or deteriorates) human life and the extent to which it can be controlled/ used morally continues to be a topic of much discussion. There is zero doubt that artificial intelligence has brought us into an expansive digital age that we are comfortably assimilated to, but ethical & technical measures remain an area that still requires improvement and work.
It’s either we sit back and enjoy the show, or begin to question when things seem a little bit out of hand.
But just in case you don't want to just sit and watch things unfold Schedule a chat with us today to learn how you can navigate the expanding world of tech and ethical marketing