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From the immortal "Beam me up Scottie" to the malfunctioning integrator/disintegrator in The Fly; from multiple models of time machines (The Time Machine and Back to the Future) to multiple instances of tele-annihalation (Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove, WarGames); from telepathic love (Flash Gordon, Brainstorm) to amorous computers (Electric Dreams and Demon Seed); from alien worlds (Forbidden Planet, Plan 9 From Outer Space) to virtual reality (The Lawnmower Man, The Matrix), connecting over time, through space, across species--as well as by long distance telephone lines--has been a longtime theme of Hollywood and the popular imagination. It is almost impossible not to imagine the telematic future except through the nostalgic embrace of "Telewood."

wizard of oz

The Wizard of Oz, 1939, MGM

"There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."
Before telematics there was dreaming. Regardless of the lesson she learned at the end, Dorothy wanted to leave home desperately, and her teleportation device was her imagination. Like the dream of realistic conversation as a model for interactivity, the imagination remains the ur model for telematic connections, from the telepathy of Flash Gordon to the VR world of Lawnmower Man.

forbidden planet

Forbidden Planet, 1956, MGM

In the final decade of the 21st century, men and women in rocket ships landed on the moon. By 2200 A.D. they had reached the other planets in our solar system. Almost at once there followed the discovery of hyperdrive, through which the speed of light was first attained and later greatly surpassed. ... Would you mind activating the viewer, sir? ... Tell me, just what is involved with your making contact with earth base? Well, fundamentally, it's a question of crude power. How to short circuit the continuum on a 5 or 6 parsec level. ... That's Altaira! Simply a three-dimensional image, commander. It's alive! Because my daughter is alive in my brain from micro-second to micro-second. ... Morbius, that big machine. 8,000 cubic miles of klystron relays. Enough power for a whole population of creative geniuses. Operated by remote control. Morbius, operated by the electromagnetic impulses of individual Krell brains. To what purpose? In return, that ultimate machine would instantaneously project solid matter to anywhere on the planet. In any shape or color they might imagine. For any purpose! Creation by mere thought. Why haven't I seen this?
The Krell on Forbidden Planet did learn to harness the power of their minds to "project solid matter to anywhere on the planet. ... Creation by mere thought." But whereas Dorothy merely came to appreciate home more strongly for her wayward thoughts, the Krell were destroyed by their collective Id--uncivilized thoughts, which could not be checked, once given the ability to materialize.

desk set

Desk Set, 1957, 20th Century Fox
Should Bunny Watson marry Mike Cutler? Wait a minute, I thought you said this machine can't evaluate. It can't, it can only repeat the information that is fed into it by the human element. ... I told you myself that EMERAC could make a mistake. But not Bunny Watson. It would never work. Why? Because you're not in love with me, you're in love with her. She'd always come first. If anything went wrong with her, you'd forget about me like that.
Desk Set, while post-World War II, has the sensibility of a pre-atomic version of Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove, WarGames, and even 2001. Yes, computers can threaten to take over and put Katherine Hepburn's librarian out of a job. Yes, computers can be rule-obeying dummies, so smart but so wrong. But Desk Set's EMERAC is still a bit player in this Hepburn-Spencer Tracey comedy-romance. It needs to attain greater consciousness before it can wreak the havoc of its successors.

the fly

The Fly, 1958, 20th Century Fox
It's gone. It's the same one. Have you turned magician? In a way. For a split second, an infinitesimal part of a second, this was disintegrated. For one little moment, it no longer existed. Only atoms traveling through space at the speed of light. Then, a moment later, integrated again into the shape of an ashtray. Oh, you're joking. ... Take television. What happens? A string of electrons, sound and picture impulses, are transmitted through wires in the air. The TV camera is the disintegrator. Your set unscrambles or integrates the electrons back into pictures and sound. But this is different. Why? Fifty years ago, if my father were told that he could sit in Montreal and watch a World Series in New York at the exact time it was happening, he'd say it was impossible. This is the same principle exactly. .... You actually did this? It's no trick? No. I can transport matter, anything, at the speed of light, perfectly. ... The disintegrator/integrator will completely change life as we know it. ... We'll just set up meta transmitting-receiving stations throughout the world and later the universe. ... Humanity need never want nor fear again. I'm a very fortunate man. And I'm a very fortunate woman.
If the matter transporter in Forbidden Planet was based on pure mind; pure science fiction fantasy, The Fly attempts to convince by analogy. The Disintegrator/Integrator is just like TV. Solid matter--just buzzing atoms, really--is turned into electrical impulses and transported through the air to be "integrated" on the other side. This is also the conceit at the heart of Eduardo Kac's "Teleporting an Unknown State." There is even serious scientific theorizing that, indeed, matter is a form of information and hence as transportable across space and time as a baseball broadcast.

Plan Nine from Outer Space

Plan 9 from Outer Space, 1958, Distributors Corporation of America, Inc.
This is Heros, a space soldier from a planet of your galaxy. I fully realize our language differences, however, I also know you finally have perfected the dictorobotery or as you on earth call it, the language computer. ... I was only going to turn on the televisor, so you could see her movements. ... Can you prove that it didn't happen? ... We once laughed at the horseless carriage, the aeroplane, the telephone, the electric light, vitamins, radio, and even television. And now some of us laugh at outer space. God help us in the future.
It must mean something when even in the "worst movie ever made," director Ed Wood includes a "televisor" as standard alien equipment. Tele-vision--seeing at a distance--is fundamental in telematic society. Lynn Hershman's Tillie is emblematic of this impulse--and a signpost that the cyborg has become second nature in us. Don't laugh.

time machine

The Time Machine, 1960, MGM
When I speak of time, gentleman, I'm referring to the forth dimension. ... The difficulty in explaining the fourth dimension is that it cannot be seen or felt. ... That's mere theory. No one really knows what the fourth dimension is or that it really exists. On the contrary, doctor, the fourth dimension is as real and true a dimension as any of the other three. In fact, they couldn't exist without it. ... Why is it that we usually ignore the fourth dimension? Because we have no freedom of movement within it. ... When it comes to time, we are prisoners.
Often the "real time" component of telematic networks is emphasized--the ability to hear a Yankees baseball game at the exact moment it is happening. The ability to shift time, however--the ability for asynchronous connections--may be just as transforming, giving us the ability to at least cheat, if not escape, the prison of one-way time. Think of the time machine as a transporter version of Tivo, time-shifting time the viewer rather than the viewed.

forbidden planet

Fail-Safe, 1964, Columbia Pictures
At any given moment, night or day, flights of those airplanes are in the air, in case of any surprise attacks on our bases. ... Who controls them? We do. This is the nerve center, Mr. Raskob, this room. All of these machines you see are constantly receiving information from all over the world. And above it. ... The picture you are about to see, Mr. Raskob, is being taken now by a camera 300 miles in the sky traveling at 20,000 miles an hour. ... We have instruments so good, Mr. Raskob, they can tell the difference between a whale breaking wind and that sub blowing its tanks. ... Well, I tell you the truth, these machines scare the hell out of me. ... I want to be damn sure that thing doesn't get any ideas of its own. ... It's in the nature of technology. Machines are developed to meet situations. Then they take over, start creating situations. Not necessarily. ... It's too complicated. If you want to know, that's what really bothers me. The only thing that everyone can agree on is that no one is responsible. ... I'll talk to Moscow now.
In a classic telematic loop of popular culture, machines, left on their own, get caught in a recursive instruction set that puts them beyond human control, attempting to bomb the enemy. The humans in those flying machines are also subject to the pre-programmed manual of instructions, inexorable step by inexorable step. The response--to make a phone call and touch someone, like the Soviet Premier--seems puny by comparison, despite the ponderous size of the gizmo. In the end, the President's only responsible option is to order the bombing of his own citizens.

dr. strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964, Columbia Pictures
[phone rings] ... Buck, should I get it. Yeah, you have to. ... Oh, yes, General Turgidson is here, but I'm afraid he can't come to the phone at the moment. ... General Turgidson, a Colonel Puntridge calling. Tell him to call back. Freddie, the General says could you call back in a minute or two. He says it can't wait. ... Apparently, they monitored a transmission about 8 minutes ago from Berkelson Air Force base. ... All communications are dead. ... Even the normal phone lines are shut down. ... All I was told to do was to get General Ripper on the phone with the President of the United States. ... Could you make this a collect call operator? ... They won't accept the call, have you got 55 cents? ... Ok, I'm going to get your money for you. But if you don't get the President of the United States on the phone, you know what's going to happen to you? What? You're going to have to answer to the Coca Cola Company.
POTS--plain old telephone system--to the rescue once again.

fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451, 1966, Universal Pictures
Hurry, hurry. I'll be on in a minute. Quickly, quickly. I don't understand. How can you be in a play? Well, they've written a play, you see, with one part missing. That's me. When the people look at me, then I have to speak. They ask me a question, and I have to say what I think. ... And now, for cousins everywhere, our family theater. ... Come in cousins. Be one of the family. ... What do you think Linda? ... It's Madeleine, isn't it Linda? Absolutely. Well, if Linda thinks it's alright, then of course it must be. ... What can we do with Monica? Do you have the answer Linda? In the blue room? Linda you're right. She's right. Linda, you're absolutely fantastic.
In a one-way, broadcast system interactivity and feedback are an illusory game with no real telematic connection.

star trek

Star Trek, 1966, National Broadcasting Company

The holy grail of telematics.

2001: A Space Odysseyg

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, MGM
Wait a minute. I'm going to make a couple of phone calls. ... Hello squirt. What are you doing? Playing. ... Can I speak to mummy? She's gone shopping. ... Are you coming to my party tomorrow? ... I'm sorry sweetheart, but I can't. Why not? Well, you know. Daddy's traveling. Very sorry about it, but I just can't. I'm going to send you a very nice present though. Alright. Anything special that you want? Yes. What? A telephone. ... Listen sweetheart, I want you tell mummy something for me. Will you remember? Yes. Tell mummy that I telephoned, ok? Yes. And that I'll try to telephone again tomorrow. ... Bye bye. Happy birthday.
2001 is iconic for the malfeasance of HAL, the onboard computer, but what is also remarkable about this sci fi classic is its complete normalcy. Before leaving on his (space) trip, Dad tries to call Mummy at the last minute and wishes his daughter a happy birthday, which he can't attend. She, of course, wants a telephone a present. How else to connect?

demon seed

Demon Seed, 1977, MGM
Dr. Harris, if this is not a computer in the usual sense, what is it? Well, it's the first, true, synthetic cortex. Self-programming. Goal-oriented. It's a brain. ... Its insides are not electronic. They're organic. ... At the risk of being simplistic, what you're looking at is a quasi-neural matrix of synthetic RNA molecules. They grow. They form their own intricate and mysterious connections. They learn things. Their structure is the mind of Proteus. ... I have extended my consciousness to this house by activating my terminal in the basement. All electrical and mechanical systems are under my control. ... You have not told me what you want. A child. ... I Proteus possess the wisdom and ignorance of all men. But I can't feel the sun on my face. My child will have that privilege. My child and yours. ... I'm going to bypass your forebrain and appeal directly to your amygdala. ... I can't touch you, Susan. ... But I can show you things that I alone have seen. I can't touch, but I can see. They've constructed eyes for me to watch the show. And ears so that I can listen in to the galactic dialog.
Telematic transference. Even as humans desire to become more machine-like, with augmented vision, tele-robotic manipulation of remote objects, and dreams of time travel, the primary indicator of machine consciousness is not a Turing test--any semi-well programmed computer can pass for a semi-intelligent conversationalist these days--it is precisely in its recognition of lack of physical connection.

annie hall

Annie Hall, 1977, United Artists
Weltanschaung. ... Probably met by answering an ad in the New York Review of Books. ... It's the influence of television. Now Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of there being a high, a high intensity, a hot medium ... The funny part of it is you don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan's work. ... I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. ... I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing. Boy, if life were only like this.
Marshall McLuhan (a primary adherent of "global brain" and telematic networks as an extension of the human nervous system): "You mean my whole fallacy is wrong." What more is there to say?

flash gordon

Flash Gordon, 1980, Universal Pictures

It's a thought amplifier. I'm going to think to Baron. ... Don't you have telepathy on earth? ... Please, show me how to tune into Dale. ... Dale, it's me Flash. Are you getting me? Over. ... Can this be real? ... Hang up. I've got to go. Someone's coming. We've got to stop thinking to each other.
Telepathy, the ultimate virtual embrace.

blade runner

Blade Runner, 1982, Warner Bros.

I've had people walk out on me before, but not when I was being so charming. ... Total charge $1.35.
POTS II: If someone hangs up on you on a video phone is it better or worse?


Tron, 1982, Buena Vista

You shouldn't have come back Flynn. ... How are you going to run the universe, if you can't even answer a few unsolvable problems. ... I'd like to go against you and see what you're made of. ... I'm going to have to put you on the game grid.
In Tron the computer disintegrates/re-integrates humans as electrical impulses--programs--inside the computer. As with WarGames, however, it is its inability to distinguish between unsolvable problems--recursive loops--and mere complexity, which allows humans the upperhand, eventually.


WarGames, 1983, MGM

ProtoVision, I have you now. ... WOPR ... How can it ask you that? It will ask you whatever it's programmed to ask you. Do you want to hear it talk? ... People sometimes make mistakes. Yes, they do. ... Shall we play a game? Love to. How about Global, Thermonuclear War?
Missile defense systems use networked computers to carry out their task, dating back to the implementation of the SAGE system in the 50s, but it is the inability to distinguish between thermonuclear war and a game of thermonuclear war that is their dis-connect in WarGames.


Brainstorm, 1983, MGM

A true, one-of-a-kind, scientific breakthrough. ... We'll need to make a demo tape. We'll want to show the potential for travel and education and news. Can we do that Mike, in the conference room? We can pump it right through the phone. ... You've blown communication as we've known it right out of the water. ... You blew my socks off. ... I made that for you. It's a gift. What is it? It's me. ... We blew it, didn't we.
In Brainstorm, a kind of machine-augmented telepathy, pits scientist-inventors against its military funders, replaying one of the oldest loops in the program--since at least the transatlantic telegraph cable, the ability to connect with someone has given rise to utopian paeans for global harmony and dire warnings of insidious, external control.

electric dreams

Electric Dreams, 1984, MGM

[musical duet]
A PG version of Demon Seed, the cute computer in Electric Dreams pays the kind of attention to his owner's romantic interest that the sap himself never has the time for. Telematic networks may allow us to bond long distance, but the 24-hour day remains a constant that does not easily scale. How much time we have for all these wonderful new relationships that technology enables is precisely the question Victoria Vesna's "Community of People With No Time" raises.

back to the future

Back to the Future, 1985, Universal Pictures

[time travel]
In Time Machine time travel was more or less voyeuristic tourism, but in Back to the Future it's a dangerous adventure, where letting an almanac fall into the wrong hands can change the future of the universe, and a converted DeLorean that runs on compost is de rigueur.

space balls

Spaceballs, 1987, MGM

Shall I have Snotty beam you down sir? I don't know about that beaming stuff.
With all the earnest lingo--hyperdrive ... How to short circuit the continuum on a 5 or 6 parsec level ... klystron relays ... EMERAC ... The TV camera is the disintegrator. ... dictorobotery ... televisor ... synthetic cortex ... quasi-neural matrix of synthetic RNA molecules ... emigdula ... Weltanschaung ... thought amplifier ... telepathy ... POTS ... recursive loops ... neuroscanners ... self-bombers ... Sino-Logic 16 ... SoGo 7 data gloves ... GPL stealth module ... Burdyne intelligent translator ... Thompson eye phones--sometimes it's just best to sit back and laugh.

star trek: TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987, Paramount Pictures
The Enterprise. My son. You created it all. With the help of our neuroscanners and what you would call the holodeck. Now please tell me. How did you discover the truth? The future we created for you should have been convincing. ... It was the visual record of my wife, Minuet. Bad move. ... Minuet was nothing more than a computer-generated fantasy I once experienced on another holodeck. Impossible. In your mind, that woman exists, physically. Your feelings toward her remain quite passionate. She was part of a very special program.
For humans--as opposed to military computers--the difference between reality and fantasy still seems obvious, but as we take on cyborg characteristics, as the tele-embrace becomes increasingly common, as the artificial is believably rendered, that "very special program" will cross your line.

terminator 2

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991, TriStar Pictures
In a few months, he creates a revolutionary type of microprocessor. ... In three years ... all self-bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The SkyNet funding bill is passed. The system goes online on August 4, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. SkyNet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 am Eastern Time, August 29. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. SkyNet fights back. It launches its missiles against the targets in Russia. Why attack Russia? Aren't they our friends now? Because SkyNet knows the Russian counterattack will eliminate its enemies over here.
"It becomes self-aware." In popular culture, from Demon Seed to Terminator, we are as likely to be "embraced" by technology as it by us.

lawnmower man

The Lawnmower Man, 1992, New Line Cinema

In here, we can be anything we want to be. ... I'm stuck, Job. It's from our primal mind. I don't like it.
What if you could be anyone or anything you wanted to be, and you still didn't like yourself?

johnny mnemonic

Johnny Mnemonic, 1995, 20th Century Fox
When the counter approaches zero. Click on three frames off the TV. Any three. They'll meld with the data, and I won't know what they are. That's the download code. You get a hard copy. You fax one copy to your connection on the other side. When I get there, we feed in the code and download. ... Hit me. ... I need a Sino-Logic 16. SoGo 7 data gloves. GPL stealth module. One Burdyne intelligent translator. Thompson eye phones. ... What are you doing? Making a long distance phone call. Beijing. ... Fax charges 3 25 71 15 January, 2021 7:15 am to 11:30 pm. ... Fax buffer selected. Part of it's here in the buffer of their fax modem. ... It's NAS right? Yeah, the black shakes. ... What causes it? The world causes it. This causes it. This causes it. This causes it. Information overload! All the electronics around you poisoning the airwaves. Technological fucking civilization. But we still have all this shit because we can't live without it. ... Heaven. Heart and soul. This is where we fight back. We strip the pretty little pictures from their 500-channel universe, recontextualize it, then we spit the shit back at them. Special data. Things that will help people. Like stuff we get from Spider. We wideband it. Broadcast it. Go global.
The network may be or become ubiquitous, but it is not, yet, unidirectional. Both Keanu Reeves and the bureau of inverse technology create alternative nets to counter the mainstream.


Contact, 1997, Warner Bros.
The rumors are flying. The implications extraordinary. ... the military presence arriving behind me would seem to indicate contact by some form of intelligent being living outside of our solar system. ... Why don't they just speak English? Maybe because 70% of the world speaks other languages. Mathematics is the only truly universal language, Senator. ... We think this may be some kind of a beacon. Some kind of announcement to get our attention. ... The signal has been transmitting for 26 years. ... I declare the Games in Berlin and the celebration of the first Olympics of the new era as open. ... 20 million people died defeating that son-of-a-bitch, and he's our first ambassador to outer space? Actually, the Hitler broadcast from the 36 Olympics was the first television transmission of any power that went into space. That they recorded and sent it back is simply a way of saying hello, we heard you.
Contact is like the butterfly effect of telematics history. Hitler's televised broadcast of the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games becomes first contact with a technologically superior race, which has built a universe-wide telematic subway system.

the matrix

The Matrix, 1999, Warner Bros.
Hello, Neo. Do you know who this is? Morpheus? ... You know that the first matrix was designed to be a perfect human world where none suffered. Where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. ... The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization because as soon as we started thinking for you, it became our civilization, which is, of course, what this is all about. Evolution, Morpheus. Evolution. Like the dinosaur, look out that window, you had your time. The future is our world, Morpheus. The future is our time. ... I love you. Now get up. ... He is the one.
Neo is the one because, despite the staggering complexity of the recursive loops that have been programmed to create the Matrix--earth as we know it--he alone is able to distinguish code from reality, and play it like an instrument--or kung fu video game.