Film, Technology & the Human Existence
I recently found myself watching Inside Bill’s Brain on Netflix. It’s a documentary series (docuseries) about Bill Gates, his history, his mind, and his family’s current philanthropic ventures with their nonprofit organization. Initially, it was meant to be a “watch while I multi-task” show, but it quickly became an engrossing series. At first, it was mostly curiosity that kept me watching; a desire to get some insight into the mind of one of tech’s superstars (a similar intent to reading Steve Jobs’ biography).
In the episode I just finished, Melinda talks about her first date with Bill and explains how vulnerable he was and how they ended up talking for hours. That attribute of his human qualities of compassion, and the difficulty of his single focus when growing Microsoft as it affected his relationship with Paul Allen, came through in an unvarnished way. The interviewer is not pulling any punches. Even the intro pokes fun at Windows crashing and other criticisms of the tech super giant.
This show made me reflect on how we are in a very unusual timeframe in the human existence. The pace of change is enormous. Within a few generations – the equivalent of seconds in the context of the life of the whole human experience – we have flown, gone to space, split the atom, sequenced the genome, and so much more.
The Influence of the Internet
One such critical development is the Internet – which allows us to communicate in real time, “face to face” with individuals around the world. It also allows us to use our brains (in some cases literally) to make things happen on the other side of the planet (NEST and other IoT devices allow us to use remote control actions from a great distance. Even more extreme cases allow paraplegic people to use their brain waves or eye movements to communicate).
We also now have a huge repository of all our knowledge accessible to all – virtually free. This Internet era is really one of humanity’s greatest achievements, and we are living in it every day. We forget that many of the items we think of as commonplace were science fiction just a few decades ago. With a step back, the wonderment of what we’ve created returns.
This brings me to this article. Being in the middle of this transformation, we are first-hand witnesses to an era of primary sources. People will study this period of time and reflect on life in the transition we are all experiencing. While it will be history lessons for future generations – this is recent past and present for us.
As I thought about the Bill’s Brain documentary, it made me remember many of the many recent series and movies that accounted, documented, and commented on this era, and how fortunate we are to be able to experience this as entertainment through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, and Vudu.
So, without further ado, here are some of the series, movies, and other documentaries that provide insight and context into this magical era – you will recognize some and you may discover new ones. Enjoy!
- The IT Crowd
The IT Crowd is a British sitcom created by Graham Linehan and released in 2006. You can currently stream The It Crowd on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.
The series takes place primarily in the offices of Reynholm Industries, a London-based fictional company, and focuses mainly on the daily lives of IT department staff.
Roy Trenneman (played by Chris O’Dowd) and Maurice Moss (played by Richard Ayoade), two highly intelligent IT technicians, are largely inept at communication and social customs. Despite the company’s dependence on their services, they are disliked and considered “losers” by the rest of the staff.
Jen Barber (played by Katherine Parkinson) is the newest member of the department. She is non-technical, despite having claimed otherwise on her resume, and this often gets her into trouble as the head of the IT department.
- The Internship
The Internship is a 2013 comedy directed by Shawn Levy. It is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Vudu.
Billy McMahon and Nick Campbell (played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) are recently unemployed salesmen who decide to apply for a summer internship program at Google. Billy and Nick are the oldest people in the internship program, which immediately creates tension amongst their peers as they are seen as inept and out-of-touch with the modern digital world.
After learning that they must successfully pass a group competition in order to secure the coveted full-time positions available (to a select few) at the end of the summer, Billy and Nick combine forces with a group of hesitant, mis-fit interns. Despite numerous challenges, the team ultimately bonds and is able to achieve success.
- Ingrid Goes West
Ingrid Goes West is a 2017 comedy-drama directed by Matt Spicer. It is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and Vudu.
After being released from a mental hospital, Ingrid Thorburn (played by Aubrey Plaza) becomes fascinated with internet influencer Taylor Sloane (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and decides to move to Los Angeles in order to befriend her. After Ingrid manipulates her way into Taylor’s life, a fast friendship is formed between the unlikely pair and, as a result, a series of odd, somewhat malicious events ensue.
The film is considered to be a dark comedy, meaning it touches on somewhat taboo subjects such as mental health disorders, obsession, and suicide. Interwoven with these themes is the discussion of how the internet has changed the way we see ourselves and experience life on a daily basis.
- Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates
Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates is a 2019 documentary series in three parts, created and directed by Davis Guggenheim. Currently available to stream on Netflix.
This docuseries takes a deep dive into the mind and world of billionaire Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Each episode of the series explores the foundations’ main initiatives, some of which include the improvement of sewage conditions in developing nations, the eradication of polio, and the creation of safer nuclear power.
Each part of the three-part series contains an array of biographical materials, including interviews with Bill and Melinda and footage from the various philanthropic missions of the nonprofit.
- The Social Network
The Social Network is a 2010 drama directed by David Fincher. It is currently available on Amazon Prime, Vudu and YouTube.
The Social Network is a film adaptation of the 2009 novel release, The Accidental Billionaires, written by Ben Mezrich. It follows the story of Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) during his undergraduate career at Harvard. Mark, along with several of his friends, is working on a new project that will later become social media heavyweight, Facebook.
The film then transitions to Mark’s life six years later, after he’s become one of the youngest billionaires in recorded history. However, he finds himself stuck between multiple lawsuits – one involving his former friend, Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield). The Social Network takes a strong look at unprecedented success, what it takes to achieve it, and the fallout that occurs as a result.
- Black Mirror
Black Mirror is a two-season sci-fi series that premiered in December 2011 and February 2013 respectively. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Black Mirror examines both modern society and technology; specifically, the unanticipated consequences that come hand-in-hand with technological innovation. The series is episodic, meaning that each episode stands independent from the others. Often, these episodes are set in the future (or near-future) with dark, sometimes satirical themes.
This series notably draws inspiration from earlier science-fiction smash hits such as The Twilight Zone; another television series that was known for dealing with more controversial and taboo subject matter. Like its predecessors, Black Mirror explores darker topics of humankind’s relationship with technology, and futuristic stories of how this may be influenced over time.
- Mr. Robot
Mr. Robot is a drama-thriller series created by Sam Esmail and released in 2015, now available on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Vudu.
Elliot (played by Rami Malek) is a programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer during the day and a rogue hacker at night. After the leaders of a so-called “hacking group” known as F-Society (played by Carly Chaikin and Christian Slater) proposition Elliot to help them take down E-Corp (the corrupt financial institution Elliot works for), he is conflicted. However, once the plan has been put into action, the results are less than ideal.
Meanwhile, Elliot’s friend Angela is attempting to take down E-Corp legally by finding evidence of corruption that can be used to prosecute them.
While this is just a sampling of the many series and films on the topic, they each highlight the many facets of the technology we have in our pockets, on our nightstands, at work, and while lounging in front of our Smart TV. We are indeed living in a world imaged just a few decades ago. For further reading on these topics, we invite you to read the following related blog articles: