“Sneakers” and past computer worship

Spoiler Alert:  This post is going to give away plot elements in a nineteen year old movie.  Face it, if this ruins the movie for you, you probably weren’t going to see the movie anyway.  😉

This past Friday, I ran to The Living Room Cafe for movie night.  One of the movies we watched was the 1992 movie, “Sneakers,” starring Robert Redford.  It’s one of my favorite movies, and I love taking every opportunity to watch it.

One line in the movie, however, has always bothered me.  It’s delivered in the scene when Liz, Warner, and Cosmo are about to leave the building and the team of thieves is about to get away with their caper.  Liz mention in passing that she was giving up on computer dating.  Cosmo looks at the “couple,” declares that no computer would pair them together, and (correctly) concludes that the date is part of the caper set-up.

I’ve always taken issue with Cosmo’s declaration.  I find it quite possible to believe that a computer would pair up just about anyone.  Leaving aside the fact that people who use online dating services are notorious for being less than 100% honest when providing their information — even when taking the kind of “personality profile tests” that sites like eHarmony and Chemistry.com use — there’s always the possibility of computer glitches and programming errors.

I suppose the screenwriters felt that given Cosmo’s love of computers, he would buy into such a conceit.  However, I would argue that Cosmo’s love of computers — and more importantly, his deep understanding of them — would make him more aware of how imperfect computers are.  After all, the movie starts with  college-aged Cosmo and Martin working together to hack computers and cause mayhem in the name of “fighting the system.”  It seems to me that someone who not only works with computers, but has a history of seeking out and taking advantage of vulnerabilities in computer systems.  Such a person cannot possibly think of computers as perfect.

I think this is more likely a case of non-computer people of the time projecting their own sense of awe and mystery for computers onto a character who should know better.  In the 70’s, 80’s, and ’90’s, there was the sense among the “uninitiated” that computers were incredible devices and capable doing amazing things, and they tended to idolize them as such.  Movies like “Sneakers” demonstrate this sense of awe and worship for them.

I think as more people become familiar with the Windows operating systems and the infamous Blue Screen of Death, that sense of mystique has diminished, if not outright vanished.  But for those of us who delved into the mechanics, that sense of mystery was gone long before that.

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