Tech through time on TV

Published February 23, 2014

I was recently watching one of those episodes of Friends that are always on a TV channel somewhere, and realised that there’s a lot of landline usage in the show. Because Friends ended in 2004, they’re missing a whole ten years of technology, which includes the revolution of smartphones that came after the iPhone in 2007.

I dread to think of the jokes Chandler could make about Flappy Bird.

Anyway, Friends isn’t a particularly technology heavy show, so although it is frozen in time a decade ago, it doesn’t take away from the sitcom that much.

Other TV shows don’t fare so well, particularly as the industries they represent have evolved hugely. I’m thinking crime procedurals and hospital dramas in particular. I recently came across a story about an artist who has trawled through hundreds and hundreds of episodes of Law & Order (never seen it), and taken screenshots any time a piece of technology is shown on screen. By tracking tech through the seasons, you can see how it progresses.

Law and Order screengrab

That’s the first time a computer was shown as being switched on, apparently.

Jeffrey Thompson tracked the prominence of computers and more through the show, and said in the early days: “No one ever uses them – it seems like you wouldn’t use a computer while you were talking to another person. And you wouldn’t have a big CRT monitor on the front of your desk. It would be blocking human interaction. Over the course of the show you see that change. The objects become more central, and by 2010 characters are using smartphones constantly.”

I’m always intrigued by cataloguing things that happen on TV, and can get lost in the Wikia chronicles of any particular series I love. This fits in with that perfectly, but also tells a good story of its own as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on what Thompson gets up to next!

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