Blog Post

"Hack the Planet," Reimagine the City

Who remembers Hackers (1995)? Here, in the trailer, you can see one of the dominant visual motifs of the movie, and of popular representations of new technologies in the 1990s: the layering and echoing of urban and digital infrastructures.

The panning, birds-eye view of the city becomes a panning, birds-eye view of a motherboard, while the announcer tells us that hidden beneath the world we know is the world they inhabit. Cars become material manifestation of data packets moving along streets-cum-circuits, then the view shifts to a panoramic/cityscape representation of data storage.

Despite the films now-hackneyed and sub-accurate portrayals of hacking (though Ill admit it was a guilty pleasure in my childhood), this motif remains oddly compelling, I think. Perhaps that is because we now are even more likely to experience the digital and material worlds simultaneously, layered on top of one another, or evenespeciallywoven together. Texting, municipal wifi, 3G networks, RFID tags, GPS devices: all of these move us through space and through data in ways that Hackers anticipated--though, given the film's general ridiculousness, that prescience was likely accidental.

Indeed, so much scholarship and commentary on cities now is about the kinds of networks and connectivity (and the risks or benefits thereof) that Hackers was all about. Edward Glaeser, in this month's Atlantic, for example, writes that "[c]ities are ultimately about the connections between people, and structures...make those connections possible." What else, for good or ill, does the trailer seem to be about, if not structures, connections, and possibility?

Perhaps, then, Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie were on to something.

[re-posted from my other blog, bookmobility.]

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