Scene from "The Social Network"
Image: "The Social Network"/Columbia Pictures

The movies that made tech

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Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, including how tech-inspired movies shape how the world sees tech — and how tech sees itself.

The tech movies that shaped tech

2022 is going to be a monster year for tech-inspired movies and TV shows. “Super Pumped” is bringing the Uber story to Showtime starting next month; “WeCrashed” is hitting Apple TV+ in March. The Theranos Hulu show, “The Dropout,” is coming in March as well. There’s also the Theranos movie, “Bad Blood,” reportedly coming later this year or early next.

These aren’t documentaries, though there’s sure to be a slew of those coming this year, too. They’re movies and shows inspired by true events. And why not? You’d be hard-pressed to get a writers’ room together that could match the insanity of the Adam Neumann story, or come up with a character as compelling as Elizabeth Holmes and a setting as surprising as Theranos.

You really can’t overstate how important movies and shows are to Silicon Valley. They’ve inspired generations of innovators and inventors, who grew up watching “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” and “WarGames” and “The Net.” “Pirates of Silicon Valley” convinced a lot of people to start a career in tech. Even now, you can hardly walk into a designer’s office in San Francisco without getting into an argument about the user interfaces in “Minority Report.” After “Her” came out, the tech industry became obsessed with voice interfaces, and they’d all reference “Her” when talking about their plans. Plus, I mean, “The Matrix.” Just … everything about “The Matrix.”

But fiction or not, the thing about tech-inspired movies and shows is that they tend to be hugely influential in how the world sees tech — and how tech sees itself. Think about “The Social Network”: When that movie (which totally holds up on a rewatch, by the way) came out in 2010, it solidified so much about the Facebook narrative. The Winklevoss twins were brash, arrogant jerks; Mark Zuckerberg was a fast-talking maniac who really just wanted to creep on women. Also: You know what’s cool? A billion dollars. And be honest, have you ever looked at a picture of Eduardo Saverin and realized, oh, right, he doesn’t look like Andrew Garfield?

The examples are absolutely everywhere. Have you heard someone talk about “making the world a better place” unironically since Silicon Valley beat the phrase to death? “That sounds like a ‘Black Mirror’ episode” is now a shorthand response for anything tech does that’s creepy, invasive or downright dystopian.

Uber, WeWork and Theranos have all been among the biggest stories of the last few years. We know so much about how those companies operated, who their leaders were and what their mistakes say about the tech industry. But if history is any indication, many of us will remember Travis Kalanick the way Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants us to, Adam Neumann as Jared Leto sees him and Elizabeth Holmes through the eyes of Jennifer Lawrence and Amanda Seyfried.

The uptick in tech-inspired drama is also just a signal of how powerful and central the tech industry is now. These kinds of movies and shows used to be about doctors or Wall Street tycoons, but now the most interesting and important people tend to be in tech. That’s why Elon Musk hosted SNL; that’s why the guy who made “Billions” about hedge fund billionaires is now making “Super Pumped” about … a different kind of billionaire.

There’s a line in the “WeCrashed” trailer where Leto (as Neumann) is asked if he knows he’s not God. Leto’s response: “You have to admit, I do look a little bit like him.” I’m pretty sure Adam Neumann never said that. But I’m also pretty sure that line’s going to be part of his legacy forever.

All of which is to say: If they ever make a show about your company, try and make sure they cast someone who likes you. Or hope they’re terrible.

If you’re in the mood for some tech-related #Content this weekend, we’ve got you covered.


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You tell us

We asked you for your favorite tech-inspired movies and TV shows, and you responded! We got back a fantastic watch list, including “Halt and Catch Fire” (a lot of votes for “Halt and Catch Fire”!), “Office Space,” “WarGames,” “Mr. Robot,” “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” Takedown,” “Her,” “AI: Artificial Intelligence” and many more. Here were a couple of our favorite responses:

“WarGames was far ahead of its time in 1983 with computer hacking and a critical lens on automated systems for digital and nuclear warfare. I've also been told that it has a surprisingly accurate depiction of Defense Department war rooms at the time, which is both impressive and a bit unnerving.” — John Perrino

“Huge fan of HaCF! Seen it end to end at least 4 times. Superb storytelling and character development (particularly Joe). It was also delicious nostalgia for me as I was a computer systems engineer during the 1980's and [recognized] many of the brands, places, publications etc. Also a great soundtrack by Paul Haslinger of Tangerine Dream, a band I've followed since the 1970's.” — David Rothwell

“Halt and Catch Fire for when I want something grounded in reality. Silicon Valley for something funny. Mr. Robot for some grounded in reality and I want to feel something powerful!” — Anthony Nardiello

The best of Protocol

Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition will reshape the game industry, by Nick Statt

  • That headline’s not an exaggeration: Microsoft’s $68.7 billion purchase of the company behind Call of Duty, Overwatch and a bunch more of the biggest games in the world could turn Microsoft into a dominant force in the gaming industry. But the future of gaming is complicated, and this will be, too.

How 'Dan from HR' became TikTok’s favorite career coach, by Sarah Roach

  • What, you don’t get all your professional advice from TikTok? You’re missing out. Daniel Space is out here helping the world with cover letters, salary discussions and much more. He’s the internet’s career coach for a generation rethinking their relationship to work.

Tim Cook, Ted Cruz and the strange politics of tech antitrust, by Ben Brody

  • No, Congress still doesn’t agree on how tech companies should be regulated. But something has changed: Congress seems to be so energized about antitrust reform that it’s willing to compromise, work together and accept imperfect solutions in the name of getting stuff done. Even if it means making deals with your worst enemies.

Should your salary depend on meeting DEI goals? by Michelle Ma

  • The tech industry is trying to find new ways to measure success, in a world where maximizing shareholder value isn’t the only thing that matters. Companies like Diversio are looking at how to put data behind DEI, and teach companies to measure it like any other business deliverable.

Biden promised to digitize the government. Getting it done won't be easy, by Issie Lapowsky

  • It shouldn’t have come as a shock that the website for ordering COVID tests actually managed to work. And yet, it was. And that’s telling: The Biden administration is set on improving the digital experience of interacting with the government, but the people in charge of making that happen have their work cut out for them.

Netflix looks to expand gaming with major IP deals, Fortnite-like updates, by Janko Roettgers

  • Any other week, this would have been the biggest gaming story in the world: Netflix announcing in no uncertain terms that it intends to go big into gaming. As streaming gets more competitive, Netflix needs a new move, and this could be it.

The best of everything else

The rise of AI fighter pilots — The New Yorker

  • “Who’s to blame when things go wrong?” It’s a question that faces self-driving cars, self-toasting toasters and just about anything else that promises to automate our lives. Teaching a computer to fly a plane is one thing, but teaching it to know how to interact with the world and the skies is quite another.

Escape from QAnon: How Jan. 6 changed one person’s path — NBC News

  • The kind of open, first-person story you don’t often get to hear about how people are swept away by conspiracy theories and misinformation, and maybe even more important, how hard it can be to get out.

What the Activision Blizzard deal means for game devs and platforms — Polygon

  • Microsoft’s huge acquisition obviously reshapes the power balance of the gaming industry. But what does that mean for the people who play games, and for the people who make them? This is a good, and not entirely optimistic, take on the issue.

How AI conquered poker– The New York Times

  • Another interesting look at how AI interacts with all the complications of the real world, this time with a very different set of stakes. They say poker isn’t about playing the cards, it’s about playing the other players. Teaching a computer to do that is tough.

How to play Wordle — benn.substack

  • The needlessly deep, impressively data-driven look at how Wordle works — what you should play first, when you should worry about failing, whether hard mode really is harder, whether getting all five letters wrong is actually a good thing — that we’ve all been waiting for.
  • Also, have you heard of WikiTrivia yet? It’s an incredibly fun game — you make a timeline, guessing where on the chronology the next card fits — and has some definitely Wordle-like addictive qualities.

Lina Khan’s plan to take on Big Tech — CNBC

  • Khan hasn’t done too much public speaking since she became chair of the FTC, so this was a helpfully broad look at how she thinks about antitrust, the tech industry she wants to create and the role everyone from Congress to the FTC to the White House has to play in the process.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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