January 23, 2022
Image: "The Social Network"/Columbia Pictures
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.
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.
Honeywell's Chief Commercial Officer Jeff Kimbell sits with Futurum's Daniel Newman to talk through the world's emerging trends in innovation, sustainability, tech and markets. Don't miss the insights into Honeywell's latest strategy for 2022!
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
Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition will reshape the game industry, by Nick Statt
How 'Dan from HR' became TikTok’s favorite career coach, by Sarah Roach
Tim Cook, Ted Cruz and the strange politics of tech antitrust, by Ben Brody
Should your salary depend on meeting DEI goals? by Michelle Ma
Biden promised to digitize the government. Getting it done won't be easy, by Issie Lapowsky
Netflix looks to expand gaming with major IP deals, Fortnite-like updates, by Janko Roettgers
The rise of AI fighter pilots — The New Yorker
Escape from QAnon: How Jan. 6 changed one person’s path — NBC News
What the Activision Blizzard deal means for game devs and platforms — Polygon
How AI conquered poker – The New York Times
How to play Wordle — benn.substack
Lina Khan’s plan to take on Big Tech — CNBC
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.