I’ll start off this new article with a disclaimer: I am absolutely terrified of sentient technology. I can’t even stand to watch iRobot. It was physically nerve wracking for me to watch last night’s episode. As is turning out to be par for the course, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” deals heavily with the current social problems facing the world; in this instance, our heavy reliance on technology. The writers this season have been particularly heavy-handed of late, and I find it highly ironic that the official The X-Files twitter was sending out prizes via drone during the premiere of “My Struggle III”. So, rather than spend time talking about the themes of this latest installment (it could also be called “please tip…or else”, I’ve decided to spend some time on the unique choices made in the execution of the episode.
There are barely 10 lines of dialogue in the whole episode. It feels so wrong it’s almost unbearable, and, without a doubt, that was the point. When Mulder and Scully do speak, it’s almost always to a device, whether it be a phone or an integrated system. They open the episode on a date at a fully automated Sushi bar. In the entire sequence they don’t say one word to each other. They order without speaking, make no conversation while they wait for their food, instead preoccupied with their phones for one reason or another. When the food arrives, much to Scully’s delight and Mulder’s chagrin, they don’t even exchange words about the gelatinous blubbery fish thing that Mulder ends up with. For the first time, a human noise is made: Scully giggles uncontrollably, and proceeds to take a picture of Mulder with the Treasure Planet-esque Morpho.
That’s not to say that this is a silent episode, by any means. No moment is quiet. Dings, blips, computer-generated noises, whirrings, buzzings, etcetera all make up the soundtrack of the show. If I’m correct, there was no music in the background either. Nothing but the sounds of technology to which many have become deaf. This is a highly effective technique and I’m terribly curious how many people noticed.
After their escape from the restaurant from hell, Mulder returns home to the Unremarkable House while Scully takes a driverless car (what the actual hell Scully? Haven’t you ever seen Minority Report? I swear, these two don’t read/watch enough sci-fi.) back to her ‘house’. (A side note, apparently they aren’t living together? Yet she still wants to pick out their new IKEA couch. I’m not sure anyone knows what continuity is, but it is obvious that this is done for the furthering of the plot and little else).
For anyone who is a fan of Ray Bradbury, Scully’s ‘house’ should seem familiar. Fully automated for her ‘convenience’ this modern marvel is the ultimate menace, just like those that feature in such short stories as “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “The Veldt”. Now, I don’t know anyone who has a house quite like that, but considering the stories I’ve heard about children and parrots ordering things via Alexa, if I wasn’t already vehemently against it, I most certainly am now. I’m an old-fashioned sort of person. I like paper and pencils, knobs and dials, buttons that actually click when I press them instead of touch screens. Oh, and I hand write my own grocery lists instead of having my refrigerator do it for me. In all fairness, I get the feeling most people live the way that I do, at least more so than Scully does. Is The X-Files going overboard to warn us to take it more slowly? Sure. I don’t think we’re really to that extreme point yet, but it is a scary enough thought for me at least. Only yesterday I was listening to Good Morning America ask whether we’re being listened to through our phones because of ad customization. As a child I spent entirely too much time on Cleverbot, teaching it the lyrics the The Phantom of the Opera because I thought it was amusing. Now, it’s progressed so far it is actually difficult to tell that it’s a machine and not a man. But then, I also grew up with War Games and I feel like I should have known better.
Science Fiction is that strange middle ground between prophet and harbinger of doom; when we live in a world entirely too similar some days to 1984 or Brave New World I find myself circling that eternal question: the chicken or the egg? We have lasers and space travel and many wonderful advancements thanks to such minds as Edgar Rice Burroughs and George Lucas, but who also might never have thought about the negative uses for digital cameras and video chats, read a book, saw a movie and thought ‘I can control the populous with this because it worked in Brazil.’
I guess there are only one or two things to do in response. Crack open the nearest Philip K. Dick and tip your waiter while you’re at it. And maybe, when you do put down the phone, you’ll take your significant other’s hand and relish in the sound of life happening all around you.
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