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Demo Men 5: Three Days of the Condor

by Ned O'Gorman

Science fiction film envisions, establishes, and sometimes enforces proper relationships to technologies, especially new technologies.

In the Demo Men clips here, we look at a series of episodes from science fiction cinema in which orthopraxic relationships to computing technologies are enforced through a regular rhetorical form, the demo. In this form the film audience is invited to identify not with an expert operator of computing machinery, but with a novice escorted by an expert into a specialized space. Before the eyes of a novice proxy, the expert operator then performs a masterful demonstration of the technology – outside of normal operation.

Rather than entering the space of computing mid-process, as we often do in depictions of industrial labor, and rather than identifying with a new user in the process of discovery, as we do in some first-contact narratives, most sci-fi introduces computing machinery by making us witness to a highly artificial, self-contained, and rigidly exclusive performance.

In this way, audiences are invited to barely cross over into the novel use of technologies that dominate the background activity of science fiction’s computing spaces.

In 1975 Three Days of the Condor opens with a woman operating an actual Digital PDP-8, not in a lab setting but in an office.

This machine, which in commerce was the bestselling unit of the pre-microcomputer era, is never really demonstrated; we're allowed to identify with the user rather than relegated to onlooker - because here, the operation of this machine is neither so specialized as to require expository demonstration, nor so obscure as to help produce a believable alternate reality. We're just in a plain-old thriller now.

Demo Men 5: Three Days of the Condor

The three Days of the Condor here is part of the Demo Men series.

from Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Creator: Sydney Pollack, Director
Distributor: Paramount
Posted by Ned O'Gorman