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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man: The drama of gadgetry

I won’t write about Twitter or superinjunctions this week except to say that no broadsheet newspaper could have given such prominence to a story of a footballer’s grubby affair had it not been able to do so under the pretence of discussing the ‘profound legal implications’.

4 June 2011

12:00 AM

4 June 2011

12:00 AM

I won’t write about Twitter or superinjunctions this week except to say that no broadsheet newspaper could have given such prominence to a story of a footballer’s grubby affair had it
not been able to do so under the pretence of discussing the ‘profound legal implications’.

I won’t write about Twitter or superinjunctions this week except to say that no broadsheet newspaper could have given such prominence to a story of a footballer’s grubby affair had it
not been able to do so under the pretence of discussing the ‘profound legal implications’. My advice to footballers is to avoid lawyers, but instead to marry people with spectacularly
high-minded journalistic tastes. That way you can conduct orgies in full view of the paparazzi outside Chinawhite while your wife is back in Cheshire reading Apollo or the New York Review of Books,
entirely oblivious to what’s going on.

I certainly don’t want to live in a country where the alleged behaviour of Dominique Strauss-Kahn might be downplayed out of deference to the powerful, but nor do I much like a place where
prurience is presented as a virtue. So this week I have switched off the television and watched my laptop instead.


When I tell you that what I have watched is in Danish, with subtitles, lasts 20 hours, contains no famous actors, is shot largely in Copenhagen during the hours of darkness and deals with questions
of death, guilt, betrayal and local government, I am conscious that I am not really winning you over. However, The Killing deserves its reputation as one of the most remarkable television crime
thrillers ever made. Even at £1.89 for each one-hour episode downloaded from iTunes (Luddites may prefer the DVD boxed set, at £38.93 from Amazon), you won’t grudge a penny.

If I have a quibble with The Killing, it is only to point out a problem common to all detective dramas — to many dramas in fact — since about 1995. And that concerns the use of
technologically contrived interventions to move the plot along. 24 became famously guilty of this, with each apparent impasse being resolved by a deus ex technologia: ‘A monitoring station in
Latvia just picked up some chatter’ or ‘We’ve just sent a complete plan of the eight-acre warehouse complex to the minuscule screen of your cell phone’. Next, blurry images
from a CCTV video would be ‘digitally enhanced’ to reveal that ‘the suspect has a fragment of broccoli adhering to his upper-left second molar’. Remote DNA profiling of the
broccoli would then reveal within seconds that it came from a shipment delivered to the Somalian embassy at 08.43 the previous morning.

Technology’s effect on plots and scriptwriting is apparent in other ways. Michael Bywater once remarked that technology has removed some phrases from the English language. Before Google, you
would frequently read sentences such as ‘Euripides, I think it was, once observed…’. That false-modest ‘I think it was’ has now disappeared, since it arouses in the
reader the not unreasonable reaction ‘Why don’t you go online and check, you lazy git?’

But technology causes phrases to be added, too. In those set-piece moments when a couple is lost in the woods shortly after a serial killer has escaped from a nearby penitentiary, it is now
necessary to add a shot where someone holds up a mobile phone and remarks, ‘Damn, no signal’ or ‘The battery’s dead’. A recent Sky drama, Mad Dogs, imaginatively
avoided this problem by making the main protagonists lock their mobile phones in a safe in the first episode.

And what of that Victorian plot staple, the catastrophic failure in communication that changes the course of fate? In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess’s written confession to Angel Clare
slides not only beneath his door but underneath the rug. The modern equivalent would be ‘Well, Angel, you should have checked your Facebook. I changed my status to “It’s
complicated”.’ Not quite the same, is it?

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.


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