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Another look at Johnny Mnemonic

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Still in the process of cleaning the house and going through my movie collection. This time I want to talk about a little ditty called Johnny Mnemonic, released in 1995. Not quite so much about the movie itself, but more of what they got right and wrong in their portrayal of the future.

Warning, there may be some spoilers ahead!

The movie is written by William Gibson, he of Neuromancer fame, and based on his own short story. It is a cyberpunk tale, where it is the near future, things are usually dark and nasty, corporations run everything, you’re either elite or destitute, everyone is scrambling to make a buck, and life is cheap.

First off it is set in 2021, so three years in our past as I write this.

The world is in the midst of a new plague, NAS, or Neural Attenuation Syndrome. Well, they got the being in the middle of a plague right.

The main character, Johnny, is a data courier. He has a brain implant that can hold 80 gigs of data, or 160 gigs if he uses a ‘doubler’. Well, I’ve got a 4 terabyte drive connected to my computer, and there are 1 terabyte thumb drives, so they were a little off on the storage capacity of the future. Although I do remember when I first watched the movie in the theatre that having an 80 gig hard drive would be nice. I also remember thinking I could probably use up all 80 gigs of storage too.

They are still using fax machines. When Johnny loads data in his implant he has three random images taken from a nearby TV to use as a ‘key’ to unlock the data in his head. The images are printed out, then faxed to the recipient to hold on to until Johnny arrives with the data. Other than Dan Kennedy, I don’t know anyone who uses fax machines anymore.

The Internet is all virtual reality and accessed via data gloves and heads-up displays. This was some cutting edge graphics back in 1995 but they look a little dated today. This is one part of the future they got wrong, and I’m a little disheartened by that. A similar style of interface was used in Minority Report minus the heads-up display. I still think it would be cool to be able to ‘manipulate’ the data used over the Internet in a virtual environment. I could reach out and grab a video stream, project it on the virtual big screen in my virtual home, while tossing a ball for my virtual dog. I can still hope the tech gets developed and put into widespread use before I die.

They still use VCRs (video cassette recorders, for the youngsters reading this). The climax of the movie relies on broadcasting the information in Johnny’s head to the world-at-large so the information can be free and save the world. The rebels encourage everyone to crank up their VCRs to record the broadcast. Today, it’d probably just be uploaded to YouTube.

Corporations aren’t currently running everything in place of governments, but give it a few years. They’ll get there.

Cybernetically enhanced street soldiers. Still not a thing yet, but again, give it a few years.

Overall, the movie is okay as far as the story goes, a little disjointed, but kinda fun in retrospect. Half the fun is seeing how different reality is to what was envisioned for the future.

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