The 5-Second Antidote to a Dystopian Future

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Show me a science fiction movie with a rosy future, and I’ll buy you an extra large buttered popcorn. In fact, I’ll even throw in a box of Junior Mints.

While waiting for the inevitable setbacks in that darkened theater, there are certain things that I expect in Sci-Fi flicks. The surveillance cameras mounted on every building, recording every possible misdeed, are a favorite. It’s a classic Big Brother tactic. In this despotic world, anonymity has gone the way of civil rights and shopping malls.

But there’s a phenomenon that the genre did not anticipate: the iPhone. A watchful government can mount thousands of CCD cameras on public streets, but they’re no match for millions of smartphones in the pockets of every citizen.

And they can be drawn quickly. It takes 5 seconds to pull an iPhone from your pocket, long press on the camera button, and start recording.

5 seconds. It’s the 21st century pen is mightier than the taser.

Stepping back for a moment, the first iPhone, released in 2007, included a 2-megapixel camera and no video recording. It wasn’t until 2009, with the iPhone 3GS, that video became a standard feature, and even then it wasn’t great.

But improvements followed rapidly and today nearly every person on the street packs a high definition device that can record footage in just about any lighting condition and with audio as well. It’s a game changer.

And so the question follows. What moves people to get off of their couches and raise their voices? It’s not political ads. It’s not marketing campaigns.

It’s simpler than that. The visceral response to a few seconds of video showing grave injustice can be so swift that police chiefs will resign, politicians will pivot and skins of all colors will pour onto the streets like waters from a burst dam.

If you were to ask me what innovation will permanently change culture in the 21st century, my answer is: smartphone video. No civilized government can suppress it. These movies are the antidote to apathy. No reasonable person can watch a man die unjustly without feeling something.

If you’re a screenwriter for science fiction movies, you’ll want to figure this out. Because it’s going to be much harder to lull us into that dark, dystopian world when we all have smartphones glowing in our pockets.

The movies that are really important are the ones we record on the streets, facing oppressors who don’t apply justice evenly, but instead bend it to their own prejudices like an angled knee in the back of a man’s neck.

Our future is not a science fiction movie. Thank God. In part, hope rests in the hands of an unexpected technology. And for all of the problems that Silicon Valley has created, they might just save us from an overbearing government. I’m good with that, even if it costs me an extra large tub of buttered popcorn.

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