Do you remember what the world was like before the internet?
Depending on your age, you may never have experienced the pre-internet era. (“Pre-internet era” – that even sounds odd now, doesn’t it?)
I vividly recall the first time I saw something called a “Macintosh,” a product of an unknown start-up Apple Computer. This little ivory-colored box was in a friend’s basement office and was only connected to the electrical outlet. As we huddled around its tiny black and white screen, it came to life with a little smiley face. Something in my very being sensed that we were peering into a window on the future. We were.
“Halt and Catch Fire” is a TV show on the AMC Network that tells the story of fictional characters in the 1980s inventing the primitive predecessors of the internet. Fans can marvel at the characters’ creative genius and celebrate their breakthroughs as the World Wide Web begins to emerge from some combination of math and magic. We also wince at the toll that the long hours and setbacks take on their lives and relationships. I’m not a computer geek but I know enough to recognize insider jokes, including the series’ title, a reference to an operating system command.
Like every great drama, “Halt and Catch Fire,” invites us into its story, but also prompts us to reflect on our own story. As the fictional characters make choices – for better or worse – we watch the consequences of those actions ripple through their relationships. Perhaps we pause to be grateful for a path chosen, or to rue a dead-end. Maybe we squeeze the hand of the person next to us, or wish we could extend a hand in a gesture of reconciliation.
As we ponder how our past has brought us to where we are now, we are alerted to the potential (and responsibility) to use the present to shape the future not only for ourselves but for all those around us. In one episode, Cameron dejectedly posits that the future will simply be an endless loop of challenges and failures. Joe, believing that the team can recover from earlier mistakes and build on what they have learned, delivers a confident line to Cameron and to all of us: “This future can be different.”
(For my friends who are history buffs and/or computer geeks, #HaltandCatchFire begins its fourth and final season on Sat., Aug. 19 at 9/8c. I’ll bring the popcorn.)