“Have you turned it off and on again?”

By far the most amazing (and implausible) feature of fictional tech is its power to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

ACTUAL TECH: Change one byte of code and it’s all like, “I’m done for! Go on without me!”


The movies are littered with examples of technology that is absurdly robust, either continuing to work under extreme physical stress, or restored (or manipulated) with hardly more effort than flicking a switch. The plot of the movie Skyscraper actually hinges on the idea that anything can be fixed by “turning it off and on again.” There’s a whole scene early in the film devoted to setting this up, with Dwayne Johnson’s movie wife cutely explaining she likes to make him feel important by letting him fix her smartphone by rebooting it.

There is a disturbing kernel of truth in the reboot-remedy. Complex software can indeed often be restored to normal function with a reboot. But our collective faith in the power of the reboot to restore them — even when the hardware has been on fire for two hours — is rather cute. And it’s even a little dangerous, in the sense that STEM literacy is actually important in a civilization that runs on STEM. “Dangerous” might seem hyperbolic, but the disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is a terrific specific example of why it matters.

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about either.”

Carl Sagan

…and less all the time. The frontiers of science and technology are expanding relentlessly, leaving the average person further and further behind.