When they are in basic training, Carmen and Johnny exchange video messages to stay in touch. Videos are recorded locally to small discs and sent to the other through the Fed post. Carmen has her own computer station in her berth for playing Johnny’s messages. Johnny uses the single player available on the wall in the barracks. Things are different in the roughnecks than on the Rodger Young.
To play her message, he inserts the small compact disk she sent him into a vertical holder, closes the hinged cover, and presses the rightmost of five similar metal buttons below the screen to play it. After the (sad breakup) message is done, the player displays an END OF MESSAGE screen that includes the message ID. Three lights sit in the lower left hand part of the interface. An amber light glows in the lower right near text reading, “P3.” There is a large dial on the left (a frustum of a cone, to be all geometric about it) with some debossed shapes on it that is likely a dial, but we never see these controls in use. In fact, there’s not a lot of interaction there at all for us to evaluate.
Usually you’d expect a dial to operate volume (useful in the noisy narracks), with controls for play, pause, and some controls for either fast forward / reverse, or non-linear access of chapters in the message. The number of controls certainly could accommodate either of those structures, even if it was an old two-button model of play and stop rather than the more modern toggle. Certainly these could use better affordance, as they do not convey their behavior at this distance. Even at Rico’s distance, it’s faster for him to be able to see than to read the controls.
We could also ask what good the message ID is since it’s on screen and not very human-readable or human-memorable, but it does help remind Rico that his messages are being monitored by the fascism that is the Federation. So that’s a helpful reminder, if not useful data.
For the larger interaction, most of the complexities in sending a message—initiating a recording, editing, encoding, specifying a recipient, and sending it—are bypassed offscreen by the physical medium, so it’s not worth speculating on how well this is from a larger standpoint. Of course we could ding them for not thinking that video could be sent faster and cheaper digitally via interstellar transmission than a fragile little disc, but that’s a question for which we just don’t have enough information. (And in which the filmmakers would have had a little trouble explaining how it wasn’t an instant video call.)
They made this for you
I’m not sure I’ll start decorating with them yet, but I sure wish I’d had them on hand for the sci-fi interfaces movie night earlier this year as a giveaway!
In a totalitarian state or in a military at war, there are reasons why the transmission of messages by physical means might be preferred – to give the censors or secret police a chance to review the material before passing it on, to limit the interception of intelligence by the enemy to actual physical seizing of messages, to impede the ability of saboteurs or potential rebels to communicate rapidly, to minimize the EM signature of warships or save bandwidth, etc. Not that I think the filmmakers were thinking of that.