So of the bumper crop of our current dystopias, the COVID-19 novel coronavirus feels the most pressing. While everyone is washing their hands regularly, working from home, conducting social isolation, and trying like hell not to touch their face, (you’re doing all these things, right?) they are also downloading and processing the pandemic via cinema. Contagion, in particular, from 2011, seems to be the film people are scrambling to find and watch. These films are more bio-fi than sci-fi, but these interfaces are clearly in the realm of Fictional User Interfaces, and regular readers know I often go off-leash to follow interests wherever they lead.
While it’s a questionable kind of global-disaster therapy (Does it make people too paranoid? Does it give people false hope? Does it model the right behavior?) it makes me want to investigate the displays from such movies.
- What diegetic questions do these displays hope to answer?
- How well do the Fictional User Interfaces help answer these questions?
- What ideally should these characters/teams be monitoring?
- Are there better forms for this task?
And while there are lots of possible displays for all the permutations of these questions, I expect the anchor display will be what tvtropes.com calls the Spreading Disaster Map Graphic.
You know this one. Map starts with a few red dots labeled “today,” then transitions to another version with more red dots labeled something like “a little future,” and then landing to a final version absolutely covered in red death with a label like, “a little more future.” Holy wow, we think, the stakes are dire.
TV tropes has a number of examples. The list below are those that are closer to sci-fi and filtered for disease vectors rather than, say, human armies.
- The Andromeda Strain
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
- Jurassic World (kind of. Not armies but Indominus Rexes)
- The Killer That Stalked New York
- Edge of Tomorrow
- Moana (no, really)
But I suspect they don’t have them all. (Like, where are all the zombie movies?) So scour your brain for examples of these kinds of interfaces, and comment so I have a good sample to work from.
In the meantime, while we’re on the topic, the most useful, informative, and even-keeled post I’ve seen on the issue is this one by Thomas Pueyo “Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now.” Please give it a read.