A recent article in the New York Times called “I am Woman, Watch me Hack” brought up an idea I hear expressed pretty regularly. The idea is that the right TV show or movie with the right plot and actors could change the way computer science is viewed by young people in a good way.
It’s a tempting idea. There is some indication that shows like “CSI” and “Bones” have increased interest in forensic sciences. A single scene in a single movie is often credited (or blamed) for a shape decrease in the number of men who wear undershirts. Most often computer scientists and others in computer science jobs in movies and TV shows are portrayed in unflattering ways. Does this contribute to the negative perceptions many people have of CS? Seems possible.
The portrayal of computer people in the media has been a mixed bag. We’re seeing more women playing computer expert roles but even there they tend to be a bit too geeky. They are often socially awkward for example. They are seldom as “Hollywood hot” as the Police detectives or FBI agents or CSIs are. And the guys? I just finished watching an episode of a TV show were almost all of the people working at a software startup were geeky looking guys with glasses who didn’t seem to know how to relate to women. hardly the image we want people thinking of as typical. On the other hand some of us remember Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor. (And a PDP-8 in the opening sequence.)
While some of these images are not exactly helpful are they hurting the field? Quite possibly. Would positive images help improve our image? Perhaps. I don’t know that it would or if it would help how much it would help. On the other hand I wish people in computer science roles were portrayed in a more favorable way. If nothing else it would make me feel better.