Screen: HBO

Are You On Your Computer? Don't Make Us Watch

It's perfectly sane to believe internet usage makes boring TV.

I love the internet and wouldn't have a career without it, but even so, I don't want to see people using it on TV. Because you know what's almost never interesting, no matter how pulsing the soundtrack is? Watching someone stare at a screen while she types on a keyboard.

I am not a crackpot. I just don't think internet usage should be employed as a "suspenseful" or "emotional" plot device.

Like…consider The Americans. It makes sense for the show to be set in the early '80s, since that's when the Cold War was in its full, frosty swing, but as an added bonus, the time period forces the characters to get out of the damned house to do a lot of their sleuthing. They have to take mysterious phone calls from the middle of a bridge or break into hidden vaults in order to find information, whereas a modern spy could just hack into an account and be done with it. The hacker's path might require just as much skill, but what would you rather watch: Keri Russell climbing from one mid-air car to another, or some guy hunched over a screen? (Note: I know the internet is sneaking into this show as well, and I'll get to that in a second.)

Granted, most creative types are aware of the internet's inherently undramatic nature, and they've been trying to compensate for decades. But they mostly rely on a few basic tropes to make web surfing seem exciting. These tropes include:

The anxious file upload/download

The clock is ticking! If we don't get this virus into the mainframe or download this file onto a flash drive, then the WORLD IS DOOMED! This is basically a subplot in every episode of 24, and now that ARPANET has crept into The Americans, the storyline has surfaced there as well. A few weeks ago, Scuzzy Janitor Philip had to get some files onto a hard drive and he was running out of time, dammit! Eventually, he even had to kill a dude who walked in before the downloading was complete, and watching that confrontation was way more compelling than watching Philip stare dumbly at an old computer.

Proof that the internet is eeeeeevil

Call it the Law & Order approach. If people think using the computer isn't compelling, then how about trying to convince them that the computer is a portal to a writhing hellmouth? Watch in awe as the detectives uncover a website that tells bikers how to kill people!

The internet user is secretly a rebel god

Show after show insists that we should watch people use the internet because said users are total punk rebels who will be in your face. They might spend most of their time clustered around a screen and using technological jargon, but check out their killer hair and snotty attitudes! Don't you want to BE them?! This trope goes back at least to the movie Hackers, and it's in full flower in the upcoming AMC series Halt and Catch Fire.

The internet user is not-so-secretly a freak

Why do you think they gave the guy on House of Cards a guinea-pig fetish? Because without it, he'd just be a dude staring at a screen. When in doubt, writers often turn their techie characters into wild-eyed eccentrics who either spout anti-government rhetoric or "hilariously" break all the rules of acceptable behavior. This seems to be the M.O. of the new HBO series Silicon Valley, with perhaps a bit of the "rebel god" thrown in.

...The problem with these tropes, aside from how shopworn they've become, is that they exist to distract us from the task at hand. They indirectly prove that it's mind-numbing to watch someone simply operate a keyboard.

And look, I'm not saying I don't sympathize with the TV writers who have to deal with this. Because in the actual world, the internet IS really interesting, and what's more, it's now an inescapable part of almost every conceivable profession and situation. It's not television's fault that our cultural shift toward near-constant interiority has left us without a lot of contemporary stories that happen exclusively between people sharing space, or between a person and a supple environment.

What's more, I don't think we can (or should) banish the internet from all modern storytelling. However, I cannot take another "nail-biting" email delay or "edgy" series about getting online. A show like Veep has found a pretty good workaround, since Jonah's attempts to become an internet muckraker this season keep putting him in the middle of the action as he tries to film things for his website. I'll also credit Sherlock for always mixing internet usage with a more active kind of sleuthing, so that while Watson is Googling the history of the Tube, Sherlock is, like, stopping a runaway train with nothing but a bobby pin.

If these shows can do it, then so can everybody else, right?