Unusual Bedfellows? What Tech PR and Sci-Fi Have in Widespread

Strange Bedfellows? What Tech PR and Sci-Fi Have in Common

23, 2020

5 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

If you're a science fiction enthusiast like me, you are well aware of big events ahead like the theatrical release of the movie Dune, slated for October next year. I am really excited about this new version, which is supposed to reflect the classic book more effectively. And hopefully bad memories of David Lynch's 1984 version of Campy will be erased. I know that a lot of others in technology are just as excited about the new dune as I am. It's the rare film that appears on the front cover of a major tech publication more than a year before its release.

I believe there is a real, meaningful intersection between tech PR, tech pros, and science fiction. Dune isn't the only franchise tech people love. From Star Trek to Star Wars and shows like Battlestar Galactica, we seem to be consuming them all. Who of us hasn't walked the halls of a tech company without seeing at least a few booths adorned with science fiction action figures and memorabilia? When I see this stuff I remember the incredible flights of fantasy we find in books, films, TV shows, and even comics, and the interplay of science fiction and tech economy.

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Tech is the engine that turns fantasy into reality. For example, do you remember the high-tech touchscreen that Tom Cruise used in the Minority Report? When this film came out, it seemed incredibly far-fetched to be able to use gestures to control a computer screen – but manipulating machines with gestures is an everyday thing these days. From the Jules Vernes Nautilus to the communicators used by the Starship Enterprise crew, sci-fi has always envisioned the fantastic stuff that will one day be built as part of our real future. I mean, an Apple Watch is really the same as Dick Tracy's wrist radio. The trend towards smaller, lighter and faster devices always starts with a "What if?" Or "Wouldn't it be cool if?"

While this seems like a stretch – and those not tuned into sci-fi may not get it – those who are can actually "grok" what I say! Grok is a commonly used technical term and means an intuitive understanding of something like software code. The term was first introduced in 1961 by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land and has become part of a common language among technicians. And while I occasionally have to explain Grok to PR newbies, they get it quick and we all grok together.

Similarly, many people in my company have learned that the term “borg” is short for the bad guys. The original Borgs were born as the villains in Star Trek and survived more than one iteration. They have been described as "cybernetic organisms connected in a swarm spirit" that, among other things, "co-opts the technology and knowledge of other extraterrestrial species". In the real world, the Borg usually takes the form of a large, menacing competitor trying to crush their competition – and we all know what that looks like.

Further evidence that technical PR and science fiction are intertwined can also be found in face-to-face interactions, even in the most unlikely moments. Once, during a new business meeting, I met a rock star tech CEO who was both charismatic and intimidating, and we kind of started talking about our favorite science fiction books and authors. This informal chat was the perfect icebreaker and resulted in an incredibly positive meeting after we agreed on Star Wars, Star Trek and The Terminator. Part of the tech and appreciation of science fiction is having (or being able to see) a clear vision of the future. For many of us, this science-fiction-driven connection creates a common language and allows us to unite and go against a vision.

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Techies sometimes surrender the media and popular culture when they do something wrong. There are numerous films about technology that are ripe for mockery. Who can forget Harrison Ford on Firewall or Sandra Bullock on the Net? As it turns out, pretty much everyone. Technicians, on the other hand, can be kind when sci-fi gets it right on topics like programming.

Sci-Fi is even applicable to PR people on a daily basis. For example, we used our enthusiasm for science fiction to get media coverage for our customers. A few years ago, in the early seasons, the Westworld show was a Silicon Valley obsession. With the show as a hook, my agency developed a proactive strategy for media work for a customer with artificial intelligence (AI). We updated some of the most compelling future technologies on the show and demonstrated how our clients' work affects the development of similar solutions. As a result, the company has generated a significant amount of thought leadership coverage for our clients by successfully tying them into the latest in science fiction and by incorporating their technology into the entertainment craze.

I don't see the end of the connection between science fiction and technology and their integration into technical PR. Sci-Fi is of course all about dreaming and storytelling, but it also gives us many points of personal connection. Ultimately, sci-fi gives us an opportunity to wonder and imagine – an important quality in an industry that spends its days turning fantasy into reality – and that's great for me.