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Why the World of WATCHMEN Rejected Technology
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HBO’s Watchmen companion website, “Peteypedia,” includes a memo sent by FBI Director James Doyan to the Anti-Vigilante Task Force on August 29, 2019, eleven days before the start of the series. Titled “The Computer and You,” it encourages his employees to embrace their new legally mandated crime-fighting equipment: a computer model first released in our own world in 2000. The document is an inside look at why Ozymandias’s squid made the world turn its back on tech, and how it is finally making a comeback.

Giant Squid Panel from Watchmen comicDC Comics/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins

The FBI’s new cutting edge device is the IBM NetVista X41, a computer line first sold in our timeline back at the turn of the century. It houses the agency’s new electronic database, replacing agents’ hard copy blue books (which were completely taken away). Doyan’s memo also encourages his employees to start communicating with electronic mail (called “El-mail”), and to use their word processors to produce inter-office memos. Any questions or issues can be directed to the special agent responsible for “Peteypedia,” Agent Dale Petey, who “is eager to help.”

Watchme n technology memoHBO

Doyan writes he’s not worried about his agents “shar[ing] the old technophobia that still persists in some sectors of society,” but it’s unclear from his memo just how much he actually believes that versus how much he is telling them technophobia is not an option. (Later in the memo he does explicitly say the law prevents agents from publicly denouncing the computers or sharing any worries about their safety.) Either way, federal policy requires the director to present “the following assurances, disclaimers, and orders” to his agents, and they help explain why this world’s technology is 20 years behind our own.

“This electronic device has been deemed SAFE by the Food, Drug, and Technology Administration as defined by the Tech Recall and Reintroduction Act of 1993.”

After the giant squid appeared, the regulation of technology became equivalent to ensuring the safety of food and drugs, with tech formally becoming the domain of the FD(T)A. The same agency responsible for making sure chicken and Tylenol doesn’t poison you also makes sure the pager Regina King’s Anegla Abar uses won’t either.

regina King HBO's WatchmenHBO

“This electronic device does not contain Manhattan-made components and does not emit D.I.E.-grade radiation. Surgeon General Oz maintains you will not get cancer by being exposed to this device and you will not damage the (hypothetical) dimensional membrane by using it.”

D.I.E. stands for “Dimensional Incursion Event,” the official name for the giant squid. Surgeon General Oz appears to be TV’s Dr. Oz, proving there are always worse timelines.

Most important is the guarantee the computer was not built with “Manhattan-made components.” In the early ’60s, Dr. Manhattan used his superpowers to synthesize mass quantities of lithium, giving birth to electric cars thanks to his now-outlawed batteries we saw the Seventh Kavalry collecting in the Watchmen premiere. However, after Ozymandias made the world believe that Manhattan gave his former associates cancer via radiation, people became wary of using any technology Manhattan created or was the basis for.

Also, after D.I.E., the world worried that the transdimensional passage the “alien” squid had seemingly traveled through was created by technology that had tore a previously unknown (hypothetical) dimensional membrane, which we know does not exist. When baby squids started raining down not long after D.I.E. (an occurrence that still takes place in 2019), the world shunned most of the technology that had been developed during the previous 25 years, explaining why they are just getting 2000 computers now.

Baby squids rain down on WatchmenHBO

“The Tech Recall and Reintroduction Act of 1993 grants the president of the United States authority to draft federal employees into the work of reintroducing technologies once deemed unsafe or illegal back into the public space according to the 30-year, five-stage plan outlined in TTR93.”

The world became so fearful of any technology after 1985 that reintroducing it into society has been equivalent to fighting a war. In response, a 1993 a law allowed the president to literally draft federal employees like soldiers into a 30-year plan that would slowly convince the public that tech previously feared unsafe was totally fine.

Did Adrian Veidt have anything to do with this law, or did he possibly oppose it for being too slow? He viewed science as a pathway forward for mankind, and he was the leading Democratic political donor and friends with President Redford until 1993. The last thing Veidt wanted was for his squid to set technology back decades.

Jeremy Irons HBO's WatchmenHBO

“Your department of government has been drafted to participate in the reintroduction of STAGE FIVE technologies.”

Later in the memo, Doyan discusses his own hesitance to use computers in the ’70s even though they proved highly efficient and effective in fighting crime. In a country beset by domestic terrorists, it’s understandable computers are considered among the highest priorities of to bring back. (Good luck to any society just getting the internet for the first time. You’re going to need it.)

“Agreeing to use this electronic device in the course of your duties represents a commencement of draft service. In performing this service, we ask you to model confidence in this device to the public and refrain from behavior that might subvert confidence in the type of technology this electronic device represents. You are permitted to opt out of draft service only if the device in question has been deemed unessential to the performance of your duties.

This device has been deemed ESSENTIAL to the performance of your job duties. Failure to use this electronic device in the performance of your duties may result in demotion, reassignment, or termination.”

The reintroduction of technology into society is so daunting it’s equivalent to a publicity war, one that requires the drafting of combatants who might otherwise not enlist. Taken together these two passages are troubling, making federal employees de facto propagandists by enforcing them to be compliant with the wishes and message of its government. But they do reveal that the government—for reasons we don’t know yet—have properly learned the truth: technology was not to blame for the squid and scientific advancements were possible without Dr. Manhattan’s help.

Dr. Manhattan appears on Mars in the Watchmen premiereHBO

Doyan ends his memo by saying, “The computers, the phones, the towers that would have provided communications without wires—we destroyed it all, hoping it would save us. And yet, baby cephalopods still rain from the sky. Our fear of technology was for naught. Don’t be like me. Don’t be stupid. The future is here again. Don’t fear it. Embrace it.”

He’s right; technology is safe. But it isn’t just a mere PR battle to make the world believe that, it’s a war, and when has one side being right ever stopped a war from happening?

And when you have a war you have casualties.

Featured Image: HBO