What are you looking at? From the final episode (season 20, episode 456).
Having finally finished all 456 episodes of “Law & Order” (totaling approximately 20,520 minutes or 342 hours or 14.25 days) I now have just under 11,000 screenshots of computers and people using them. While watching, I also gathered extra data: I recorded the victim and perpetrator’s gender, as well as the total number of computers per episode. Below are some thoughts on those stats, for those interested such ephemera.
While the Law & Order Database has some great data, surprisingly it is missing the gender of victims and perpetrators. Since the show is “ripped from the headlines”, it is especially interesting to compare those numbers from the show with real murder statistics in the US.
According to this US Department of Justice report, the vast majority of murders are perpetrated by males – somewhere around 90% (7-times more likely), compared to Law & Order’s 70%.
(It is worth noting that while the NYC website does have historical crime statistics, these do not include gender.)
Even more skewed are Law & Order’s victim genders: in the US, men were 4-times as likely to be murdered than women (in 2008), whereas Law & Order is nearly 50/50. This “equity” on the show is more likely in order to sexualize murder (SVU is a great example of this taken to an extreme) than be an accurate reflection of actual crime in the city.
On a very different note, I also counted the number of computers captured per season, along with the number of episodes without any computers. The line above shows the average trend: a steady incline with a bump in the middle and skyrocketing towards the end of the show’s run.
A rise in the count is expected as computers became more common (the spike in the first season is likely the result of me being overzealous capturing images of computers). It was the bump in the middle and the subsequent dip that surprised me. After some thought, I believe this shows computers coming into daily life (and, for many, near constant use) in the late 90s. No longer was one computer shared among an entire office and most people were online – computers, the internet, and computer-related stories and crimes were on everyone’s mind and this was reflected in the show.
The dip that follows in the early-to-mid 2000s shows the result of ubiquity: we all got used to having and using computers. Computers mediated many daily tasks and the internet matured, giving us a feeling of comfort with these technologies. We had yet to see the explosion of Facebook and smartphones, which would help cause the sharp increase towards the end of the show. It is also unsurprising that the seasons with the lowest computer count also had the largest number of episodes with no computers.
A final spike in the last few seasons is the result of two things. First, the characters started using smartphones and laptops (by the end of the show, both the detectives had their own laptops), and were engaging more with social networking sites (Law & Order’s fake Facebook is called Faceplace, one of few domains NBC isn’t just sitting on). The second reason for this spike says less about computers and more about the state of media: Apple became a sponsor of many NBC shows. No longer did we see nameless beige computers or devices with their brand names covered. Instead, many of the computers (mostly in offices and labs) had prominent Apple logos.