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A Law & Order Viewer Once Took 11,000 Screenshots Of The Drama's Computers

"Law & Order" isn't really just a television show anymore — it's a phenomenon. The cop drama, created by Dick Wolf, has been on the air now for 22 seasons and more than 480 episodes, even returning from cancellation after a decade. It has spawned successful spin-offs, including "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Organized Crime." Plus there's the video game, as well as international adaptations, and a TV movie. When you consider all of these points, it's no wonder that NBCUniversal paid $300 million for streaming rights.

But the success of "Law & Order" lies not just in endless syndication. Rather, it is a result of a very dedicated and intense fandom as well. An article on Repeller notes, "When it comes to one of the most loved primetime TV franchises in history, people clearly have feelings." Some viewers idolize the characters, while others simply watch the show repeatedly.

However, one fan's project may have outdone every other "Law & Order" obsessive out there.

Jeff Thompson screenshotted every computer on Law & Order

At first, Jeff Thompson was just another loyal "Law & Order" viewer who binged the original series run on Netflix. But soon he started taking screenshots of "oddities" on the show and eventually noticed how computers were increasingly incorporated, season by season, into the show's set and scripts. Thompson decided this could be a real project, and received a commission in 2012 from Rhizome to explore how "Law & Order" depicts technology. 

Ultimately the amateur archivist found about 2,500 desktops over the course of 20 seasons, and he took five screenshots of each computer. This amounted to capturing 11,000 photos in all — an undertaking which he acknowledged to The Atlantic "sounds pretty insane." Admittedly he was burnt out by the time he got to Season 10: "After that, it became more and more of a drag ...By the end, it was really just work." 

However, thanks to "Law & Order," Thompson discovered some insights into how computers were normalized in workplace culture.

He noticed how everyone on the show became comfortable with computers

Where "CSI" depicted its crime fighters using inaccurate, wildly over-the-top software and devices, the portrayal of technology in "Law & Order" is actually pretty realistic. "Law & Order" fan Jeff Thompson noticed, for example, that in the early seasons of the show, characters don't consistently use their computers at work. In later episodes, however, PCs and Macbooks become more prominent on their desks and are regularly used as part of cases.

He also observed that when the characters in the 1990s were on computers, they didn't socialize, and instead focused on the screen. Yet, over time, Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson) and Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) began talking to each other while simultaneously working on laptops or desktops.

Thompson may have gotten tired of the project over time, but he still considered it successful. As he told The Atlantic, "It's about technology, and our culture, and ways that we can look for records of our relationship to those things in places we wouldn't normally think to look for them, which we wouldn't be able to find elsewhere."