Black Mirror is a British television show that takes a look at the consequences of technologies on modern society through a set of macabre and somewhat cynical lenses. The show typically takes place in a not so far off future world, although often depicted as slightly dystopian. Notably, it’s actually the characters rather than the surroundings that assume these darker features.
Episodes range in topic. None of them are significantly connected or coherent apart from their communicated message, which is usually one related to the detriment of humanity and face-to-face social interaction at the hand of technological advances and the media. One particular episode which epitomises Black Mirror’s morale and attitude, is season three’s ‘Nosedive’.
‘Nosedive’ follows a woman’s daily life and manoeuvre within a new social climate. In this world, a person’s social hierarchy is entirely dependent on their social media rankings (out of five stars) and followership. Everyone has access to each other’s social media rankings just by glancing at their face; and their jobs, housing and friends are entirely dependent on said ranking. A higher star rating is achieved by grading each other on a scale out of five stars after each encounter – accumulating to a higher or lower overall score. The status-obsessed leading character in the episode (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) finds a loophole to bump her score up by a full star and goes on a nightmarish journey on the social ladder, albeit in the wrong direction. Ultimately, this results in (spoiler alert!) her losing her perfect life, score and place in society altogether due to her imperfections.
More disturbing than the episodes themselves however is the fact that the scenarios posed are often entirely plausible, or just slightly exaggerated versions of our current reality. The pseudo-realism proposed by this television show is not only daunting but actually rather serious. Serious, because although the creators of Black Mirror intended for it to be a sci-fi show, the pseudo-realism has dropped the ‘pseudo’ and simply become real.
During the show, there are several scenarios that trigger a natural response of repulsion and disbelief from the viewers; disbelief at the behavior of the characters, and repulsion at the idea of displaying similar behaviour themselves. It is these exact qualities or scenarios that occur on a daily basis without us explicitly realising it. In fact, said occurrences may even be seen as innovative or exciting when introduced in real life – an avid Instagram user may love the idea of their follower count being on display with every glance at their face.
There’s no need for such speculation – Black Mirror’s inventive sci-fi realities are not confined to fictional stories. The final episode of season 2, titled ‘White Christmas’, has a sub-plot of a device referred to as a ‘Cookie’; an exact copy of your own self and persona, which controls your household and other tasks at the response of voice-activation. This ‘Cookie’ can inform you of the weather, store your schedule, play music and so on – just like Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa is a voice-operated hospitality system that responds through a Bluetooth speaker and virtually answers any question within its range of capability. Whether ‘Cookie’ or ‘Alexa’, the only difference is the name. In fact, Amazon’s version takes a further step than Black Mirror by giving the device a common human name, rather than a nickname.
The icing on the cake, however, is the parallelism with reality that can be drawn from the first episode of season 2, ‘Be Right Back’. The episode tells the story of a widow who contacts her late husband through a service, which simulates the husband’s speech patterns and colloquialism. This allows the wife to first message with a copy of her husband, then telephone, then video chat and eventually receive a substitute-material body that is identical to that of her husband.
Believe it or not, this service now exists. Eternime, a California-based company, compiles all social media data and online evidence of the deceased and creates a unique algorithm in order to generate a genuine and personal response by message. Going a step further, the company then emulates a three dimensional avatar that moves with real human characteristics, creating a false belief of life. The company claims that “everyone wants to live forever” and this is simply a vessel for descendants of the deceased to learn stories and details that they might otherwise never know.
While that is an entirely appealing and lovely sentiment, the other take on the service is quite a disapproving one. Various psychologists have analyzed the service’s features and pointed out the fact that the ability to continuously communicate with a passed loved one completely eradicates the natural grieving process. With life comes death and learning to deal with it, however if no one ever learns how to grieve, there will be severe developmental and emotional consequences.
The larger outcome of this all is that we need to ask ourselves is if as a society, we are willing to succumb to reality being the same as a sci-fi television show. Ultimately, that’s the path we are on, and are already well travelled down. But, where do we draw the line? Will the same service soon create fake skin substitute bodies so that we can live forever with copies of our loved ones? This seems both ethically and morally wrong, however to some it might be an appealing notion.
Whatever the answer, keep yourself posted on Black Mirror, as it just might be the premier psychic television show!
Image: Comfreak @ Pixabay