The Twighlight Zone for the Digital Generation: Black Mirror
This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture. You can find the other related entries HERE.
I recently fell in love with a television series called Black Mirror. It’s a British television show created by Charlie Booker that explores some of the darker themes around the influences of technology on our daily lives. Ironically, I found out about Black Mirror via social media. The show was actually created in 2011, but since it’s availability on Netflix in late 2014 it has enjoyed a huge surge of popularity. The first season contains only 3 episodes, each focusing on one aspect of our technology-obsessed culture. It’s one of the only shows on television taking a frank look at how the lines between online and offline have blurred and the dangers that lurk ahead. It’s scifi enough to entertain, but grounded in a near enough future to have you worried.
We Are Enslaved by Our Screens:
In the first episode, The National Anthem, the UK Prime Minister is given a bizarre ultimatum by terrorists: have sexual relations with a pig on live television or a member of the royal family that they are holding hostage will be killed. Yes, the premise sounds outlandish, but Booker does a fascinating job of making it all seem unsettlingly plausible. Egged on by the fickle opinions shared on social media, twitter polls and Internet comments, the politician grapples with a decision that highlights how fixated we have become on the screens in our lives that we’re not aware of what goes on around us.
I’ve already stopped bringing my cellphone into my room at night, since I hated the habit I’d developed of looking at it right before I went to sleep and first thing when I woke up. Are notifications really that important to my life?
What is Reality?
The second episode, Fifteen Million Merits, places us in a post-peak-oil future where people generate energy from stationary bikes and earn a currency called Merits. The daily grind is tedious and the only way to cope is through escapism – in this case a collective obsession with reality television shows. The people in this world are constantly bombarded with advertisements. In one powerful scene, the main character is lying in his screen-lined room and an advertisement comes on. When he closes his eyes to avoid it, the screens start beeping that his vision is obscured and he has a choice of either watching the ad or paying a set number of merits to skip it. The other thing that struck me about this episode was how consumerism had shifted towards digital goods, people spend their merits accessorizing at their digital avatars with hats and sunglasses, further blurring the lines of reality and identity within the online sphere.
The last episode, The Entire History of You, we’re in a world where everyone is implanted with a “grain”, a device that enables you to record and then replay your memories. This process is called a “re-do” and can be done for an individual or projected on a screen for a wider audience. Considering everyone is always recording everything with their iPhones these days, I found this episode to be very fascinating. What would happen if we lived in a society where recording and sharing was extrapolated to this level of cultural normalcy? How would it impact your relationship with each other, yourself and information in general? With PEW reporting that 90% of Americans own a cell phone and 67% check their phones even when they don’t have a call or notification, Black Mirror makes this premise seem not only realistic but also inevitable.
This is not a happy show, but an unflinching examination of our co-dependent relationship with technology. We love to broadcast our feelings, even when it makes us feel isolated. We love snooping in the lives of others, even when it makes us feel bad about ourselves. Despite the privacy risks, the dishonesty and over-curation, we are incapable of logging off, unable to resist just one more quick scan of our newsfeed or timeline. It’s this look at both the good and the bad that makes Black Mirror both chilling and compelling in equal measures.
I highly suggest you add it to your watch list!
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