The brilliance of the science fiction series Black Mirror lies in the fact that it takes place, not in some distant future, but in the world we already know. As a dark reflection of — and on — the digital lifestyle that we have chosen to embrace, this series forces us to confront the strangeness of the technology we already take for granted.
If you haven’t seen the first episode of Season 3, ‘Nosedive’, I won’t spoil it for you. But the world of Lacie Pound, the character that Bryce Dallas Howard portrays, should be very familiar to us.
A social-media obsessed society
It is a social media- and technology-obsessed society, just like ours: Where people take photos of their food and post these on social networks before they eat. Where they wear VR headsets to play hyper-realistic video games. And where, like an Instagram influencer or online celebrity, Lacie is obsessed with being liked and boosting her rating.
Except in the world of ‘Nosedive’, we are not just talking about getting more likes for your Facebook post, or having your YouTube video go viral. It is not just a Klout score that gives you bragging rights as an influencer or Key Opinion Leader, to use the jargon of social media marketing.
Here, a person’s rating is serious business. Lacie lives in a community that is sort of what the Stepford Wives would have been if they had social media. Here, they can literally see every person’s current rating at a glance. They do not even have to look at their mobile device, as the information is beamed directly to their eyes.
In a scene that should make every Facebook stalker deliriously happy, Lacie says hi to a woman who steps inside the elevator. Then panics a little because she doesn’t know what else to say.
So Lacie uses her mobile device’s touchscreen while still looking straight head, sees the woman’s social media posts, and then turns to her with a smile, asking, “How’s Pancakes?”
And, of course, like any cat lover, the woman’s heart melts when asked about her pet. “He’s hilarious. Such a funny cat. He’s the best.”
Instant engagement. Powered by Big Data.
In the world of “Nosedive,” a person’s rating determines the benefits you get from society. Where you can live. What places you can access. Which explains Lacie’s determination to find ways to boost her rating. Because, like any of us, she wants a better life.
This is actually the social media-obsessed world we already live in, in real life.
Is there such a thing as ‘real life’ anymore?
We have come to the point where many of us are apparently more concerned with our online life, rather than the one we are actually living. Sure, filters may be useful tools for making our Instagram photos more attractive. But we are also engaged with filtering our lives on social media.
Posting photos to show how awesome our life is, when actually we are only putting our best foot forward online, cropping out the bad stuff.
Constantly checking our social media profiles, to see how many likes we’ve gotten, and if someone has posted something interesting, because we all suffer from FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out.
Sharing what’s happening instead of enjoying the moment and living it, because we are obsessed with our screens and our social networks.
Shouting down people we disagree with, or blocking or unfollowing them. Reporting them to Facebook so that posts and pages we hate can be taken down.
Because in this twisted new social media landscape filled with trolls and hate-filled partisans, no one wants to calmly discuss things, or consider opinions different from one’s own. Because we all believe in free speech, except when it applies to our enemies.
It seems easier to filter everything, and listen only to the people who think and talk like you. Like social media Stepford Wives. Like the world of ‘Nosedive’. Like the dark side of technology we see reflected through the “Black Mirror”.
And you know what is even scarier? The world of ‘Nosedive’ is already coming to life in our world. For instance, China has already unveiled its vision for what it calls Internet Plus. Not content with the Great Firewall, China now has ambitious plans to use Big Data to rate every citizen.
In this data-driven social credit system, everything a citizen does, online and offline, could be recorded and affect a person’s rating.
“And in this world, your score becomes the ultimate truth of who you are — determining whether you can borrow money, get your children into the best schools or travel abroad; whether you get a room in a fancy hotel, a seat in a top restaurant — or even just get a date,” according to the Washington Post article.
The “Black Mirror” is science fiction.
The real world is even scarier.
Image Copyright: Endemol UK