Technology is everywhere. It’s inescapable. The ubiquitous beeping and chirping notifying us of a text message, another “like” on our latest Facebook post, or a new follower on Twitter or Instagram, interrupts conversations, sleep, and our deepest thoughts. It seems we cannot go two minutes without interacting with some form of technology. And we’ve blindly accepted this without a second thought.
In the midst of all the hoopla over the latest and greatest tech, one show stands out as a cautionary message, a sort of prescient glimpse into what a future powered by artificial intelligence and machines and ordered by social media would look like. And the forecast is bleak.
The Netflix original drama Black Mirror is both captivating and chilling. It’s like a car wreck complete with flashing lights and sirens and disturbing gore, from which you can’t peel your eyes away. Named for the powered-down screen on your phone, tablet, or computer, Black Mirror is utterly unique in several ways. First, each episode stands alone with its own storyline and cast. And each episode is a dark, satirical examination of a world where our technological gadgets control us.
In Season 3, Episode 1, “Nosedive,” we see Lacie (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), a millennial administrative worker whose main focus is improving her social media rating. Set in the not-so-distant future, “Nosedive” presents a reality in which your social media ranking opens every door – literally and figuratively (even for medical treatment). Your ranking determines job stability, eligibility for renting an apartment, etc., and pervades every aspect of existence. There is even an industry of consulting firms built on telling people how to improve their ratings, because ratings determine worth. One must impress the “high-quality individuals” (people with “high 4s”) if he or she is to get ahead in the world.
To facilitate this ranking system, everyone is equipped with a chip that allows them to register a stranger’s ranking upon sight. Once the interaction is complete, it is customary to rank the person – a store clerk, the barista, cab driver or customer – with a 1- to 5-star ranking which impacts their overall number. To receive 5 stars, it is important that you are always “on” and always upbeat, never less than “AWESOME!” This fosters a shallow environment where it is nearly impossible to experience intimate relationships because that would require showing someone that which is not all “sunshine and light” within you. In fact, the only real relationship Lacie has is with her brother who knows who she really is beneath the smiling veneer.
In addition to showing us the power that this tool could wield over our lives if we give it too much credence, “Nosedive” is a terrifying hyperbole about our reliance on “likes” and “follows” to feel good about ourselves. It is all too easy to get caught up in what people think of us when what’s really important is not the phony interactions we have online or the staged photos we post on social media but the relationships we build with the people that are actually present in our lives.
Strangely, Lacie’s brother, who would typically seem like a loser, is the most together of the characters, because he hasn’t bought in to all the craziness of the social media scene. He misses the days when conversations and relationships weren’t just about getting another 5-star rating. Ultimately, the 63 minutes of this show pack a profound punch. We may not realize it as we go through our daily lives, but we know what’s truly important. We long for it. But if we don’t keep tabs on the growing ubiquity of social media and the importance we place on it, we may not know how to get back to what’s important, how to put down the phone and re-establish meaningful connections.
Technology is fun; I’m not arguing that. Social media can be fun. It’s fun until it’s not. It’s fun until it takes over and your life is controlled by it. In a sense, your phone, social media, the Internet – it’s the proverbial double-edged sword. Our technology has incredible power to work worldly miracles for good like curing disease and solving crime. But with all this incredible power for good comes a terrible ability to cause harm. The same technology that enables us to split atoms and power the greater part of the eastern seaboard also leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Black Mirror offers us the opportunity to evaluate the role we want new media and technology to play in our lives. What do we want our future to look like? Depending on our answers, we may want to dial it back with respect to our use of and attachment to our social media profiles.