Quite recently, I was told to watch this British show called ‘Black Mirror.’ My friend described it to me as: “Think Twilight Zone, but in a techno dystopian setting.” I was sold on that phrase right away. Growing up, I was a fan of The Twilight Zone and it was my preferred medium for moral lessons over cartoon shows. Black Mirror is similar in structure wherein it’s a new plot and cast per episode. Each one with its own lesson to convey through macabre storytelling. No supernatural elements. More on science-fiction.
Somehow though, it feels like a lie for me to label this show as science-fiction because of how eerily accurate it depicts our growing attachment to technology and the disastrous consequences that comes with it. We live in an age where Google gives us the power to record and playback our memories. In addition, web applications attempt to recreate our personalities, so it can tweet for us post-mortem. At the height of all these technological advancements, we often ask ourselves: but at what cost? Black Mirror attempts to answer this by recreating a scenario where all the prototype technology we have now have kicked full gear and have fully integrated into our daily lives. There are episodes though that tackle the destructive technological habits we currently practice, so it’s not always a look into the future. At that point, the real question becomes: Is this the future or is it already happening?
[Minor Spoilers: Mostly synopsis style spoilers or like what you see in trailers]
My favorite episode from the show so far would have to be the third episode of season one called ‘The Entire History of You.’ I think it’s worth noting that Robert Downey, Jr. bought the rights to this episode in particular to turn it into a feature film with Warner Bros. In this episode, almost everyone has a chip called a ‘grain’ implanted on their heads. This gives them the ability to record and playback memories. The screenshot above shows how it looks like when browsing through memories. In addition, you can also project this to a screen so that other people can watch. There are also other ‘neat’ features like you could zoom in and have the grain read the lips of people far from your peripheral view. You can even segregate them in albums like an iPod playlist. To clarify though, watching memories is called ‘redo’ and that doesn’t mean they can alter past events.
‘The Entire History of You’ shows us the consequences of having access to too much information and the destructiveness of our dependency on it. The episode shows instances where characters obsesses about every detail in their lives. From hours of meticulously deciphering the non-verbal gestures of the Human Resources manager during a past job interview to decoding what your wife meant when she giggled to a male friend’s joke. Is there such a thing as too much information? Is ignorance truly bliss? Or is moderation key? These are the sort of questions that this episode leaves us to reflect on.
One of the things that really intrigued me about this episode was its resemblance to what Google Glass is trying to do. It is essentially the prototype to the grain. I remember the excitement I felt when I watched Google’s promo video for Glass. I loved the idea of being able to record memories into video and pictures. However, after watching ‘The Entire History of You,’ I realized how excitement for innovation often blinds people including myself to its potential repercussions. We often think that any cost is justifiable as long as it’s in the name of innovation. This episode has given us a lot of food for thought. When I see Google Glass now, I’m still excited but I have this strange feeling it will turn everyone into an ‘over-attached girlfriend meme.’
My other favorite is the pilot episode of the second season called ‘Be Right Back,’ and this episode plays with the whole idea of “LivesOn.” For those of you who don’t know, LivesOn is a web application that aims to let you tweet after your heart stops beating. Unlike others, The application doesn’t use pre-written messages. Instead, it uses an algorithm to recreate your personality by learning from your interests, tastes, and syntax from your Twitter account. This Black Mirror episode let’s us see a not too distant future wherein you can recreate the consciousness of your deceased loved ones not only through tweets, but also in text messaging, phone calls and so much more.
This episode tackles not only the idea of a post-mortem digital legacy, but also the legitimacy of our online personalities. Impostors aside, most of us actually use our real names online. We tweet and share about things that interests us. We post photos and videos of fond memories on Facebook and Twitter. We put ourselves out there with all these information about us. However, is it enough for a person or a computer to actually construct and know who we are? Or are our online personalities merely shells of who we are?
One of the key aspects that makes these episodes, especially the one’s I mentioned, intriguing is its eerie realism to how we are dependent and driven by technology at the moment. While we might not have these advanced technologies at the moment, the issues tackled are definitely relevant and real. The show has its minimal flaws, but at the very core, each episode delivers a unique and thought provoking premise for audiences to reflect on.
The first season aired December of 2011, and the second one was just finished last month. I don’t think this show has made its way to US television yet, which explains why it hasn’t grown in popularity. Some of you may recognize stars of Downton Abbey appearing in separate episodes. Hayley Atwell, actress who played Peggy Carter in Captain America, is one of the leads in the episode I mentioned. The show’s score is amazing, as it reminds me of the simplistic yet evocative style of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
I’m not claiming that this is the best science fiction show out there, but I’m confident when I say that it is one of the best. One might call the show ‘pessimistic’ on it’s outlook on media and technology, but keep in mind that Black Mirror’s intent is to emphasize the repercussions we often take for granted. Essentially taking a dystopian approach to the narrative. It doesn’t call for audiences to be Luddites, but it raises important questions about how we live now and in the near future.