I may be a little late coming to this, but the British show Black Mirror, currently streaming on Netflix, is one of the best pieces of dramatic social commentary I’ve seen in some time.
In this anthology series, each episode tells a different story from the perspective of a not-so-distant future “us” that has somehow allowed certain technologies to progress to their logical, albeit dystopian and destructive conclusions.
The episodes come off as oddly relatable. One can easily imagine being in the situations and using the technologies as depicted. There is something sexy, and yet also scary about it all. Ideas of what makes a person a “person” are explored in “Be Right Back”. A woman suddenly loses her husband in a car accident and is utterly distraught, until she sees an ad for how to bring back dead loved ones via a service that revives the person, at least digitally, by using their voice mails, emails, and scouring their online social media presence to electronically recreate their voice and personality. However, she takes it a step too far by creating a physical humanoid copy of her husband, only to regret the decision for reasons that are best discovered by watching the episode.
“The Entire History of You” takes place in a not so distant time when humans are implanted at birth with a technology in their retina (Google Glass?) that allows all things seen, heard and experienced, to be recorded for instant retrieval at a later date by the user. This creates a society obsessed with the past – analyzing every moment for clues to their present predicaments. It’s fun for a party trick every once in a while, until the main character starts to use it to try and spy on his wife’s perceived infidelities.
There are also episodes like “The National Anthem” and “The Waldo Moment” that show mass media’s sway over a the collective attention, and how this can easily shape public opinion and perceptions of what is important and meaningful. For what is sure to be a well-needed, although perhaps discouraging comedic break, watch the “The Waldo Moment” as this year’s presidential election starts to heat up. It may make you feel better about some of your choices at the ballot box.
The newest episode just released is “White Christmas”. It is also probably the most disturbing of the series given its sinister implications for the possibilities of future means of extracting and digitally copying persons. Due to technology allowing for a small implant in a person’s brain, a digital carbon copy of a person’s mind can be extracted and held intact. Rich people can now recreate “themselves “as personal digital assistants. Think of it as if Siri were actually you. Not just your voice, but You. It would already know everything you needed or wanted, all the time, because it is a copy of your mind doing the thinking work for the real You. A little hard to wrap one’s head around, I know. They copied “you” is stored in a little white pod resembling an egg, or like the currently available version – Amazon Echo. The technology also allows for more sinister implications, and is used by modern law enforcement to force confessions and indefinitely hold people via their minds in a perpetual hell of their own creation. In the end, the main questions become: Is a copy of you the same as the real you? And consequentially, does this copy of you deserve the same humane treatment as the physical you? Can we have slaves that do whatever we want, as long as they are digital copies of ourselves?
All of the episodes feel so real because there is nothing spectacular or distant about them. No flying cars, teleportation devices, or time machines. Just real people living their lives in the parameters of what their present technology allows – a technology that is not so far removed from what is currently available to us in 2016, as detailed above.
Happy to hear that Netflix has picked up the series for twelve new episodes this year.
Many reviewers have talked about the show, but one of my favorite is from New York Times columnist Jenna Wortham who sums up why the series is so effective at gripping us:
The sly ingenuity of “Black Mirror” is that it nails down our love for the same devices we blame for our psychological torment…even as we swear off tweeting and promise to stop Googling our exes, our phones are still the last things we see before falling asleep and the first things we reach for when we awaken.
“Black Mirror” resonates because the show manages to exhibit caution about the role of technology without diminishing its importance and novelty, functioning as a twisted View-Master of many different future universes where things have strayed horribly off-course.
You can read the full review here.