From Bluetooth technology, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, artificial hearts, Skype, electric and driverless cars, it’s safe to say to say we are definitely part of an era of great technological advancements. While many of us have grown alongside this technology, and have seen it grow before our eyes, myself having been a few years younger than most of you, had these kinds of technology already established. These technologies are an essential part of my generation and it’s hard to remember a time where individuals weren’t scrolling away on their phones with any free moment they had. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, 95 per cent of millennials (age 18-36) own a cellphone in the U.S and millennials own more laptops, iPods, and game consoles than any other generation.
With that being said, one of the popular shows on Netflix, Black Mirror, is a sci-fi take on the integration of technology in our society, with each episode exploring different themes accompanied by a brand new director and cast. Black Mirror is not the first series to explore these concepts. Shows like Minority Report and Mr. Robot have also explored technology-based themes in realities similar to our own, but this series has certain qualities that mesmerize audiences. Originally airing on the British broadcaster Channel 4 in 2011, the questions asked in this series have always been noted to be controversial. Season three of the show, which was picked up by Netflix in 2015, debuted on Oct. 21 and has since garnered a lot of attention.
The concept of Black Mirror resonates with viewers the most because the themes explored are not too far off from the realities of those who utilize technology on a daily basis. New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik writes, “Black Mirror is hands down the most relevant program of our time, if for no other reason than how often it can make you wonder if we’re all living in an episode of it.” Black Mirror is a show that many critics often describe as being “five minutes away,” taking place in near future realities that tell stories related to our everyday scenarios and problems living in the technology-infused 21st Century.
The first episode “Nosedive” shows the life of Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) who lives in a world where the amount of likes you have literally mean everything. They determine and influence your job, salary, where you can live, what you can buy, where you can go and who you can hang out with, amongst other things. Lacie’s ultimate goal is to reach a rating of 4.5 on the 5-point scale, so that she can be eligible to live in her dream neighbourhood with other 4.5’s. The episode chronicles her desperate attempt to do so.
“Nosedive” explores one’s commitment to maintaining their real lives and social media lives. As a teenager, I can attest to the fact that for many people being kind in real life is not as important as being popular and active on social media. We stress to get the perfect selfie angle and lighting just so that person we are attracted to may see it, be impressed, and dive into those DM’s. Some of us constantly find ourselves having to ask a friend, “Do you think this will get likes?” before we post a picture. There is even a medical term for someone addicted to taking selfies. The American Psychiatric Association deemed the condition “selfitis,” which is defined as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy.”
In a subtle way, the episode hints towards themes of racism, classism and discrimination. In the episode, people of colour have lower ratings and lower class jobs. For example, consider the elder black man who is Lacie’s taxi driver who has a 3.2 rating and the flight attendant and security guard in the airport. The lower your rating is the more restricted you are in the things you can do. If your rating is below a two, you’re considered socially deficient by those possessing scores higher than you.
“Shutup and Dance” revolves around a teen named Kenny (Alex Lawther) who is caught masterbating on his computer’s camera after he accidentally downloads a computer virus. This episode is definitely one of the darker themes as director James Watkins investigates our personal technology and the importance of Internet safety and privacy. In the episode, the hacker forces multiple people to do his biddings as he blackmails them with personal information obtained from their computers via Internet.
This theme is most likely the most realistic and grounded of the episodes. Spyware like Blackshades have existed for a long time on Windows and allows hackers to take photos of you without your knowledge as well as collect and gather personal information. Our personal technology, like our phones and laptops, hold our most personal and private information. The Internet is the gateway to almost anything in the world but that means you are also susceptible to the unknown and all of its dangers. Popular sites like Facebook have frequently run into privacy issues, especially in regards to settings, and have admitted to using user locations to suggest friends without user permission and does not allow users to create a truly private profile and sometimes requires government ID to sign-up.
“Hated in a Nation” clocks the longest run time of any of the five other episodes in the third season. It centers around Detective Karin Parke (Kelly McDonald) and her tech-savvy partner, Blue (Faye Marsay) who try to unravel a series of mysterious deaths that, at first, have no correlation but are (spoiler alert!) later found to be part of an ongoing social media-ran campaign to murder people based on how many times their name appears .
It’s not unusual for people to take to social media when someone has done something that they believe is wrong. The message of the episode is eerie and straightforward: things that you say on the internet have consequences. It’s easy for us to type something into our keyboard and press send without thinking twice about what we have typed. Some of us have even become desensitized to the things we say online and often forget that there is a human being on the other side of the screen.
“Hated in a Nation” teaches us that these things have ramifications and while the person we hate on the internet may not be murdered in an unpopularity contest, these digital interactions still have tangible effects.
The technology we use is only going to become even more integrated into our jobs, schools, and personal lives. It’s important to not lose focus of the genuine things, feelings,and experiences that technology cannot replace. We need to learn how to separate our real lives with the things we do, say, and see on the Internet and though we have these kinds of technology at our disposal, we still need to ensure we are using them responsibly. Black Mirror continues it’s trend of showing us the possible dangers and questions we need to ask about the inclusion of technology in our society, creates engaging satire of the sci-fi genre and provides an entertaining and chilling narrative for viewers.