The Technology of Black Mirror: A Tragic Reality?

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There is not a single thing in this world that one can consider worse than killing another human being. Still, the “Crocodile” episode on the “Black Mirror” TV show has the unimaginable power to take us way beyond that. It shows us that worse than killing one human would be to kill its entire human nature. This episode in many ways strips human nature from feeling, seeing, telling and connecting . . . Yes, undeniably, the “Crocodile” episode kills it profoundly, and kills it differently.

Black mirror

This episode is just one among 22 iconic British sci fi episodes that appeared in five seasons of similar content as the anthology television series “Black Mirror”, first released in 2011. The series has the definite power to drag us into the perks of modern society, at the same time keeping a spotlight on the unforeseen consequences and disturbing trends triggered by today’s technology.

For those of you who are not familiar with the show, the subject matters covered combine a fascinating obsession with social networks, smartphones, celebrities, reality shows, pornography, and video games, along with fake news, the media, and opinion manipulation. Highly calculative dating and matching systems, cyber-bullying, and the feeling of being surrounded by and transformed into machines are among the elements of the show that underscore the end of private life as we have known it. One cannot avoid stumbling while watching the show.

Each episode has its own characters, story, and timeline. Yet, each one still has the power to connect all the dots. Symbolically, the same sound track plays in the background during most of each show.

One of the most compelling descriptions of “Black Mirror” comes from its creator, Charlie Brooker, who describes the show as “a box of dark chocolates”. He adds that we don’t know what the filling will be, but we know it is going to be dark.

But what is this darkness actually about? The speed at which technology is taking over our lives? Its intensity? Or, maybe its trueness?

Tragic reality

Well-behaved characters earn five stars, whilst those behaving badly risk one-star reviews which lead to social exclusion and numerous penalties. This is very briefly covered in the episode titled “Nosedive”. And this is also more or less the theme in the Chinese Social Credit Store. Facial recognition, surveillance, and the death of privacy are three synonyms that merge to cross a line that already has become a fine one. Services like Crystal can predict personalities and anticipate what messages are proper for any given user. We find similar AL in the episode “Be Right Back”, when a woman manages to bring back to life a version of her late husband – derived from his social media posts.

“Shut up and Dance” is an episode which you can easily relate to. A teenager is being blackmailed after being spied upon through his webcam. Cyber-security and spying hackers who leak sensitive and personal information to the public are things that, if they happen, can change us from technology users into victims. The episode “Man against Fire” imagines an army which fights its enemies, without even knowing their true faces. This because of a technology that changes what soldiers hear, see, and smell. Face-swap technology has already gone viral in some cases: algorithms were used to create porn videos, with faces of celebrities or private citizens.  These are sometimes described as scarily realistic.

“National Anthem” and “Hated in the Nation” are two episodes that illustrate the immense power of social media – above all twitter. In the first we see how a fictional British Prime Minister bases an important decision, such the impression that a public figure has had sex with a pig, live, on national television, based on Twitter feedbacks. While, in the second one we witness the unthinkable influence of social media. There is a death toll caused by twitter hashtags. Today, Donald Trump, the President of a country which is considered the most powerful one on earth, uses Twitter to make major announcements. We recall that both episodes were released before Trump’s election.

It seems that multiple inventions suggest that we are already walking down the road paved by “Black Mirror.”

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