A Generation of Black Mirrors

There was a presentation given in class a few weeks ago about the digital afterlife, in which we learned about a service that can scan a dead person’s social media presence and become a digital clone of them so that a relative or loved one can communicate with them online, to cope with their death. Beside sending shivers down my spine, it reminded me of something I had already seen before… something that took this idea to the next level.

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If anyone watches the British TV series Black Mirror, you’re probably ahead of me here. In a particular episode called “Be Right Back,” a young woman tragically loses her husband in a car crash. At the funeral, her friend tells her about a service that does exactly what I previously described in the introduction. It begins with email, progresses to text, and eventually she wants to hear his voice so she uploads videos of him so that they may talk over the phone. After talking non-stop for weeks, she agrees to the next level of the service: a living, android-like clone of synthetic flesh to which her husbands digital self can be uploaded. It’s incredibly realistic, and it gets even weirder from there.

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Synthetic clone on the left

Black Mirror is an anthology series that presents sci-fi scenarios revolving around social media and digital applications that seem impossible now, but may be real in the not-too-distant future. Things like a brain implant that lets you remember and play back all of your memories (like a Timeline), or a retinal device that lets you block people in real life. These things challenge our perceptions of what it means to live in the real world, of where exactly the line is between humanity and technology.

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What a “blocked” person looks like (to both parties)

What this series brings to the table is a mirror pointed right at us, commenting on the current generation’s addiction to their own “black mirrors,” or screens. The show’s point is made clear in their very first episode, one in which there is no advanced technology, and that’s what makes it so terrifying. It could happen right now: the British Prime Minister’s daughter is kidnapped, and through the use of Youtube the culprit uploads a video demanding that to get his daughter back, the PM must have sexual intercourse with a pig. On live TV. *SPOILER ALERT* At the end of the episode, the PM goes through with it, unbeknownst to him that his daughter had been let go an hour earlier but not a single person in London was outside to see her because they were all glued to the television, waiting to watch an atrocity (sorry to spoil the episode but it was necessary to get the point across).

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Though this grim perspective of our technologically-addicted society is obviously exaggerated, it’s the fact that it’s not too far off that makes it so disturbing, and yet so hard to look away from. While we may sit, watching people on the show do shocking things with deeply personal technology, and think “of course I would never do that,” it’s the little voice in the back of our heads wondering if we’re sure of it that makes this show such a brilliant commentary on the current state of our generation.

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If you haven’t watched the show, I highly recommend you do. It will make you laugh, it will make you think, it will make you question yourself, and it will make you panic, but you’ll have a damn good time all the while. And the first two seasons (plus a Christmas special with Jon Hamm) are on Netflix, so. Happy binging.

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9 comments

  1. Wow, this was a very interesting post. I had never heard of this show before, but it sounds intriguing, and slightly frightening. For me, the example at the beginning is a perfect example of technology going too far. Although the technology may be available for something like this in the future, I hope people recognize that just because it can be invented, does not mean it should. I can only imagine the psychological implications that this technology could cause! It will be interesting to see what regulations and laws are imposed regarding technology that may be crossing the line. I think you described it perfectly when you used the word “disturbing.” This post has opened my eyes, and has also made me fear for the future of our technologically-addicted world!

  2. This is so weird! I think you described it well, it is kind of terrifying. I have never heard of this before, but I think it sounds bizarre. It’s going to be interesting to me when we figure out how far is too far. Because this may sound absolutely crazy to you and me, but I’m sure if we ask our parents, they would say the thought of just cell phones are crazy. So I think trying to put a limit on something is difficult, but then there is also the thought of should there be a limit? As technology moves along, and more topics like this come about, it will be interesting to see how that question is answered. Thanks for the different type of post! It was really interesting.

  3. Awesome post. Black Mirror has been recommended to me a number of times but never in the context of its commentary on technology and digital media. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. I think a lot of times television is wrong about the specific applications of technology that will be used in the future, but it sounds like Black Mirror is a very good representation of our fears and anxieties as a society confronting an increasingly digital world. It definitely calls into question what should be considered acceptable use of various technologies by pushing the boundaries of what people could conceivably do (like bringing someone back from the dead).

  4. The title caught my eye instantly. I’ve always been a fan of this TV show and have seen the whole series. It was recommended to me in a course back in my home university and couldn’t stop watching it.
    It’s frightening to feel that we are not already there but could happen at any minute in the near future. The feeling of disgust and fear you get after each episode makes you think on the current situation. The Black Mirror made me cut down on the amount of social media I was using, and made me realize how addicted (and not aware) we are with social media. It is a great representation of our fears and anxieties as a society confronting an increasingly digital world.
    If anyone has the time please watch that series!

  5. I love Black Mirror (but you should have included the obligatory *spoiler alert* warning). It is a bit too disturbing to recommend for students, though, or at least the first episode is. I’m not sure I’ve seen the Christmas special, so I’ll have to check that out. If you havent seen the VIMEO video “sight” it’s very similar and worth a watch (only 7 minutes). https://vimeo.com/46304267

    1. fixed! also, super creepy video. I love it.

      1. Wish wordpress allowed me to “like” comments

  6. I love the series and the fact that every episode is different, but with a technological twist. I enjoyed the Christmas episode with Jon Hamm very much and I thought it was very cool how he ended up being ‘blocked’ by everyone as well as the whole concept of the episode taking a version of you out.

  7. I’m really surprised that no one brought this up already but, a few years after the episode aired in which the Prime Minister has sex with a pig the current Britsh Prime Minister David Cameron was alleged to actually have sex with a pig! That might be the most amazing aspect of this show. If that could actually happen in real life after appearing on the show then maybe all the other stuff could come true too.

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