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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.