Danger: Human Crossing
Black Mirror has tackled several technologies over the course of three seasons – everything from virtual/augmented reality (“Playtest”, “San Junipero”), implants that keep end users constantly connected or change and amplify daily or professional activities (“The Entire History of You”, “Men Against Fire”), high tech and sophisticated bees and other drone-like or robotic technology (“Hated in the Nation”, “Be Right Back”) and the potential ramifications of each on individuals and on a much larger scale, entire societies.
Episodes like “The Entire History of You”, “Nosedive” and “Fifteen Million Merits” focus on the social aspect of technology and criticize our growing reliance on not only the technology we use on a daily basis, but the performance we put on for our social circles (big and small). This particularly falls in line with much of the criticism geared toward the millennial generation: that our use of social media and constant need to be connected digitally has done far more damage than good and is only leading us all down a slippery slope. Black Mirror exaggerates the extremes we take to create images of ourselves, our lives and experiences, and essentially dissociating from the real world in favor of carefully marketed versions of ourselves. The show imagines a future where we quite literally become slaves to our devices the more we use them to stay connected, informed, and perform everyday tasks.
Other episodes focus on the usefulness but eventual inevitable dangers of technology to enhance our experiences (like video gaming in “Play Test”, implant-able databases like in “The Entire History of You”, and a slew of other episodes providing alternative realities to alleviate real world issues or AI to cope with grief such as in “Be Right Back”) and present alternative solutions to existing issues today (such as the decline of bees or in lieu of physical combat). Still, I believe the real criticism of Black Mirror’s is not necessarily with what existing advancements in technology today present inevitable dangers tomorrow or in the near future, but the dangers they present in the hands of other humans.
In just about every episode, Black Mirror criticizes human nature. While advanced technology is featured in “White Bear”, it’s humans that have decided to torture Victoria and offer this performance as an “exciting”, “entertaining”, and “just” experience open to the public. Similarly, in “National Anthem”, it is another individual using technology to blackmail a government official (for an art piece), and “Hated in the Nation” reveals another human face hiding behind advanced technology to punish individuals.
This has been one of the biggest takeaways from Black Mirror for me. Looking ahead to next season, it will be interesting to see if Black Mirror continues this criticism/trend.