Over the holidays we watch a lot of TV in my house. School is over, work is lighter and a Netflix binge (usually with our favorite non-fasting treats) is in order. This year it was Black Mirror.
Have you seen it?
I haven’t watched all the episodes yet but the ones I’ve seen were really good.
The show is about the unintended consequences of technology. Every episode presents a different situation of what could happen in the future. It is a speculative fiction that imagines what our society would be like if our addiction to technology gets out of hand. The word “addiction” is not used for literary purposes, it’s used because technology is a full-blown addiction. From the moment we wake up, to the moment we sleep we are looking at a black mirror – the screens of our cellphones, laptops, and iPads when turned off. Some Orthodox would also classify this as idolatry. I mean don’t you find it ironic that our most prized and loved gadget is literally called Apple? Anyway, I digress. The point is we are a society that loves to worship technology. We actually have conservations with our technology. No, I don’t mean using the phone to make a phone call, but actually talking to the phone itself:
“Good morning Siri, please set tomorrow’s alarm for 8 am”
“Siri where is the closest Tim Hortons?”
Like any addiction, we must ask: what are the side effects? And when does our obsession become dangerous?
Season 3’s “Nosedive” episode is about a society that is completely based on ratings. Your every interaction, email, Facebook or Instagram post is ranked out of 5 and calculated into an overall score – 5 stars is excellent and 0 stars is terrible. This score essentially determines your life. The type of car you can rent, to where you can sit on an airplane, and who you will marry and associate with is determined according to your score – basically, it’s a caste system. The 1s and 2s hang with the 1s and 2s, and the 4s and 5s hang with the 4s and 5s – the 3s figure it out for themselves. The lower caste members, i.e. the unpopulars, actually go so far as to hire social media strategists to help them increase their score and overall likeability; they want to achieve 5 stars and be accepted into the upper echelon of society.
The “like” obsession depicted in this episode is totally present in our world today. From social media consultants, brand managers and Instagram filters, we are neurotic about capturing, recording and posting a perfect and ongoing feed of our lives. Whether you give a play-by-play, pop in here and there, or share nothing at all, anyone with a social media account is aware of how they will be perceived by others.
When I first saw this episode I thought it was kind of freaky but totally exaggerated. It was a “when that happens” kind of reaction as if it was far off. But when I looked a little closer this seems familiar, non?
Take for example Uber’s two-way rating framework. On Uber’s website they have an entire page outlining exactly how their ratings work and why ratings are important:
At all times drivers will be required to maintain an absolute minimum of 3.8 [stars out of 5] regardless of Number of trips. Drivers are given 2 opportunities to fall below the ratings threshold and attend retraining. If drivers miss their ratings threshold for the 3rd time, their account will be permanently deactivated.
It is important that driver-partners operating on the Uber platform maintain a high rating because the higher quality of service that is provided the more riders will want to use the product. If a driver-partner does not provide a high level of service then not only is it bad for the Uber brand but it also has a negative impact on other Uber driver-partners as they are losing possible rides.
Ratings are important because they tell others who we are. As social beings we have a lot more trust in an Uber driver, Amazon seller or Airbnb host with a higher score – we look for 5 stars. We also care about how many people have scored them. There needs to be a significant number of positive reviews to develop trust and credibility.
So what does this mean for me as blogger?
In all honesty, I’ll admit it bothers me when I don’t get a lot of likes. My addiction to scrolling, checking, and obsessing over my profile is real because in my mind this means something: there is satisfaction in being “liked”. When I look at my black mirror – my phone, computer or iPad when it is off – and I can’t log into Facebook, read my Tweets or check my Instagram – I suddenly realize my insanity: I am living in a world that doesn’t exist, it isn’t real.
Unfortunately, Lacie Pound, the protagonist, actually goes insane. She has a full-blown mental, physical and emotional breakdown from the stress of trying so hard to be liked. This breakdown causes her score to nosedive to a 0, which basically means she is eliminated from society – she’s obsolete. But in prison (of all places) she finds freedom: she can finally be who she wants to be without having to worry about being “liked”.