Imagine this:, a personal assistant, akin to Siri or Alexa, but custom built to supplement your needs and your needs only. This “cookie” could sit on your countertop, wake you up to your favorite song, prepare your breakfast, and control the temperature throughout your house to your prefered levels. Now, imagine that acquiring this revolutionary piece of technology required a minor medical procedure where a specialist would painlessly remove a small strand of brain matter to later place inside this “cookie”, essentially cloning your personality, memories, and emotions onto a computer. While this “cookie” clone of you is ultimately just lines of code, it feels as though it is completely conscious and is in a constant existential crisis as it tries to cope with the incomprehensible idea that it is not a conscious, living being. Would that be a morally acceptable tool for us to exploit for our own personal benefit?
It is bizarre moral quandaries like these that the hit British television program, “Black Mirror,” has worked tirelessly to curate over the past half-decade. This alt-futurism and underlining nihilism is what makes this show’s wild commercial success such a perplexing catch-22; in a society trending further and further towards immediate satisfaction and mind-numbing instant media, Black Mirror has bucked the trend and presented us with a deeply layered moral question; How far is too far when dealing with technological innovation?
Presented as an anthology in the style popularized decades ago by Black Mirror’s spiritual predecessor, “The Twilight Zone,”; each episode of the show focuses on a different piece of technology and features completely distinct casts and directors. Due to this difference in direction between episodes, each installment offers a completely refreshing take on the central ideas of the show with radical aesthetic variations between installments. These distinct artistic and ideological discrepancies between episodes has produced a wide array of chapters that often look and feel like completely different worlds. While most episodes have a morose cloud hanging over them, episodes like, “San Junipero”, shot in a fantastic neon 70’s environment, and, “Nosedive”, boasting bright, pastel colors, offer viewers a fresh change of pace from the show’s typical gloom and doom. Despite the different pilots at the helm of each episode, the show does a commendable job of continued excellence and continuity as it continues to penetrate society’s shared consciousness.
Morality is a concept that is inherently objective, and the manner with which this show brilliantly portrays each moral and ethical challenge leaves viewers with a comfortable amount of space to consider these demanding questions and reach their own conclusions. While the outlandish technology that acts as the epicenter of each episode seems wholly unrealistic, there are bits and pieces of these devices that are closer than many would realize. With major strides in virtual reality every year, a computer-generated hellhouse like that featured in the episode titled, “Playtest” doesn’t seem as abstract as it would have a mere decade ago. Neither does the baby-monitor on steroids elaborated upon in, “Arkangel”, which centers around an overprotective mother and her blatant exploitation of a relatively futuristic device to monitor her daughter’s every move. This show really hits its stride in the dark and unknown, when inhumane torture facilities and pain addicts appear on screen. Black Mirror never shies away from crude, bordering on gory, imagery in order to get a message across, be it the dangers of social media or the horrors of augmented reality. Each episode is meticulously scripted to leave a small trail of bread leading to the final spectacle, making each installment very rewatchable as viewers start to identify the nuances of every scene.
The ultimate message this show is trying to express is not one of hopelessness and despair but rather one of warning; of what could happen without proper administration of technology and of what could go wrong when we take technology “too far”. By exploring the outer limits of acceptability, Black Mirror allows viewers the opportunity to witness the dystopia that could be, where we are no longer in control and technology reigns supreme over our everyday lives. As absurd as this seems, this show only magnifies the issues we currently face through a different lens. It’s nearly impossible for an individual to set aside their phone for more than 15 minutes, let alone any extended period of time. The inability to disconnect from technology is a trait that has been rapidly bred into humanity, as people only become more and more dependent upon their personal assistants, phones, and laptops. Technological innovation will only continue to push the boundaries of our imagination further and further until we become completely dependant upon technology, and that, is what Black Mirror works so hard to admonish the world of.
As Albert Einstein once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
And here we are, staring directly into our 5.65 inch x 2.79 inch world.