Black Mirror: a reflection of humanity’s new algorithm

(Design: William Cumming/AQ)

We live in a weird time. There’s no other way to put it. The technological progression of humanity in the last 30 years has left us, as people, struggling to comprehend our new social identity.

That’s where the show Black Mirror comes in. It explores subjects that most people won’t even stop to think about, and after watching it I can’t get them off my mind. Its examination of our humanity, and the effect that technology has on it, is something that everyone should watch.

Even better, the social commentary comes wrapped in an engaging science fiction package. Each episode has a different writer and plot, and they play more like a short movie than a TV episode. Being a British show, each season only has three episodes, which makes them perfect to binge. And trust me, once you start you won’t be able to stop.

The stories can range from wild science fiction to completely plausible, and anywhere in between. My personal favorite is one based in our own reality, where hacked laptop camera footage is used to blackmail someone into a series of bizarre errands.

But the best part is, no matter how fantastic the concept, parallels can always be drawn with our lives today. Another episode featured a device called a grain, a neural implant which allows it’s user to record and playback memories like they were videos. More importantly, they allow you to share those memories with other people. The jealous husband they focus on in this story shows us how technology can lead to some creepy obsessions, which I couldn’t help but compare to the Facebook stalkers of our day.

If you still aren’t convinced that you should watch this show take a moment and think about when you were growing up. When my family first got a computer, the rule of thumb for the internet was don’t use your real name online. Privacy was paramount in those days.

Cut to today. Privacy seems to be the furthest thing from our minds online. We use our real names, post our location and challenge ourselves to connect with as many strangers as possible. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but I still can’t help thinking about how much has changed in such a short time.

I also can’t help but thing about our relationship with today’s corporations. Back in the early days of the internet I doubt we would have been ok with the fact that our information is bought and sold by every website we visit, and that businesses track our browsing in order to blast us with targeted ads.

A few weeks ago, I had some friends over at my place. One of my friends was reading through Harry Potter for the first time, and we were discussing what she thought of them. After a few minutes, I got a notification on my phone. It was an email from Amazon advertising Harry Potter books to me.

Now, it’s possible that this was a coincidence, but it still freaks me out. I never searched for Harry Potter on Amazon. I hadn’t even thought about Harry Potter in months. What are the odds that they would just randomly send me a Harry Potter ad while I was talking to my friends about it? And if they are listening to me, what does that mean? What else can they do? Who else besides Amazon might be listening in?

If you’re an Android user I highly suggest you check the permissions your apps have. If Jeff Bezos had his way then the Amazon app would be able to access my camera, contacts, location, microphone, SMS and system storage. After turning all those off my app still runs perfectly fine, which leads me to wonder why they needed them in the first place.

All this is to say that we need to be more aware of our relationship with technology, and how it is affecting our humanity. If reading this raised any interest in your mind, then I highly recommend watching Black Mirror. If this piece didn’t get you thinking then the show definitely will.


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