Just how far into the future are we talking, here?
On our most recent episode of A Storm of Spoilers, my co-host Joanna Robinson revealed that following her viewing of “Shut Up and Dance,” the Black Mirror episode in which people are recorded via their webcams and blackmailed into doing things for a sadistic big brother organization, she finally covered up the webcam on her computer. This is something I’ve always sneered at, personally. Because really, is what I do in front of my computer any different than what 99% of other people do in front of theirs? The more I think about it, however, alongside some of the other (mostly) fictional technology at play in Black Mirror, the less confident I am that any of us are safe.
One of the reasons why Black Mirror is so compelling is that it presents us with near-future reality. This is something our friends at The Ringer explored in the article linked at the top of this page. If these technologies are ever going to come to fruition, how soon will it happen? And more importantly: how terrified should I be?
After reading through their speculative timeline, complete with analysis from experts, I’ve decided that I’m thoroughly terrified. With that terror in mind, here’s a ranking of the technologies of Black Mirror season 3 from least-to-most terrifying.
6. Eternal Life via Uploaded Consciousness
As seen in: “San Junipero”
In three series-full of technology, this is easily the most hopeful thing Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror have conjured up yet. In “San Junipero,” we see humans with the ability to upload their consciousness at the end of their life and live out eternity having sex parties in The Matrix. The only problem I could foresee with this blue-pill Heaven is the notion that you’re still part of a physical electrical grid. What if the power goes out in the storage facility where these eternal lives are being lived? Is my consciousness wiped away? As someone who isn’t too keen on the notion of a spiritual afterlife, I’d probably opt-in to something like this. Though I’d likely choose something more interesting than a beach town in the ’80s as my simulated forever.
5. IRL Snapchat Style Face-Filtering
As seen in: “Men Against Fire”
This technology is most terrifying in the context of this episode, but it’s hard to see how it would translate to the Average Neil and his relatively average life. Would I have the ability to mask my face and be more handsome? Bonus. But to what end? Underneath a Snapchat filter, you’re still you. The more terrifying application for the average person would be similar to what Black Mirror showed us in the 2014 Christmas special “White Christmas,” in which this built-in eye technology could be used as a punitive tool for criminals and social pariahs. Imagine if someone had the ability to block you from interacting with, or even seeing. Imagine if you could be blocked by all of humanity, left to wander the Earth amongst white blobs with whom you cannot communicate. That’s the terrifying end to which this technology could be used. Forced ethnic cleansing is also bad, by the way.
4. Webcam Intrusions for the Purposes of Blackmail
As seen in: “Shut Up and Dance”
People already cover up their webcams because they’re sure the NSA is watching their every keystroke. But the NSA probably doesn’t care how many times per week you masturbate, so it’s not exactly a huge deal. Hacking, on the other hand, is rather terrifying. In many cases, our entire lives exist on our computers – bank records, identification records, search histories, dirty little secrets – all catalogued neatly by the technology we use. So if someone really wanted to get in and dig up your secrets, they could do it. The good news is that most people – yours truly included – aren’t interesting enough to warrant that kind of attention from talented hackers. And as we age with technology as a society, we become better and better at recognizing and rejecting obvious scams. If you understand the concept of “Apple would never email you asking for your password,” you should be fine.
3. Real Life Consequences for Online Ratings of Humans
As seen in: “Nosedive”
Over the course of watching Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in “Nosedive” meltdown her online rating, I wasn’t convinced that this was a particularly realistic near future. Then I remembered that not only do we do these kinds of ratings already – Uber, Yelp, etc. – but at one point, someone already tried to create an app in which users would be able to rate other humans on the qualities of well, being human. There’s a part of me that believes with the right packaging and reach, a company could bring a product like this to market. As a society, we possess both exponential vanity and systematic, crippling self-doubt, so we’re susceptible to the need to be rated and affirmed. Put another way, can you imagine a world in which your number of Twitter followers determined what kind of interest rate you’d get on a mortgage or in what kind of neighborhood you’d be allowed to live? It’s not that far fetched.
2. Killer Drone Honeybees
As seen in: “Hated in the Nation”
I’ve never liked real bees. I’ve never trusted them, nor have I ever been comfortable around any other kinds of insects. I understand their value in the natural ecosystem, I simply don’t want them on or near me. The notion of mechanical bees that are susceptible to the control of humans who may use them for nefarious purposes is even more terrifying. No thanks.
1. Implanted VR Horror Experience
As seen in: “Playtest”
For some, the idea of being implanted with a VR chip that could force your brain to create an adventure would be thrilling. As a person who is often rattled by even the most tame horror movies, this is my nightmare. Being brain dead because a computer program took over my brain is also my nightmare. Really, these top two items on my list are all about brain trauma. Stay away from my brain, technology.
Seriously though, stay away from my brain.