Why I keep glancing in the Black Mirror

I’ve never met Charlie Brooker. Never spoken to him. Never DMed him. I saw him once, at Television Centre at a press event, but talked myself out of the full Kathy Bates Misery-style gush just in time. However, I’m a fan.

His drama Dead Set for Channel 4 was wonderful, his general misanthropy on programs like Screen Wipe is infectious but his Guardian column elquently expresses, better than I can, how the world is running awry while Nero fiddles with Tweet-Deck.

Black Mirror, an International Emmy winner, is a sort of mash-up of many things Brooker has written and spoken about. He’s confessed to loving gadgets and checking his time-line too often. But it’s in his Guardian column that we’ve seen the seeds for Black Mirror sown. Hyper conenctivity, over-sharing, ‘look at me’ generation X self-obsession and his guide to winning the Turner Prize have all popped up in episodes of Black Mirror to date. Described by Channel 4 as “a hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected which taps into our contemporary unease about our modern world”, it is genuinely unmissable television.

Episode 1 of Series 2 aired last night. Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson were well cast in this opener and the nods to touchscreen technology and gesture interfaces gave the nerds something to explain to their significant others at the breaks. Gleeson’s character dies while returning a rent-a-van and Hayley Atwell’s character opts to sign up for a beta version of a service that will connect you to a construct of a person drawn from their social and online activity. The love story was a secondary plot; this was a fable. And the message a brilliantly constructed commentary on our digital footprints. As governments and large business scramble to figure out how to use ‘big data’, we should become more aware of how much we share, and reveal. Interestingly, it was the sort of information that we would never share, that was highlighted in this episode. There really are things that should remain unsaid – yet online today online we are more compelled than ever to gush.

As we become more connected, the advent of Google glasses and wearable computing will make us even more so, we reach a tipping point. Do we publish everything and always say what we think and believe? Or do we expose what we think people will appreciate, laud and laugh out loud at? Google and Facebook pioneer the idea of the ‘authenticated web’; things are as they seem. But if we go that route, we put our data and ourselves at the mercy of marketeers and scrutiny.

“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone..” Charlie Brooker

Perhaps we should think of technology and our relationship with it as tiered – like a relationship with family, and separately with friends. There are intersections, but there are elements of one’s personality and life that remain exclusively in one tier. A social internet and a private internet. Would your friends laugh at your dickie- heart ECG graph published on Twitter? Probably. Would your health insurance laugh at your 10 green bottles vieo on Vine? Unlikely. Our romance with technology is likely to become a full-on affair – but it needs restraint and tempering. Maybe we shouldn’t ditch our friends just yet.

– updated –
Report today that Robert Downey Jr has optioned an episode of Black Mirror; a film version beckons for The Entire History of You, which was the episode which sees a couple’s relationship disintegrate as infidelity is exposed by technology created for our own re-enactment of pleasurable memories. Funny – who would have thought there was a downside to life-logging?

  1. Black Mirror on Channel 4’s on-demand service, 4OD
  2. Charlie Brooker @ The Guardian
  3. Which Witch Hunt: 10 O’Clock Live : possibly Charlie Brooker’s finest (thirtieth of an) hour

Image © Channel 4

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