Recently, more than ever, I've been experiencing a love/hate (mainly hate) relationship with social media.
In good time, I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts after watching Nosedive, the first episode in series three of Black Mirror.
This episode explores a world where people have a social media score between 0 and 5. This score is composed of every social interaction that happens - including those that occur in person and online.
People ranked towards the top end of the spectrum (5) are more privileged and gain the most benefits from society than those with a lower rating (around 3.5 and below) who tend to be excluded from several societal perks - for example, an express lane to pick up a rental car as seen in the episode.
The main character Lacie is a 4.2 at the beginning of the episode and seems content with this...
...Until she views an apartment of her dreams that is out of her financial reach. She must reach a score of 4.5 to entitle her to a 20% discount.
We soon discover that if Lacie has more positive interactions with people with a higher score, she could increase her score and become a prestigious member of society.
The perfect opportunity arises when her childhood friend, Naomi, gets in touch and asks her to be her maid of honour.
With a score of 4.8 and a guest list full of highly ranked people, this becomes the ultimate chance for Lacie to hit that 4.5 score.
The episode follows a series of unfortunate events following Lacie's journey to the wedding destination, resulting in her score rapidly declining each step of the way.
As her score drops below 3.5, it creates a domino effect as she attempts to get help from strangers who disregard her.
This tests her patience which results in an emotional breakout, further contributing to the decline of her score.
Equally - those that interact with a low-scoring person put their score at risk - creating a clear-cut divide in this superficial society.
The reason why this and almost every other Black Mirror episode is so gripping is because of its alarming similarities to the basis of our society.
As a culture, we're engrossed with technology. We're gripped to our phones, waiting for a message, a notification, any connection that will make us feel like we're part of something, that we're wanted and that we're making progress in this online world that seems to disassociate us from the real one.
Judging by my generation and the social media culture we have grown up in, it's apparent to see the influence it has had on how we value our experiences that happen in the real world compared to those that occur online.
Does online life influence our offline activities?
Do we experience things in the real just for the sake of sharing and
falsifying them online?
How is the quality of our real-life experiences affected when we spend so much time capturing the moments through our phones instead of living them at the moment?
Sometimes, we share the experience with our friends/followers, before we've even given ourselves the chance to experience and enjoy it ourselves.
An example of this behaviour is shown at the beginning of the episode when Lacie purchases a coffee. She takes the biscuit that came with the coffee and begins to bite away at the edges.
At first, we're convinced Lacie is just an awkward eater - until she sets down the biscuit next to her coffee, and spits out the part she chewed off - leaving a perfectly arranged bite mark.
With everything set in place, she takes a flawlessly composed photo and uploads it straight onto social media.
Straight away, she gets positive feedback from her post, and her expression lights up - she is in awe of her falsified production, what it contributes to her rating, and how it portrays her to her friends and followers.
However, after basking in the glory of her successful upload, she takes a sip of her coffee only to realise it's not to her taste at all.
The whole concept of Nosedive may still be slightly far-fetched from reality, still - the details in the episode closely reflect our society in a way described in Fischer's America Calling as a technology entering a society from the outside and impacting social life.
Nancy Baym elaborates on this by saying,
Such direct effects of technology may be strongest when a technology is new because people do not yet understand it.
The episode reflects the deteriorating state a person can find themself in when they begin to fall away from societal standards.
The picture-perfect career, relationship, house, car and family - all feed the addiction of climbing up to the 5-star rating and finding false fulfilment in a life that looks good from the outside.
If your most recent upload doesn't receive a high rating, does this decrease your value as a human being?
In this fictional world, yes it does.
But when we relate this to reality, it becomes quite fitting to say that the more likes and positive feedback we receive on our posts, the more we feel a sense of validation.
In some way, the like button could compare to the rating system in Nosedive - the more likes you get, the higher rated you feel, and the more you feel accepted by society.
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker claims the series is "more worried than attempting to warn anyone" when explaining the meaning behind the series.
Of course, a more obvious presumption comes from the idea of the series mirroring the darkness that technology can bring (if taken to the extremes).
However, Brooker defines Black Mirror as:
When a screen is off it looks like a black mirror, any TV, any LCD, any phone, any iPad, something like that. If you stare at it, it looks like a black mirror and there's something cold and horrifying about that.