If you haven’t watched Black Mirror yet, stop what you’re doing and load up the first episode on Netflix. Watch it, take it all in, and then come back here. That first episode is a great intro to what the show is all about, but you have to experience it to understand.
Can’t watch right now? Every episode of Black Mirror is a standalone story. The settings, plots, characters, and even the actors are completely different between episodes. But one theme binds them all together: an exploration of unintended consequences brought on by new and emerging technologies.
Think of it as a near-futuristic Twilight Zone with a dash of social commentary. It’s good. It makes you think. And it can be downright horrifying at times. Here’s what Black Mirror has to say about people, society, and technology.
Mild spoilers ahead, mostly to describe the premises of certain episodes. However, no plot twists or episode-defining moments will be ruined.
1. We’re Already Living in the Future
What does The Future look like to you? For most, it means hovercars, teleporters, metallic environments, sentient robots, and space travel. Plus all of the other lofty ideas put forth by speculative fiction. For most people, it doesn’t feel like we’re living in The Future. Yet.
But if we stop and think about it for even one moment, it becomes clear that we’re already here. In fact, a lot of the gadgets and devices we use today were once considered to be futuristic.
One of the things you’ll learn from watching Black Mirror is that The Future is defined more by how we use the technologies available to us than by what those technologies actually do.
For example, Nosedive (Season 3 Episode 1) explores a society where everything — such as your ability to rent an apartment in a high-class neighborhood — is determined by your Rating on the ubiquitous social network that everyone is part of. It’s unsettling to watch, mainly because it’s clear that this could happen right now if society shifted just a smidgen.
The highly-thrilling episode Shut Up and Dance (Season 3 Episode 3) depicts the life of a kid who gets blackmailed into committing increasingly illegal crimes. And all because he was being spied on with a hacked webcam. There’s nothing new about webcams, but the interest lies in how that webcam is used.
Episodes like these are disturbing because it shows us that we already live in a future where this kind of malevolent malice is possible.
2. Technology Is What It Is
Someone who binge-watches all 13 episodes of Black Mirror might walk away with the impression that Charlie Brooker (the show’s creator) thinks technology is the devil. Or, at the very least, the root of all that’s wrong with society. But I think that misses the subtleties of what he truly intends to convey.
Technology is neither good or bad. Or rather, technology can be both good and bad — it’s simply a tool in the hands of people.
Throughout the series, we see bad people using technology to further their bad plans, mostly as a way to get normal people to do bad things. The National Anthem (Season 1 Episode 1), for example, focuses on a prime minister who must have sex with a pig on live television in order to save his hostage daughter.
There’s nothing inherently bad about the technologies on display — they are what they are. It’s the age-old argument of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Guns aren’t inherently evil, but they can sure be used in evil ways. Technology is no different.
Then again, sometimes the terrors of technology aren’t even related to human malice. Playtest (Season 3 Episode 2) presents a near-future story that revolves around the concepts of neural implants and augmented reality, and how those technologies could go awry if they aren’t carefully bounded and tested.
3. Technology Won’t Fill the Void in Your Heart
This feels like one of Charlie Brooker’s most prominent themes throughout the Black Mirror series, especially in the first few episodes — this notion that technology, no matter how great and amazing it gets, will never satisfy the deepest human needs.
An episode like Fifteen Million Merits (Season 1 Episode 2) wants to persuade us that our growing infatuation with, and addiction to, technology is nothing more than a coping mechanism for emptiness. The episode says more than just this, of course, but it’s one of many points being made — and by episode’s end, it’s hard not to sit back and realize that, yes, technology on its own is no more than a beautiful gift box with nothing inside.
And in some cases, technology can even amplify that sense of futility. Depression is a growing problem, and flashy gadgets and new breakthroughs are temporary distractions from the core issues that exist deep down.
No episode sums all of this up better than Be Right Back (Season 2 Episode 1), a story about loss, grief, and how far we might be willing to go when a loved one is taken from us. Would you replace your late husband or wife with a life-like robot that was made to look and act just like them? Would that be enough to ease your pain?
It’s a tough question, and Brooker argues No. There’s something unique about the human experience that technology will never be able to replace or replicate — and if we neglect this truth, it will be to our own peril.
What Have You Learnt From Black Mirror?
Again, if you haven’t watched the show yet, move it to the front of your watchlist and binge your way through it. There are only 13 episodes (at the time of writing) so it won’t take you long at all — only two weeks if you watch one episode per day.
But once you’ve watched it, come back here and let us know what you took away from it. It’s the kind of show that sparks a lot of discussion, and I’m sure there are many points that I haven’t picked up on, so it’d be nice to talk about.
What do you like about Black Mirror? What don’t you like about it? Does it have anything interesting to say or is it all complete and utter nonsense? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credits: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock