By Vy Thai, arts & entertainment columnist
Through the past few decades, we have been living in the golden age of endless revolutions and developments of our social fabric that change the way we live and define life’s values. As science and technology progress, we hardly realize that we are being trapped in technological fears coming from the dehumanization and lack of empathy technology can bring. From the fear of losing a relationship from old Facebook statuses to the risk of becoming a victim of cyberbullying, there is always a cost to our use of technology in the modern age.
What seems to be our darkest fear about a dystopian world is in fact a decades-old genre in pop culture, presented in much-celebrated classic novellas and contemporary art and media.
We are familiar with such works as Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” a dystopia where knowledge from books and real life interactions are considered irrelevant in a society overly drawn by virtual realities and on-screen relationships. We are also presented with the visualization of intelligent machines that take control of the human race in “The Matrix.” Those works present technological concerns as an area of interest that has only existed since the 21st century.
Five years after its debut in the UK, the British mini-anthology series “Black Mirror” has proven itself to reflect the satirical truth of the highly technological society we live in. With unrealistic but strangely familiar stories to depict futuristic worlds in every episode, we cannot help but compare these stories to the very moments of our lives.
In the episode “Nosedive,” the society relies on a system of social ratings that allows everyone to see other people’s current score and rate them on a five-star scale for all of their online and social interactions. The ratings are then used as a parameter to determine the social status of people, which dictates their privileges to many services and facets of life such as buying a house, keeping a job or being given priority to purchase a last-minute flight ticket.
In the real world, millions of Chinese citizens are now in a similar situation with the government’s new citizen scoring system that monitors basically every activity each citizen makes as an attempt to classify its vast and diverse society. With reputation-based services like Uber or Tinder, the increasing unawareness about the meaning of rating other people further creates a culture of judgment and false sense of identity.
Politics aside, our own obsession and dependence on technology are what really govern our lives. We regard the value of our social connections and life events as measurable by figures and numbers, while forgetting the human aspect that helps to create them.
The series also touches on a more extravagant but relatable note on how materialistic values can in no way replace personal values. In the episode “The Entire History of You,” a jealous husband breaks down as he struggles to find happiness and solutions to his dying marriage in a world where you are able to redo every memory and mistake you have had in the past.
With Facebook’s plan to implement a new feature to limit users’ exposure to one another, caused by changes in their relationship statuses, the existence of any relationship we have ever established in real life can now possibly be erased completely from our life, if that’s the way we regard memories.
Traditionally, the dystopian genre is used in pop culture as a metaphor to foretell the audience about extreme conditions and scenarios of the world in their most extreme ends, which in turn could inspire them to engage with these issues in an attentive and critical way. Today, the genre has exceeded its limit of envisioning the future, and filmmakers instead evoke the horror of technological dystopia as a way to reflect the society that we created and force us to find ways to exist in it. After all, humans remain the central emphasis of pop culture’s portraits of techno-dystopia, not the technology itself.