The Twilight Zone for the Digital Age

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For me, it’s the second scariest day of the year so I thought I’d have some fun and talk a bit about spooky stories. The scariest day?? Election Day. No matter who’s running for president, I spend the day gnawing on my nails waiting for the outcome because I believe the stakes are that high.

I just finished Netflix’s third season of Black Mirror, which I’ve heard described as the Twilight Zone for the digital age, a fairly spot-on description. It’s an anthology show which means that there is no overarching story or background. Each episode stands on its own, linked with the common theme, how do we live with the technology we create? And what is the Black Mirror? Take a look at your smartphone while it’s off. That is the Black Mirror.

How is this horror? Since forever, our storytelling process has always tried to come up with explanations for things we don’t understand. As Dan Trachtenberg, director of this season’s Black Mirror episode Playtest, so wisely points out, “We had to use our imaginations and create those answers for ourselves. When there’s less to do, less science and reason, less communications from different cultures to help our general understanding of all things, you can certainly come up with really scary answers to the questions you have to address on your own. When you don’t understand why a bad thing happens it can be overwhelming. Before we understood that houses shift just over time because the ground is moving, the creaks were assumed to be apparitions or ghosts.”

And what’s more scary these days than not understanding or being able to predict the direction we’re taking?

In the episode Nosedive, a world exists created from a logical extension of our ability to rate our experiences. This is something I do every time I take a Lyft, or Uber, review something on Yelp or give feedback on Amazon. Imagine that idea applying to each other in every interaction? Bryce Dallas Howard gives one of her best performances as a young woman whose raison ‘d arte is being a 4.6 out of 5. Shallow? Not when you learn that everything is dependent upon your rating—your housing, job, friends and even treatment at the “gas” station.

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Cyber bullying, military warfare, drones (in this case high tech bees that force suicidal acts) and gaming are all explored this season. The first two seasons have a number of fascinating stories, including the Christmas Day episode that aired in Great Britain on Christmas 2014. By the way, this is a British show, so many of the episodes take place in England, or vague European locations.

Some of the stories in Black Mirror verge on fable, which are less nuanced and more allegorical stories. They rest on the notion that if you behave in one way, this bad thing will happen. Another observation I had while watching the latest season is that horror is absolutely relative to its audience. So many of the stories in Black Mirror, may or may not resonate with people who don’t have a smart phone, don’t game and don’t use rater dependent apps. I suppose it depends upon your relationship with technology. Do you fear it, and so Black Mirror confirms your fears. Or do you embrace technology and often wonder late at night how it’s changing you?

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