Why Black Mirror is unlikely to change our social media habits

Niamh Leonard-Bedwell /
Jan 22, 2018 / Opinion

My guess is that the majority of you have been involved in an embarrassing incident of the social media variety.

We all know that sinking feeling when you accidentally double tap a 46-week-old Instagram post; or you send a screenshot to the person you screenshotted; or you have to quickly and convincingly explain your mother to the guy you’ve just started dating, after she accidentally sends him a Friend Request, mid-Facebook stalk (or was that one really just me?…)

Either way, technology has allowed our human curiosity to become a very public source of embarrassment. So much so, in fact, that we don’t think we’re being too dramatic by referring to these mishaps as “modern day horror stories”. Black Mirror explores the term more literally, as technological misdemeanours lead to the incarceration, maiming, and even the death of the characters involved.

The show has struck a chord with millennials for a very real reason: as a generation, we have more trust in technology than our own instincts and that isn’t necessarily the best thing. ‘Hang the DJ’, an episode in the latest series, explores this conflict, as potential couple, Amy and Frank, trust a computerised system with their relationship decisions. Though the chemistry seems right, they cut their relationship short according to the “expiration date” stated by The System. 

Whether or not successful relationships can be calculated using algorithms is yet to be seen, but it’s easy enough to imagine something similar at play in the near future. To trust a machine is to avoid responsibility – surely there’s a sense of relief in leaving it to numbers and science? And aren’t dating apps moving in the same direction? We can already narrow our field of potential matches by making a snap decision, based on a few of their best photographs, a short bio and some shared interests. 

All I’m saying is that while social media can feel like a helpful tool, it’s important that we don’t let it dominate our lives and dictate our decisions. I don’t think the creators of Black Mirror want to turn us away from social media altogether, but instead, prod us and make us aware of the world that exists between us and the screen.

Even as I sit here typing, I have messaged two of my friends on Facebook and refreshed my Twitter Feed three times. A life without social media is pretty impossible to imagine and when I hear someone doesn’t have Facebook, I meet them with a similar, sneaking suspicion as the dinner guests in Season One episode, ‘The Entire History of You’, meet Hallam, who has been gouged of her life-recording grain. Equally stumped, I ask if it’s a political decision, before they justify that they’re simply happier without it.

And it’s quite probable that they are telling the truth. A recent survey found that one in five people reported feelings of depression as a result of social media use. For all their strengths, networking sites can serve as a constant reminder that there are cleverer, more attractive, more successful versions of ourselves out there, which, let’s face it, can be pretty shitty. 

There have been several points in my adult life when I’ve considered deleting my accounts, but to be a millennial without social media would be to become that weird 1.4-rated trucker lady that picks up Lacey on the side of the road in ‘Nosedive’, Season Three. Spammy News Feeds can be irritating, but there’s a sense of security that comes with being connected. 

Since I’ve become more self-aware about my use of social media, I’ve been able to moderate my use when needs be, without deleting my accounts. (Even if that means shutting my phone in my desk drawer for an hour.) While I use social media every day, I know that I could live without it. I sympathise for younger generations who have spent their whole lives surrounded by it all. (The days of dial-up internet serve as a grounding memory.) For them, perhaps Black Mirror seems like a prophecy, but for me, it’s definitely something I can separate from my own life, without too much worry.  

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if an episode freaks me out enough to close some tabs, I certainly won’t be logging out any time soon.

Why Black Mirror is unlikely to change our social media habits

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Words by Niamh Leonard-Bedwell

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