Technological dystopia for Christmas

As the last post of the year, I thought I should  follow up with another Christmas-themed musing and talk about dystopian science fiction. Is there a better time in the year to relax, sit back and watch back to back sci-fi films?

I love science fiction as it has always managed to built our culture powerful frameworks for thinking about the future. Think of computer sensors, interactive television, robots, smart cars – they have been portrayed as wild and ‘out there’ ideas in fiction before taking a physical reality. Technological dystopias are perhaps my favourite as I think they are an extremely useful way to explore the implications of technological process and how they would impact our lives.

As a result, the recent episode of Black Mirror: White Christmas, the seasonal special of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi series, inspired me to write this post.

BlackMirrorTitleCard [Source]

Black Mirror is a dystopian sci-fi series, that looks at how technology might be used in the future. Each episode focuses on a different type of technology and builds a story around its futuristic use. For a review of the entire series of Black mirror, have a look at Kataryna’s blog (usability panda)

This year’s Christmas special revolves around the creative use of a Google glass-like technology, that it is implanted in your eye to allow you to receive real-time information. In this episode, a shy, timid young guy seeks advice on how to pick up girls in bars from a ‘romantic guru’ who can see and hear everything the ‘client’ experiences and provides him with information on what to say, and how to act around women (i.e chat up lines on demand). The episode also shows that the guru is sharing/selling the link with a chatroom of online voyeurs, touching on the subject of privacy challenges of data in the future. I don’t want to give anything away but as you can imagine, things do not go according to plan with the shy guy…

Another interesting technology related concept shown, is the optimisation of ‘smart’ living. The whole idea is that in the future, instead of trying to ‘teach’ different systems things about us, smart homes, smart cars, smart wearables etc.,we can replicate our psyches in digital. So imagine someone replicate your soul, remove them from your body and give them a digital form whose sole task would be to improve your life and please you. Your digital psyche would be able to switch the coffee machine on in the morning for you, warm up the car for you and control all technology to your exact specifications that you wont have to explicitly state Pretty futuristic huh? Again, things don’t end up great but I will not spoil it for you.

The last futuristic technological concept is ‘digital death’. This is manifested by ‘blocking’ people in real life, in the same way blocking works in Facebook. If you block someone, you can see their physical form in the shape of a grey shadow but everything else is blurred, so you can’t see their face and their voice is muffled too. So similar to Facebook’s block, these people still exist but you don’t have to see them, or interact with them. You might be horrified by the idea that your partner could at any time block you because you forgot to pick up the milk on the way back home but imagine the possibilities of this blocking application for crime offenders?

I think the way technology is portrayed throughout this particular episode and the entire Black Mirrors series might come across as bleak but it is not shown in a way that makes us fear the use of technology in the future and attempt to limit and contain its future applications. In my opinion, its the human relations in the series that manage to instil flexibility of mind by showing us applications of technology in ‘extreme’ cases that could perhaps prepare us to think ahead of the future. A future where it is perhaps not the technology that is the actual problem, but us humans and how we chose to interact with it.

If you feel like watching a twisted Christmas tale with a technological slant, then you should definitely check out the latest episode on Channel 4 on demand

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