Creative Project

          For my creative project, I decided to make a podcast about my wider topic, Black Mirror. I recorded on a Snowball microphone I own from recording other podcasts, with 3 friends of mine I knew were all big Black Mirror fans. From here, I put the file on my iPad because I had iMovie editing on it, cut some material, and put in intro music and the visual background. While my editing wasn’t a heavy workload, it still took longer than I expected, mainly because I haven’t used iMovie before. Finally, I uploaded the video to Youtube, so I’d have a place to send a link from.

          The goal of having a podcast on episodes we liked and didn’t was too rooted in the idea that people will enjoy the episodes whose technological message speaks to them the most. There are also distracting variables, like writing and acting, but this was the general premise. In saying that, people tended to like episodes that weren’t too far removed from our reality but did feature some technology that was an extension from what we currently have. Examples of this would include episodes like Play Test and National Anthem being less liked because they didn’t think about technology creatively. Meanwhile episodes like San Junipero and 15 Million Merits were more science fiction than reality, but made us think through our technology to a greater degree, given the easily identifiable line from our current technology.

          I believe this relates to the psychological fallacy where we only care about problems that are imminent. At the same time, for the technology to have a truly chilling effect, it must be a projection, as we generally don’t believe it’s viable for our current technology to have these damning effects yet. I felt as though getting multiple people’s opinions would help demonstrate what was effective, and thus help us to examine ways we can caution people about their technology use effectively. It does create some clouding of results to consider multiple opinions, but if anything, this demonstrates why it is so hard to get people to reflect on their technology use, people respond in different ways.

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Research Paper Draft

Black Mirror and “Always On” Culture

The development of always-on culture is one of the biggest differences in our society for the last ten years. But what is always-on culture and if it’s so important, why would it not be a more well-known term? Firstly, this phenomenon emerges as a result of our smart phones, which we are seldom found without. Given they are always on our person, and used hours per day, its not surprising new effects would emerge out of technology that we’ve never seen before. We’re only now realizing the potential effects of social disconnection and increased governmental control, but now that we are, it’s a hot topic in the minds of many. As a result, shows like Black Mirror have taken aim at these anxieties that are rampant in our society. So while most people may not be aware of the terminology of “always-on culture” there has been a flood of discussion over the effects of our smart phones, Black Mirror is simply the tip of the ice-berg.

One of the most adept commentaries on this cultural development is within the episode Be Right Back. The topic this episode wants to address is our social disconnection due to our smart-phones being substituted for face-to-face contact. In the episode, when main character Asch has an untimely death, he is brought back to life as a re-creation of his online self. At first, it appears as a good idea, it allows Martha, Asch’s wife, to take some solace in her grievance. However, the more it’s implemented, the more the problems arise. The issues boil down to that for as close as the social media version of him is to the real one, its simply not a re-creation. In many ways, the problem seems to be Asch 2.0 is too perfect. He doesn’t get angry, he doesn’t have bad habits, he has great sex even, but we must remain cognizant this is the filtered, online version of him. He is based on the constructed social media version of himself, meaning the show’s representation of him puts emphasis on how these social media identities aren’t our real selves (Singh, 2014). In Jungian terms, we use social interaction as a mirror to “know we exist” and ultimately, prove our identity to ourselves (Singh, 2014). Social media is therefore the most modern version of this, which we use as a barometer for how people view us more than using it to allow others to see into your life.

Turkle’s 2008 essay “Always On/ Always On You” reinforces this, saying “I am wired into social existence through it.” This refers to our lack of existence outside of our online identities. Since our connectedness doesn’t rely on physical boundaries, this is no longer a pre-cursor to social interaction. Now what matters is the constant connection through the digital space and our ever-present phones. In a modern world, did an event really happen if it isn’t posted to social media? The commentary the episode makes about our society is the character Martha may prefer to have the real version of Asch, but she is willing to settle for a constructed version of him. This is meant to be an extension of our daily trade-off between physical and digital connection, and a critique on our settling for digital communication over genuine social interaction. This has impacted us in a wealth of ways such as increasing need to make good moments last forever, a lack of social responsibility online due to physical separation, and coming to see others as objects to assess, not people we know, but really these all boil down to how we just don’t connect to other people socially the way we use to.

 

Final Website Self-Assessment

Overall, making a website was harder than I thought. At the beginning of the semester, I chose a design that was simple but professional looking, so I still like the theme. As for things I changed, I did do some tweaking to the menu system and categories, as the links were broken and didn’t lead to anywhere. I found these systems the most frustrating to try and use, because they were unintuitive to me, even when I looked up guides for how to work them, and in the end didn’t make much of a difference. I played around with a static home page throughout the semester but found that it didn’t make a lot of sense given my blog- style of website and not being able to find a specific purpose for the home page. I think the “most recent” side-bar works for me for now, given there aren’t so many posts that one wouldn’t be able to find what they’re looking for, although, if I added many more pages I would likely have to invest more time into figuring out a robust menu system that allowed navigation through many pages.

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              The goals I made throughout the semester were mostly met, given I just set out for a simple, clean, look and I managed to keep it uncluttered. I didn’t end up posting about news articles like I planned to, but I found the discussion in class about them sufficient for me when the semester’s workload started to pile up. One of the elements I didn’t plan at all was uploading my recently recorded podcast with Table Talkto my website, but as I was thinking about how the semester is coming to aclose, I considered how I can use the website going forward. Since I’ve already put the time into basic formatting of a website, I figured that I could keep this as my web presence, adapting it based on what I’m involved with and want to show off.

Black Mirror Creative Project Draft

Best Black Mirror Episodes Podcast

I believe this topic is relevant because every episodes’ point is to convey a message about technology, so how strongly the message of the episodes resonates with people will correlate to the episodes they think are best.

The idea of a podcast format will also be so that I can include opinions from other people. The format will be with 4 people at a table, including me, and each person nominates an episode or two (depending on how long it runs for) to discuss. Afterwards I’ll discuss what people said on my own to draw some conclusions.

The idea of including other people is to reach connection points on the theme statements of episodes, finding what makes conveying a message about technology more likeable, and thus more useful for reaching people. Hopefully this will allow me to underline some level of how we could use this knowledge for getting people to think about their technology use. On the flip side, if there is little consensus, I can hopefully draw conclusions out of what this means.

Some of my personal nominations for best:

·       USS Callister- This episode intrigued me because of its intense moral dilemma associated with simulation. Since the people that were copied into the game are real people, that should continue their human rights inside the simulation. However, this territory is largely uncharted, there are no laws about this and after all, the real-life version of the person is unaffected.

·       San Junipero- This episode might be my favorite just because it was so sweet, and I like the way it explored how technology can extend our lives. The idea of living in a simulation has always fascinated me, so the idea of creating a perfect one to cheat death just captured me. Also, I can see how this is a far-flung extension of always- on technology, to the point where you need it to be on to exist.

·       Shut Up and Dance- Scared me more than any other episode of the series. I think the more grounded horror that I could see realistically happening (as opposed to the over-the-top and in my opinion, poorly executed Play Test). The idea that someone could be watching you through your technology until you mess up and they can blackmail you just terrified me.

·       Be Right Back- I think this episode had a great balance between having a strong emotional component and making one of the most poignant commentaries on our social media usage. When Ash dies, he is re-created through his social media, and the relational struggles his wife finds following exemplify how we create a perfect version of ourselves online, and to actually live with this is something we wouldn’t want.

Worst:

·       Play Test- Besides the bad acting, this episode felt a little too forward with how it wanted to scare the audience. It felt more like a horror movie than a black mirror episode, because while it was a warning about virtual reality, the idea that it was experimental felt like an obvious plot device to show the dangers of untested technology.  

·       Arkangel- Found this one to be obnoxious because the message was too ham-handed. I think there just could have been a better way to present ideas of over-protection and censorship than making it this literal.

·       The National Anthem- This episode for the most just was too graphic. I think episodes that use graphic-ness can utilize this very effectively if it draws on the right emotional strings to tie it to the narrative. This episode just felt like being graphic for the sake of it, though.

Annotated Bibliography

Singh, Greg. “Recognition and the Image of Mastery as Themes In Black Mirror(Channel 4, 2011–Present): an Eco-Jungian Approach to ‘Always-on’ Culture.” International Journal of Jungian Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 120–132., doi:10.1080/19409052.2014.905968.

As an academic article that is focused directly on Black Mirror, this source will be a very valuable resource. It talks a lot about the episode Be Right Back as an extension of our “always on” culture that dictates a need to record and display everything that happens in our life on social media. It takes this further, saying we use social media as a mirror into “knowing we exist” and ultimately proving our identity to ourselves. This is brought to light in Be Right Back when the character Ash is brought back, he is creepy because he acts too perfectly. This is because he is based on the constructed social media version of himself, with the show putting emphasis on how these social media identities aren’t our real selves. The article is quite in depth with its Jungian interpretation because of its focus on the single episode of Black Mirror so it will be useful as a basis for a deep dive into how always on culture causes social disconnectedness through our propensity to represent ourselves inaccurately online.

 

Boren, Alex. “A Rhetorical of Black Mirror: Entertaining Reflections of Digital Technology’s Darker Effects.” Undergraduate Research Journal at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, vol. 8, no. 1, Jan. 2015. http://ojs.uccs.edu/index.php/urj/article/view/181/123.

This article discusses how “always on” culture can be extended to increased control of the individual by those in power. In the episode Fifteen Million Merits, digital culture is literally always on. The characters can’t escape from being broadcasted to, exemplified in a scene where the main character can’t close his eyes or skip an ad for porn featuring his friend. This is a critique of how culture is always commodified and made into a business. The part we’re responsible for is that we allow this to occur by feeding our money into the biggest corporations that control what culture is. Even when the main character escapes the cycle by rebelling, those in power are able to make him give up his position by offering him an easy life. Therefore “A person can earn money only by conforming to the culture industry.” This aspect of always on culture that potentially reinforces fascist control of culture is an interesting discussion here.

 

Middleton, Catherine A. “Illusions of Balance and Control in an Always-on Environment: a Case Study of BlackBerry Users.” Continuum, vol. 21, no. 2, Aug. 2007, pp. 165–178., doi:10.1080/10304310701268695.

The inspiration of the article stems from the initial idea of Black Berry phones (but in our context all all smart phones) being liberating due to their always on nature. They give us more control of our daily lives in terms of planning and flexibility. On the flip side, being always on is talked about in the light of how these phones perpetuate the culture of having little say as a worker, in that you must always be available by phone for one. The ultimate discussion here is if a tool of ultimate efficiency causes us to micro-manage our lives to the point of always thinking of how we could be more efficient, thus robbing us of good moments outside of work. This relates to the concepts in black mirror episodes like Fifteen Million Merits quite directly in terms of living to work and media and culture never having an off switch. It’s useful in that it’s an academic study, giving perhaps more concrete conclusions than articles that simply discuss the concepts.

 

Turkle, Sherry. “Always On/ Always On You: The Tethered Self.” Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies, by James E. Katz, MIT Press, 2008. http://sodacity.net/system/files/Sherry-Turkle_The-Tethered-Self.pdf.

A great line that starts this article is “I am wired into social existence through it.” The chapter revolves around a new version of the self, itself. This is referring to our lack of existence outside of our online identities. Since our connectedness doesn’t rely on physical boundaries, its no longer a pre-cursor that matters. Now what matters is the constant connection through the phone. For example, people have private conversations in public on the phone because the physical space isn’t what matters, it’s the digital connection. While not directly talked about in the article, there are strong thematic connections to the Be Right Back episode of Black Mirror. The character Martha may prefer to have the real version of Ash, but she is willing to settle for a false, entirely constructed version of him. This is an extension of our daily trade-off between physical and digital connection, and a critique on our settling for digital communication.

 

Sofie Steenhaut. “Between the Real and Simulated.” Ghent University Faculty of Political and Social Sciences. 2016-2017.  https://lib.ugent.be/fulltxt/RUG01/002/377/260/RUG01-002377260_2017_0001_AC.pdf

The article presents both sides of people who believe always on culture has gone too far (BM) and those that disagree with this. Points for the plus side include an assertion that offline culture is fetishized and has “always been a phantom”. To this point, there is discussion of the reverse of social disconnection, such as proof people can connect with those farther away, and with a wider array (gender, race, age) than they typically have the chance to in real life. This is discussed with the episode San Junipero and how an unlikely couple falls in love in the digital realm, where there are no physical barriers to meeting. While there is plenty of negatives discussed, I outlined the positives because this hasn’t been talked about as much in other articles and makes this piece more valuable.

 

Personal Essay

I’ve had a long-standing relationship to the topic of fears of the public as represented by media because it was the first topic that introduced me to media studies in general. I took a media studies class in junior year of high school it really sparked my interest in social sciences. It was perfect because it tapped into this interest in horror I never knew I’d had. I wasn’t even interested in horror particularly at the time but learning about the setting behind horror films and how it shaped them made me fully invested. In the last decade, these fears have become manifested in technology, and modern horror often revolves around or is due to technology gone awry.

To get to the core of why there’s so much media surrounding fear of technology today, we have to understand what fears were represented in the past and how they’ve evolved.  One of the biggest changes horror films have experienced over time is the location of the featured monster. In the 1930s, the monster was external. It came from far away (often Europe or alienated countries to America at the time), and would wreak havoc on those who dared enter their arena. The connection to society’s fears of the time were the way these countries had been demonized in WW1 and the impending WW2. In the 1950s, horror evolved to reflect fears of the cold war, and an explosion of films featuring aliens invading America became the primary expression of this. In the 1980s, horror films became internal with the slasher sub-genre. People were no longer as afraid of invasion as they were paranoid in their own country, with distrust of government and their neighbors at a relative peak. I lay the foundation of past genre cycles to give background to our current era, the technological horror. In a post- 9/11 America, fears in horror are rooted in reality. This has led to the explosion of found-footage films, but also realism in other aspects. Technology is an easy focus to feel realistic, as it’s a threat in the way many of us don’t fully grasp how it works, especially given the rate of exponential increase in the power of our technology. While all horror related to technology may not be entirely rooted in our current reality, the audience can observe a direct path of how our current technology can evolve to reflect the tech-horror on screen.

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Enter Black Mirror, a Netflix exclusive show about our anxieties surrounding technology. It’s wildly successful as it reflects the fears salient to our current technology in ways we can imagine happening. There are episodes like Nose Dive, which are very grounded in reality. This episode focuses on the fear of how social media could be used to create a fascist society if used in a way which dictates what privileges we have. In the episode, people can rate each other’s social interactions, and those who are more popular are not only respected more highly, they have tangible benefits, like living in the nicest areas or even better access to renting a car or taking a flight. In one scene, someone’s social rating drops so low they can’t enter the door to work. The episode particularly salient given the news of a Chinese social rating system, that while admittedly works very differently to the episode, we likely all extrapolated in our heads to reflect the episode. An episode like Men Against Fire, is more rooted in science fiction than Nose Dive, given it depicts how soldier’s minds’ have been altered to perceive their enemies as unhuman. This means they’re more motivated to kill the people they’re at war against, and once the character we follow has a malfunction that makes him see reality, he comes to understand the purpose, genocide of the enemy due to their genetic problems related to disease and physical performance. Given his previous killings of innocent people while under the influence of the brain modification, he decides to keep the process working as he can’t face his actions. The scariest part of all is that the character we follow actually agreed to this operation when he signed up to join the army, not reading the fine print, as so few of us do with our daily use of technology.

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I think Black Mirror is so popular due to its relevance in modern society where our technology is used without thought to its effects. Of course, we can’t entirely dismiss technology, it offers so many positives in our lives that we’ve come to need. While I can take steps like not having an Instagram so I’m a little more unplugged, some social media remains an absolute necessity for the modern college student. The fact that we use our technology so mindlessly seems more of Black Mirror’s target if we think of the horror in the show in terms of trying to motivate us to think about our actions. Until recently, I didn’t think very much about the negative aspects of technology very much. As we talked about in relation to the Do Not Track interactive documentary, these negatives have only got more relevant in the public consciousness in the last couple years. Our awareness has been heightened due to the tangible ways social media has been abused with the Trump election, fake news epidemic and Facebook privacy leaks among other things. I would say if I participated in the documentary back when it was released, my privacy concerns would have been less than they are today. Technology such as Artificial Intelligence may still be a short way from being a high-profile anxiety, but it’s certainly becoming much more salient with development of self-driving cars and automated functions that impersonate people, like the Google assistant demo scheduling a haircut. Many of the world’s smartest technology innovators are highly wary of Artificial Intelligence, so it could easily be the next high priority technological anxiety.

I think Black Mirror is the best media to get a lens into America, and the world’s, biggest fears of the moment as the TV show format gives more chances for narrative exploration and depth than a film. Out of all the TV shows at the moment, I also think it captures the essence of anxiety surrounding technology. Its also a personal favorite of mine given its unique ability to both scare and make me think about my use of technology.