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.