Entertainment Opinion

Black Mirror and the Dangers of Phone Addiction

Written by Atharva Patwardhan

Black Mirror was an original show aired on Channel 4 that was bought by Netflix in September 2015. The streaming service has gone on to produce a 3rd, 4th and 5th season, all of which have been met with critical acclaim.  The show provides a glimpse into the foreseeable future to discover what humans inventions would have been made and what their impact on society would be. Not a relatively new topic as many numerous shows have made films and TV shows relating to the idea of futuristic technology, but nonetheless, an expansive and thoughtful topic to consider. Many of episodes showcase what horrendous technological inventions, humans are able to develop in the future, or the effect of today’s technology on society. The series is meant to highlight some of the dangers the modern world can bring due to negatives of today’s technological advancements or predict what could happen to society or humans as a whole in the future.

All of the directors of Black Mirror has attempted to show a distant reality which may or may not be far away due to human thinking and thought. Many of the inventions or societies shown in the show, are as a result of humans using technology for the worst and capitalising on its potential. The show has been put into the categories for Psychological thriller and Dystopia and this is due, to the series showcasing the themes of:

the effect of humans developing technology for the worst, the effect of technology on our minds and mental health, capitalisation and politics of technology and our ability to deal with this.

All of this adds up to a programme with high demands and innovative planning about the worst of our world, to which Black Mirror handles well. The second episode in season five is called Smithereens and demonstrates the global pandemic of humans constantly being on their phones and staying absorbed onto their phones or computers and listening to media and news online instead of realising the real situation themselves.

In one episode, Smithereens, the protagonist, Chris, kidnaps an employee called Jaden, from a social media company called Smithereens. Prior to this, three years ago, he was driving his fiancée home when he checked his phone from a Smithereen notification. While he was distracted, he ended up in a car crash which cost his fiancée’s life and the other driver. Chris ended up getting away from it after the blame was put on the opposing driver after he was found to be intoxicated. Chris needed to tell the truth to someone, so he kidnapped the employee and tried to contact the CEO of Smithereens using his phone and tell him that it’s addictive nature caused it. At the same time, a single mother called Hailey, tries to access her daughter’s Persona account in trying to find out information about why she committed suicide. At a support group about her daughter’s suicide, she says,

“It’s never gonna stop, this…. needing to know. It’s never going to stop”

This statement is reflective in how everyone is glued and absorbed into their smartphones, how hard it is not to open notifications from our phone and how we are constantly craving more once we are online and receiving those dopamine-driven notifications from apps like Facebook or Instagram.

The 1976 song “Can’t take my eyes off you” from Frankie Valli and the four seasons, plays in key moments in the episode and its lyrics showcase how addicted we are to our devices. Lyrics like:

“You’re just too good to be true” and “Can’t take my eyes off you” give the impression how of dependent and comforting the effect of smartphones on humans has become. We are all looking for that next brightly coloured notification which makes us feel better and we want to feel more of it making us seek more validation from social media, destroying peoples mental health in the process. Many companies employ strategies like using bright colours or easy usability to drag more and more people onto its platform and increase the amount of time people use it every day. In the episode, The CEO of Smithereens has the appearance of a god-like creature with his white robe and look, probably in some way trying to represent CEO of tech companies as gods because of the power and people using their platform.

Twitter and Facebook are both blue in colour which is the world’s most popular colour and the colours really stand out when they are displayed on your phone attracting you towards using their apps. The various influx of colour displays subtle human psychology into attracting you and that’s why companies are designing their apps to be addicting, whether in terms of presentation (colour mostly) or usability.

Persona is shown to be a version of Facebook due to its design and Smithereens is shown to be a version of Twitter. These made-up services are meant to convey the negative aspects of social media about addiction and the writers added this in to subtly slander the companies names in the process.

Chamath Palihapitiya was a Facebook executive who left his job in 2011. He joined Facebook in 2007 and was of the leading people responsible in user growth and user reach. After leaving, he stated that he felt guilty and sorry for not thinking about long-term effects of Facebook when he was developing it. He said, to an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business:

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.

Long term happiness is not linked to excessive use of social media and everyone is looking for the next satisfaction desire on the platform like a like on Facebook or Instagram or a retweet on Twitter. Such apps like Instagram have been ranked the worst for mental health because such users seek validation from others in order to feel better about themselves. The NHS reports:

“Instagram is rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health, a UK survey suggests,” BBC News reports.

Conclusion:

With all of this said, we should try and limit our time spent on our mobile devices as they are consuming, addictive and not everything seen on it is always truthful or the same as compared to the real world. Good people can do mistakenly do bad things because of texting and driving like Chris or other things. Our lives, mental health and happiness should not be dictated by an online profile and we should not strictly believe that anything shown to us is how it really is. 

I have not talked about everything in this article and I don’t want to spoil it for new viewers, but I would prefer if you would go and find the obvious references and symbolism hidden in the episode. Black Mirror has taken a recent global success and has showed the most detrimental and horrendous parts about it, showing the catastrophic effects on our society. This episodes takes the most infamous parts about this pandemic and portrays in a story in which there isn’t a right answer in the end. A cliff-hanger that is certain to cause suspense and emotion in the viewer and most importantly, think about the effects and how to solve them.

The next time you use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, think about what happens when you like something, compare yourself to something, how much time you spend on it and how it affects you or other people.

Think about it.

About the author

Atharva Patwardhan

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