Social

‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Nosedive

Social media increasingly dictates social stature. Why is that? What is it about social media that gives it so much power over us?

‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.

Social Media, Social Stature

Imagine a world where everybody had a rating. Imagine a world where each social encounter was rated, and that those ratings affected your overall score. Imagine that score determined whether you were just another one of the “mid to low range folks” or one of the “quality people”, and that entry into certain places — restaurants, weddings, social groups — hinged on your rating.

That’s the world “Nosedive” takes place in, and it may not be as fictional as you think. This episode is an explicit portrayal of the world of social media, where all that really matters is your score, a number that reflects your popularity, class, and happiness, all-in-one. In the real world, that score is just represented differently, through our follower count.

The most interesting aspect of “Nosedive” is its portrayal of a world where our social media score is chained to our social stature. To those who are deeply embedded in social media, this is already reality: the more followers you have, the more important and relevant your opinions become. (I cannot think of a phrase that makes me cringe as much as “social media influencer” does.)

On the other hand, for those who are not as deeply entrenched in social media, the danger is being sucked in, because once you do, it’s very hard to get out. At one point in “Nosedive”, Lacie explains “the numbers game”, saying that “that’s how the world works.” At this moment in time, the numbers game is how the social media world works. Our task, then, is to ensure the two worlds don’t become one.

Happiness and the Hedonic Treadmill

The “fake-smile jail-cell” that is social media.

When asked about why it is that she takes part in “the numbers game” and what it is she really wants, Lacie says: “to be content.” She says it like she’s not really sure. She doesn’t say she takes part because everybody does, but you get the feeling that she doesn’t love the system — even when she was a 4.2 — as much as others do.

Why are we so drawn to social media? Why do we want social media attention — likes, retweets, clicks — so much? Why do we sometimes do things we don’t actually want to do in hopes of receiving validation and attention from people who sometimes we don’t even know? Why is it that our happiness fluctuates with the amount of social media attention we receive?

I can’t give you a definitive answer, but the design of social media is partially at fault here. Social media, particularly if you use it in a way that boils everything down to numbers, is designed like a treadmill: no matter what we do, we quickly return to neutral, no matter how many likes we get, it quickly wears off, raising our expectations for the next time. Every skyrocket leads to a nosedive. There’s nowhere to go but down.

Bonus: Two Small Details I Loved

  1. The car charger shaped like a comically large Apple Lightning cable, along with an adapter joke.
  2. Lacie’s neighborhood looks like that of Truman’s in The Truman Show.

‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: The Waldo Moment




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