Nosedive is the start of Black Mirror season 3 – debatable depending on the order you watch, but it’s the first one I’ve seen of the new series – and it struck somewhat of a chord. Well, ‘striking a chord’ sounds a bit dramatic as well as a touch petulant, but the episode raises some interesting points re: the social media game and what exactly we’re heading towards.
I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible if you want to catch it yourself over on Netflix etc., and I really suggest you do, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on issues I felt Nosedive raised, whether you’ve seen the episode or not, since I really think these points need to be spoken about more.
So, the premise of Nosedive is this: the story follows the main character – Lacie – and her rise and fall on a social ratings platform, where the number of stars you hold as a rating determines aspects of your life. It’s a slightly predictable, slightly unsettling take on our society’s current addiction to social media, likes, ratings, swipes, and base validation from both our social circles and complete strangers, as well as giving subtle nods to societal divides and the perpetuation of them.
While these are two massive issues that I could probably talk about for a great deal of time, it’s the more nuanced implications that really interested me enough to go ‘hey I need to write words on this‘.
the bleeding out of individuality.
cookie cutter apartments, ‘the white section’, the colour palette of the episode as a whole was mostly a very serene, muted pastel. A whole lot of light, not a lot of shade. Until we hit the ‘turning point’, where a greater range of colour and tone was used. I’ve said before on my other platforms that social media has a tendency to both bleed individuality and nurture it in this weird paradox, but haven’t quite found the words to weave it into something coherent here yet, but I’ll take a stab.
Living things need to adapt to survive, and in humans, this instinct has been subjected to a severe amount of warping, considering we’re not exactly running for our lives at every turn in a great deal of the world. Social situations are now the battleground, and we adapt to navigate them from a very early age with our learned behaviours, moulding our views or our habits to fit in with different groups. When you multiply this by a factor of globalisation, you end up with an enormous pool of people, groups, cultures, values, behaviours, and beliefs that are accessible to almost everyone.
The paradox lies here: you have basically the whole world and its individuality, yet those who are successful in each circle have a set of very similar qualities, which then creates a set of unwritten, perceived guidelines for the rest who wish to be well liked or even accepted into that social group. This isn’t a new concept at all, it isn’t some massive revelation, it’s generally how ‘culture’ is formed, but with the door that social media has opened, it’s happening on a massive scale, and across traditional border or oceanic divides.
This all sounds pretty fantastic on the surface, transnational cultures and the sharing of inspiration and common interests is rather wonderful, until you factor in those who don’t ‘do the thing’. Society has a horrific problem with the concept of ‘other’, the not norm, the counter culture. I can understand the need for caution way back when: unknown may mean threat which may mean death; but now? ‘Othering’ ends up with the ultimatum of conformation to or ostracisation from ‘the group’. With our growing need for validation, the conformation to the current trend is the ‘viable option’, which leads to less individuality, as fear of rejection and the promise of reward ties you to it.
It’s a theory I think about a lot – how it affects me and what I post to social media, as well as my purchases, lifestyle choices and general interactions. We’re a product of our own unique experiences. Even if something is trending we don’t necessarily have to partake in it.
the genuine vs the fake
One of the suggested ways to increase your rating in this Black Mirror universe is to have interactions with people of a higher rating than yours. Their interactions mean more than those with a lower rating, but the interactions must be genuine, they’re very rarely reciprocated in ratings of those that are forced or fake.
The argument of curated vs candid in the world of content creation is one that the more traditional forms of media like to play around with a lot. Each staged instagram post is clearly a lie, posted to help magnify the insecurities of people who happen to be scrolling along whether the original poster intended to or not. The overshare threshold is something I’ve discussed before, how much is too much, boundaries, and content curation is still a personal process even though people are calling for more ‘raw’ more ‘real’ more genuine.
On the interaction side of things though, there’s been a noticeable shift in the last year or two that’s playing into a very sinister hand, and one that the whole tone of this Black Mirror episode reminded me of greatly. The shift has multiple facets, and not all of them are ‘awful, must stop immediately’ but do question how genuine everything is.
First, there’s the ‘social climby’ side of social media and influencing. I’m not against trying to improve your situation or standing at all, it’s wired in us to better situations and experiences to those more favourable, that isn’t the issue. What I’m not a fan of, and what I’m seeing comparatively more, is bettering the self at the expense of the other. Whether that be the ‘social other’ or just someone else. Making connections with someone to use them for their gain to you, then dropping them as soon as they’ve served their purpose. I’ve had this happen to me, I’ve seen it happen to friends, and it leaves an ugly aftertaste because you don’t want to ‘stir the pot’ or ’cause drama’, but it’s awful behaviour.
Which leads me to the second facet: anything that you don’t agree with is hate or negativity. I’m using the collective ‘you’ here, not you as a person reading this. There’s a current culture and counterculture of ‘calling out the haters’ and ‘just be(ing) nice’. Both are problematic in their own way, but the bones I have to pick with both of these are that perceptions, definitions, and reactions are wildly off.
The social media sphere is often referred to as a ‘bubble’. It’s new, hard to get into, very secretive to the outside eye, and not necessarily easy to understand. There aren’t really any formulas or frameworks that you can apply to reach stratospheric success, you can do ‘the same sort of thing’ as someone else, and it might work for a while, but maybe not in the long run. It’s a lot of unknowns and even ‘those in the know’ are constantly having to adapt and reform their own strategies to stay where they are or move forwards. It’s hard to game-plan with people holding down a 9-5 more traditional career, so creators form bonds with other creators and then it all gets a little more impenetrable.
You end up with little bubbles of people supporting each other, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Until you get to a point where all the people you surround yourself with aren’t saying anything other than yes, that’s a fab idea. Wow you’re so cool**.
**or words to that effect.
Because then you get little bubbles where people aren’t questioning other’s actions, or ‘policing behaviours’ – for want of a better term – that are harmful or damaging. Which then feeds into seeing anything other than ‘yes’ answers or ‘wow, well done!!’, as hate.
That’s massively simplifying, and I’m aware that nuances and meant intentions don’t carry well over written words on the internet, but the crux of the matter is that there is currently a culture that is quite happy to silence anything that isn’t wildly positive responses.
So you end up with people displaying very ‘problematic’ or unhealthy behaviours, and being unable to say ‘hey you might not want to say that’, because people see correction or criticism as an attack. It is, again, a murky, murky area that does need to be addressed in more detail.
The ‘negativity’ issue or ‘don’t say anything that isn’t nice’ is another arm of this mentality, that, again, needs more space and thought than I have currently paid to it, but is there.
In the ‘fakeness’ debate, this falls more onto the side of the creators than the consumers, in my opinion. The consumers can take to forums to discuss behaviours and vent their frustrations that are so policed elsewhere, but the creators surround themselves with people that can’t call a spade a spade for fear of causing drama.
The final facet I want to talk about is the issue of ‘on-‘ and ‘off-camera’ personas/behaviours/attitudes, which Nosedive, to me, alluded to in the interactions between Lacie and her brother, and Lacie and her old best friend, in contrast to Lacie’s interactions with people outside of her nuclear circle who were rating her.
Having a persona online, or on-camera isn’t a practice I disagree with. It’s a tandem argument to the question of oversharing, privacy, and a personal decision in how people conduct themselves. But you can also end up believing the persona or character is the real you. In some cases, this can only be a good thing – overcoming anxieties and confidence issues in a ‘fake it till you make it’ manner is how I managed to get through the back end of my stint in Korea and most of 3rd year at uni – but sometimes it can be very slippery track to arrogance, detachment, and a tiring game of keeping up appearances.
Bad days happen, and there are pressures to pretend that everything is pretty hunkydory. If you’re used to interacting with the persona, it can be weird or scary to interact without it. There are a lot of interesting conundrums that come with switching how you are on- and off-camera. Not all of them are bad, and it should also be noted that you don’t necessarily know what’s going on in people’s lives (or heads) to require the use of one.
So… is Nosedive a potential future?
I’m not sure. I doubt we’ll ever have something so fully integrated in a government sponsored way, even though there are currently projects that ring with very similar themes (hello Sesame credit/score I’m looking at you), You’ll always have the counterculture to offset, and there’s a growing voice calling for change in areas that exert influence.
In other arenas, we’re already in a Nosedive reality, which is a little unsettling. However, my understanding is: how we interpret this reality individually determines how we’re affected by it. We’re not quite at a level where people are rating our day-to-day social interactions, but we’re ‘doing it for the vine/the ‘gram’ to sharing the most mundane of things on social platforms. Not everyone is creating content for masses to consume, but more for posterity or memories as we move towards a more digitally documented life; and then there are those who are living solely for the reactions. It’s a weird set of poles to place yourself between.
It’s a little bit obvious I did a social science degree, isn’t it? These sort of things fascinate me though, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issues I’ve raised, missed, or on Nosedive as a whole!