How The Episode of “Black Mirror” About Those Pesky “Notifications” Gives The Worst View of Our Lives
We all remember the very first time we were “notified” about our relevancy at that particular moment, and for me, it was back in the summer of 2012, when after about 4 years of consistent engagement on Twitter, I was abruptly thrown into the fast-track lane of the hard lessons that can’t be learned without the cancellations of an entire community of cancellers.
Of course 7 years later, and the landscape of social graces has evolved into the graceless wiring of dysfunctional valves, that are stimulated by the exceptionally foul-mouthed of the bunch.
When my popularity soared on that steaming hot afternoon in June, it was due to the ill-advised essay I wrote about the untimely death of a popular writer, who was beloved by the culture of hip-hop, thanks to her seductive essays and novels that brilliantly captured the palatable genius of that memorable era.
As a cautious engager, who still harbored the desire for life-altering exposure on an app that seemed to possess all the tools for over-night success, tweeting the link to a heartfelt essay about someone I had never met didn’t appear to be a high risk endeavor.
But the readers that got a hold of it weren’t pleased with my misguided assessment of their loved one, and promptly initiated an aggressive campaign against me that lasted for about a day.
The experience was jarringly informative. That was when I understood the role of social media platforms, and how I had fallen victim to the scam of seeking validation though the usage of a trending item that I tried to repurpose for the purpose of gaining notoriety, which ironically didn’t work out in my favor.
Ever since that unfortunate mishap, my pursuits have been regulated by the determination to retain my primal qualities that aren’t immersed in the desperation for attention at all costs.
My rules for protecting my sanity have included the lack of interest in bumping up my number of followers, especially since it’s quite obvious that algorithms are a tricky breed that can only thrive from the dosage that mind-fucks us into submission. There’s also the failed attempt at being “verified,” which proved to be the best rejection ever, when you consider the unenviable burden that comes with sporting the blue badge that no longer bears the measure of appeal that inspired its inception.
So yes, my decade-long occupancy on Twitter has forced some major tweaks in the quest to fend off the symptoms of robotic mannerisms, but the one glitch in the system of operations is definitely the weakness for those darn notifications, and the inability to postpone the unrelenting need to respond to the signal of your worthiness.
There’s something uncannily addictive about those numbers hovering over the “bell” that rings even louder as those digits reach heights that surpass modest expectations.
This is why the episode of the new season of Black Mirror, “Smithereens,” that focuses on the deadliness of maintaining an active online presence in this new world of collaborative mayhem, disturbingly hit too close to home in ways that inspired an even bleaker forecast for an uncertain future.
The year is 2018, which is purposely indicative of the present, and troubled protagonist, Chris is employed as a driver with Hitcher, a rideshare company that aligns with the objectives of real-life Uber and Lyft.
From the very beginning it’s quite apparent from the start that this dude is tormented beyond compare. His whole disposition is soaked in visible grief, and the weird obsession with the formidable social media company called Smithereen, that’s supposed to evoke the tendencies of another influential outfit known as Twitter, dictates his daily ritual of targeting the office building for potential passengers.
The one who makes the cut for his dubious motives ends up being the unideal hostage, Jaden, who is a newly hired intern, without the clout that would give Chris the audacity to make his demands.
What ensues after Jaden buckles up for the ride of his life, is a gut-wrenching narrative where things take a sharp turn towards the jagged territory of negotiations and the edge-of-your-seat suspense that unfolds like the typical playbook, featuring the horrified abductee and his dangerously unraveling captor.
But the crux of this superb tale of woe lies in Chris’s devastating confession, that’s delivered during a painful monologue that tearfully illustrates the backstory of this young man’s tragic loss.
We learn that while driving down a clear road while his girlfriend blissfully dozed off in the passenger seat, he had casually checked out the notifications from Smithereen, that naggingly highlighted the screen of his phone, and those split seconds of bad judgment caused the collision with another car.
The accident killed his girlfriend, and since the driver of the other car was drunk, the police concluded their investigation by assigning blame on the likely suspect, despite the fact that the distraction from those pesky notifications also played a major role that was conveniently overlooked.
It’s hard not to refer to the early days of engagement when texting was the freshly minted mode of real-time communication that gave newbies a bird’s-eye view of what was later coined as our #bestlives, and how the number of casualties stemming from the failed juggling act of “texting while driving,” had already begun to accrue.
The first one hit my timeline back in 2010, and it happened to be a renowned plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills, who had captured the picturesque scene of a chill afternoon with his dog, before hopping into his jeep for a scenic drive on the stunning stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway.
The last text he would ever post didn’t foreshadow the horrific tumble after veering off the road that would end with rocks at the bottom and unsurvivable injuries.
A decade later, and the addiction to the accumulation of followers who fire up “likes” and “hearts” that initiate notifications, ringing with furious command to encourage all the adulation we can muster, with the risk-taking of producing mind-blowing imagery, that we are ready to sacrifice life and limb to post with the spirit of misplaced competitiveness — has been sorely elevated to the sport that redefines the potency of the words: “silent but deadly.”
The final outcome of the harrowing episode, depicting the damning elements of what it takes for power-driven tech institutions like Smithereen to effectively stay in business without the immense guilt of the dire consequences emanating from formulated pollution, that’s being internalized by young and younger victims — is a stark reflection of the current climate of self-destruction on a global stage.
The viewer gets to observe the poetic nonchalance of engagers who receive the notifications of the updated status of the seemingly resolved matter involving the captor and his captive.
And since we don’t know how it ends, we are only able to rely on the scenes that showcase the deadpan reaction of recipients, who quickly acknowledge the alert, and robotically go about their merry way.
This profoundly unnerving dramatization is supported by the ominous presence and absence of Billy Bauer, CEO of Smithereen, who evidently shares Twitter mastermind Jack Dorsey’s penchant for week-long retreats in the oasis of extravagantly vacant spaces.
Bauer and his equally nefarious minions are in damage-control mode once they’re up-to-speed on the social emergency before the final alerts of the disastrous ending, and there was the mandate that required the voice connection between the monster of technology and Chris — the suicidal victim of his savage creation.
The highly capable employees at Smithereen are only qualified to populate the blank spaces of Chris’s profile with pertinent data that provides the behavioral tendencies of an unhinged user, who just needs to hear scripted fare from Mr. Bauer, who tries and fails to execute that generic procedural.
The business-like approach to the chaos and mayhem eventually highlights the swift return to business as usual after the struggle in the car harboring the hostage and his captor catapults into action from stationed police officers, who fire at will, leaving rattled viewers to guess the outcome.
The aftermath gives us the worst view of our lives.
Bauer and his loyal crew internalize the breaking news without breaking a sweat, and regular users scroll past the alert without flinching. And I’m hoping that viewers replicated my disinterest in knowing what happened because of the preoccupation with what wasn’t happening.
This was the roll call of dormant emotions that need to be revived in order to endorse the dignity of humanness with the strength of fragility, that should be hitting all the right nerves, but unfortunately remains desensitized to the daily alerts of extremes that have become scarily familiar in ways that are marked with the ease of scrolling.
Black Mirror excels at dissecting the fibers of the human condition for the benefit of enticing us with futuristic threats of what can be amassed if we wait too long to claim what we are without the notifications that have become a life or death struggle.
But the nightmare upon us awakens the faculties with the alarm of how the future is now, which means the very worst is happening before our very eyes.
And that’s the shocking view of all.