Digital Culture

“Shiny Screens” and Societal Value Manifested in Black Mirror and Instagram

Tiegan Dudley

It is no secret that today’s culture is extensively encompassed in a virtual world. But with this ever-increasing digital age, could it be possible that these “shiny screens” become the human races’ masters in a twisted role reversal? 

Dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror was devised in 2011 to depict “the murky relationship between humans and technology, the latter of which threatens to progress so quickly that our ethical frameworks don’t have the chance to catch up”. Its creator, Charlie Brooker, admitted that he “wanted to do something that would actively unsettle people” and the episode, ‘Nosedive’, is no exception. The premise of the story eerily mimics our current technological climate, depicting a frustrated and status-fixated central character, Lacey, who is entrenched in a society whereby every interaction, both physical and online, is ranked. When she is not posting carefully constructed images of what she believes will boost her average 4.2 rating, she is constantly giving others five stars in the hope that they will return the favour. However, as the title suggests, events take a downward spiral as she ends up in prison shouting profanity at a fellow stranger, locked up and yet ironically free from the aggressively polite outside world. 

This episode aptly manifests Brookers concerns of it being “a little bit worrying how close some of [the episodes] seem to reality” as this status-obsessed world shows a jarring similarity to the present prolificity of our very own, very real, Instagram. The fictional ratings are representative, then, of how many ‘followers’ a user has- the higher the number, the higher the ‘like’ count and thus, the higher the validation. These ‘follower’ and ‘like’ counts are treated as social capital now, but what would happen if this bleeds into the economic capital territory too?

Returning back to ‘Nosedive’, this concept of superiority through social ratings does reveal to infiltrate the professional sphere- the higher the rating, the better the job and higher the salary. And so, this furthers the pressure and desperation to thrive in a social capacity. In the real world, obviously social media does not hold this level of vitality, being simply a pastime for most of us, but Brooker displays where it has the potential to progress should our intrusive fixation of others’ lives continue. With the number of ‘influencers’ and YouTubers on the rise, their job being to advertise brands on their social media accounts, this socio-economic dependency resting on online popularity is beginning to seem closer to reality than is desired for many. 

What we need not forget is that what we see on Instagram is made public by the user account themselves. They want us to see, and believe, this desirable lifestyle which is often a far cry from the actual truth. So, is validation from boosting our profiles really an affirmation of our self-worth if the reason for it is rooted in a façade? I think not.