Black Mirror has established impeccable prescience at critiquing modern culture through a sci fi lens. Not only did it uncannily predict the link between the British prime minister and pig sex, almost every episode hits a nerve on the dark side of society’s interactions with technology.
The first episode of Black Mirror’s third season, released today on Netflix, came out swinging at the social media and app rating systems like Uber, Yelp and LinkedIn.
In the episode titled Nosedive, Black Mirror creates a subtle dystopia, where people are held at the mercy of a rating app that lets people rate others, not for their consumer habits but for every-day social interactions. Each encounter with another person involves each party whipping out their smartphone and scoring 1 through 5. Through computer contact lenses, people are trapped in an augmented reality where they are instantly able to see a person’s rating.
This all wouldn’t be a huge deal except the rating dictates everything from job prospects to rental car quality and even access to healthcare. Those with low ratings are the dregs of society while the high scores make up the elite.
This causes the protagonist Lacie to be forced into maintaining a fake, chipper personality in order to desperately maintain her 4+ rating and rise even higher. The app has a stranglehold on society allowing no one to express honesty or raw emotion.
The craziest part of this episode — aside from its bizarre Barbie doll pastel aesthetic—is the fact that this society practically exists already.
Uber drivers are held hostage by ratings. They could lose their jobs if their score drops below a certain measure, with no way of knowing if low scores were fair. The riders feel the same judgment, simply based on as casual an interaction as hitching a ride. Restaurant owners feel this pressure everyday. Kowtowing to deranged customers at the behest of their precious Yelp score, an arbitrary number that could put them out of business.
Even our LinkedIn and Twitter profiles are given status based on connections and followers. Our social status can be arbitrarily tied to stupid app numbers.
Most troubling of all is that a nearly identical app to the Black Mirror monstrosity already exists. Peeple, available in app stores, already lets you rate your interactions with people you meet, while building up your own reputation. While the user base is low and the app has gained only notoriety with its disturbing concept it marks the first attempt at expanding the app rating system to ever-day interactions.
God help us if it actually catches on.