Did you see Black Mirror on Channel 4 recently? It's a bleak and paranoid set of 3 parables of a future with unintended consquences. Created by Charlie Brooker, all three are available to watch now on 4OD.
Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
The first two episodes, written by Brooker, feature plenty of his favoured themes - degredation, the public's obsession with celebrity and the elite, exploitation, the media, herd mentality, immorality - a high-profile political figure is forced to have sex with a pig, a TV talent shows run by porn barons, that kind of thing.
The first episode wasn't set in the future, but felt like a more deviant and sneering version of the present. A society more akin to YouTube comments. The second episode used a more dramatic but contrived futurism that felt more like living in a Nintendo Wii game. @AlxButterworth
pointed out it's use of an idea from new media artist Jeffrey Shaw c. 2000. This more familiar nature of this futurism was certainly intentional - it's satirical and exaggerated. The first was set today, the second was a kind of future imagined by Nintendo Wii, but the third was a futurism more sophisticated, more Apple-esque or Rams. Some kind of Swiss school of horror.
I don't mean this to distract from the quality of these first two episodes, they were brilliant and entertaining. But it's specifically the third episode that I found really interesting as a piece of design fiction
. This is a great example of what design fiction can do for us - the prototyping of the future to make sure were don't fuck it up for ourselves. You could argue that all science fiction does this, but with this episode it feels so possible, so familiar and desirable that it makes it all the more chilling.
: Make sure you've seen it first
before you read the rest of this and from here on I'll assume you've seen it.
The third episode was leagues ahead of the first two, don't you think? The style of futurism was retro (the cars, the houses) but the bionic devices and their interfaces were more stylish, simplistic and felt like the kind of things you would really expect of the future. They were subtractive
They even had classic cars (the maroon one is a Ford Zephyr, apparently). Perhaps the 3D printers of the future can knock out a shiny new VW Karmann Ghias as easily as today's 3D printers churn out blobby grey trinkets. The presence of classic cars felt like a nod to our present obsession with polaroid filters a la Instagram and Hipstamatic, a kind of borrowed sentimentalism.
You can see how such an invention as Willow Grain could come about - an implant that allows you to play back any memory you've ever experienced, not just see but taste, smell and feel. Yes please, I'll have some of that.
Just watched final #blackmirror - its sent shivers down my spine & was the most disturbing, I want to delete Facebook timeline now #fb
— Sam Walmsley (@sammielw) December 19, 2011
It's basically an hour long advert spelling out the reasons for not using Facebook. It just clicked when he said 'timeline' #blackmirror
— Gem (@GemStGem) December 19, 2011
Watching @charltonbrooker's #BlackMirror from last night. If your Facebook Timeline's activated, you should probably clean it up! #prophetic
— Dan Morrissey (@danofftheradio) December 19, 2011
Good timing on tonight's #blackmirror coinciding with the new Facebook #timeline. Very apt!
— Alex Hay (@mralexhay) December 19, 2011
Thinking that this week's #blackmirror is well timed for the official Facebook timeline launch…. (cc @charltonbrooker )
— Danny Whatmough (@DannyWhatmough) December 18, 2011
I'm sure #BlackMirror is a comment on Facebook Timeline...
— Chocablog (@chocablog) December 18, 2011
This final episode wasn't written by Brooker but was penned by Jesse Armstrong, who is known for Peep Show and The Thick of It.
It almost feels like a public service. Brooker and Armstrong are saying "hang on chaps, let's not rush into all this. I know it looks fun but we're going to think up some really horrid scenarios that might make you think twice."