As a recent online explorer and self-confessed digital luddite, the dystopic vision presented in Episode 2 of Black Mirrors ‘Fifteen Million Merits‘ showcases precisely what it is I have always feared about our obsession with screens. It is why, until now, I have refused smart phones, e-readers, and social media accounts.
I remember a bus ride to work a few years ago. It was a cold, dreary winter morning and everyone was shuffling on board in their work suits and trench coats. Just another dead-beat moment of capitalist drudgery. Suddenly the world was brightened. The sun began to rise above the low-lying clouds, bursting through in bright gold and orange beams, turning the sky into a painter’s canvas, a momentary glimpse into some sort of heaven. I was so encapsulated, so heart-warmed at how the world can offer incredible beauty in an otherwise dull moment. And then I realised, looking out over the bus full of workers, that no one was looking. Everyone had a phone out, eyes glued to the screen, oblivious to the beautiful sunrise. It re-affirmed everything I thought I knew about the danger of screens- the nasty, self-absorbing, soul-sucking world of the ”black mirror.”
Fast-forward a few years and I’m finally making a leap into that ”nasty” world, digi-fying my life and creating an online presence. The reason is that I’ve finally come to understand the flip-side of the coin, the unlimited potential that the digital world offers. We are still tapping into this potential, still exploring and discovering new facets of the digital world, new ways in which to connect and share information. And that is the holy grail of what we can get out of a digital world- connecting and sharing globally.
Juggling the benefits of a technology with its potential for misuse is not a new concept. The digital world can be (albeit, controversially) compared to money and guns in the sense that we are forced to consider whether the pit-falls are worth the potential. Whether we decide to hate the tool, or the abuser of it. But whilst guns offer the risk for violence and money offers the risk for greed, what is it exactly that we fear from screens?
Fifteen Million Merits seems to hit the nail on the head, with the main character Bing desperately searching for something that is ‘real.’ And this is what I too feared on the bus that morning years ago. As we increasingly plug in to the digital world and it’s dizzying array of virtual possibilities, we risk tuning out to what is actually happening around us, to what is literally, physically, 3-dimensionally real.
So how do we navigate these murky waters? How do we tap in to the endless possibilities for connection, sharing, learning, and creating offered by the digital world without tuning out of our everyday, here-and-now, real-life existence?