‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: The Entire History of You

Themes: Surveillance and the new age panopticon, memory and control, and living in the past.

‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.

Surveillance and the New Age Panopticon

In “The Entire History of You”, life is constantly being recorded through a new technological implant called “Grain.” This technology records everything your eyes can see — even if you aren’t actively focusing on something — and allows for video playback (called “re-dos”) and zoom/enhancing, either on a TV or in your eye (using a lens of some sort).

This technology makes it so that everybody is constantly under surveillance, by each other. In this world, everybody is Big Brother and every set of eyes are telescreens, forcing us to keep ourselves in check at all times, because make one little mistake —maintain lingering eye contact with an old lover a little too long, for example — and an observant witness can playback the video and spot your feelings.

Control Is All About Memory

One of the upsides of this new “grain” technology, as one character mentions, is that your memory cannot be manipulated by others. Nobody can make blatant lies and get away with it, because there’s always video evidence waiting to be accessed (i.e., “show me the receipts”). Gone are the days of being gaslighted, and if you have full control of and access to your short and long-term memory, you are in complete control of your reality. (Except one can still edit videos to leave out stuff they don’t want to remember.)

“Living In The Past”, Literally

In this Black Mirror society, everybody is obsessed with the past. Because you have access to it, nobody can resist the urge to go back to the tape and see how your job interviewer reacted to your answers, or the last time you slept with your married lover, or the last time your wife said “I love you” and you believed her.

In your spare time, you don’t watch TV, you re-watch your day, or revisit a euphoric memory. “Re-do and chill” is the new “Netflix and chill.” The famous author Stephen King once said: “When it comes to the past, everybody writes fiction.” In this world, the past can never be fictionalized, or dramatized, or romanticized. Reality can never beat fiction.

Bonus: Two Small Details I Loved

  1. The score playing during the before-after scene.
  2. The episode title.