With Nosedive, Black Mirror makes you think about sharing economy and reputation as currency
Science fiction itself is an extrapolation of things that currently exist or trends that are coming next. And cyberpunk made a point after looking to a closer, darker future designed by its contemporary subjects such as the information society, but that was the so-called Third Industrial Revolution. Today, as researchers point, we are heading towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is based on robotics and on a new relation with things and consumption.
The biggest trend now is the idea of a sharing economy in which consumption is made in a conscious (Lowsumerism) and collaborative way. After a history of crescent consumption and production since the First Industrial Revolution, we changed from the “American Dream” in the 1960s to the “Individual Consumption” in the 80s, finally reaching “Consumerism” in the 90s and now waiting for a new look on how we buy things and exploit natural resources. For that, we already have some examples of companies that are climbing the first steps towards the Collaborative Economy system, being AirBnB and Uber some of the names to be pointed to begin with.
In other words, this new format of economy enforces the idea of buying an experience rather than possessing something (in Uber’s case, a car) when you just need the ends (getting to somewhere) and not the means. As posited by Rachel Botsman, collaborative economy guru, “I don’t want a CD; I want the music it plays” or, in the words of Theodore Levitt, American economist and professor at Harvard Business School, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
But in this same scenario, more than money (which will likely be administered via Blockchain systems), trust is a valuable currency. And that’s where we finally get to talk about Black Mirror’s first episode for its third season, now on Netflix — a platform that gives you the movie, not the DVD. “Nosedive” not only presents us a clean, bright and colored in pastel tones world (from Wes Anderson to North Korea) where people act just as perfectly as an update of the simulated universe of The Stepford Wives (2004). It talks about inequality not just in terms of wealth, but of also in terms of what Pierre Bourdieu called “symbolic capital.” But in Nosedive, this symbolic capital can be quantified in a ranking system compared to existing apps such as Yelp or even Uber itself — many discovered that even passengers have a score on Uber only after this episode.
Nosedive presents us the life of Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) as an ever-smiling woman who seems to have an average routine of jogging in the morning, preparing herself to go to work and having some coffee before getting to the office. But all these actions are also guided by social conventions, being it by greeting and saying “good morning” to the people you meet or even practicing how credible is your automatic laugh in front of the mirror. In a world where all actions, from consumption to small talks in the elevator, are rated, politeness gets an upgrade to become a PR case. It is an exaggeration of the idea that no kindness comes without interest, therefore shattering Kant’s view on the good will to pieces.
When in the coffee shop, Lacie rates both the attendant and forges her perfect breakfast moment to be shared on social media by biting and spitting a cookie before taking the perfect picture. This scene is not only a clear comparison to Instagram’s mechanics and aesthetics, but in a very discrete and minor way it addresses eating disorders that are also enforced there. More than the selfies at the gym and the fitness hashtags, Instagram hides a whole discourse in defense of anorexia and bulimia not just in the “thinspiration” profiles (which can be reported and deleted), but also in how popular people share their success in losing weight, no matter if that was caused by mental health issues, drug abuse or even for the sake of likes (just as exposed by Essena O’Neill during her Instagram “rampage”). In this particular sense, there are even AnaMia “games” on Instagram in which a user posts their picture or a “thinspiration” photo and suggest that each like and/or comment will mean an extra hour they will be fasting.
Bloggers and vloggers have become a thing and a business. Likes, views and clicks are a currency for a while now, and it’s all exchangeable to travels, products, experiences to be repaid with posts on social media. And it is this very social media that has made fame something easier to be achieved now, in comparison to the time that fame followed something like being featured in a movie or releasing an album. In Brazil, there are several examples of internet celebrities who got their own show on cable TV or even starred a movie supported by the government with a budget of R$3 million (around US$936k). Now, with collaborative economy and the importance of trust and reputation, would the internet celebrity mechanics then apply to average citizens doing average things, such as trying to rent a house (just like what China wants to propose)?
In a scenario where you supposedly wouldn’t need to own things, only rent them when needed, renting a house would become something even more often. That doesn’t mean it would be affordable to everyone, as it wasn’t for Lacie when she visited her dream house in Pelican Cove, but she could get a really good discount if only she had a higher rating. In other words, her popularity is an exchange currency to the real state company: it is the same mechanics used by real, current companies when advertising their products and services by the means of a celebrity or a blogger. Thus companies “borrow” celebrities’ symbolic capital and fame, linking their status to the image they want other customers to have about them. In a world of no intermediaries such as big companies, but peer to peer (p2p) services, everyone would become an entrepreneur (and the rise of entrepreneurship shows us that) at the same time we become a brand to be endorsed too.
And this is the reason why Lacie starts to act in an off-putting way to get a better rank. Almost in a hysterical way, the protagonist serves as an exaggerated picture of daily dynamics, from the moment you feel forced to start a talk with a higher executive you meet by chance at the elevator, or when you just feel you need to be nice with the cleaning personnel, because “you never know when you will need them.” Back to Kant, there is no good will on that, but a system of interests and exchanges — what some may know as “to score some brownie points.” In Nosedive though, you own star points and you may lose them if you push boundaries. Because when other people notice that Lacie is begging for good ratings, she ironically becomes cheap, though everyone else is always playing roles in order to get well rated.
But Lacie succeeds, in a way, to the point that Naomi (Alice Eve), an old friend from childhood, notices her rank and invites her to be her bridesmaid. That was the signal that she was doing all right, in spite of her brother (James Norton) have told her that she was acting strange and in an exaggerated way. Just like in Mean Girls (2004) or in any high school teenage comedy-drama, there are social conventions (or even rules) to be followed and anyone who is not taking part of that ritual may find it ridiculous, just like as the cab driver thought while listening to Lacie’s call with “Nay-Nay.”
And that is just the start of Lacie’s descent to “hell,” because the driver decides to rate her with a lower score and this affects her average. And due to a problem with her flight reservation, the protagonist wouldn’t be able to be in time to the wedding first festivities, though they could “arrange” a seat for her if only she had a 4.5 score. She didn’t. Because of that driver’s view on her, her ranking was lower and she wouldn’t be able to join her childhood’s best friend wedding. As pointed by her brother, Naomi wasn’t worth of anything, since she was more of a bully to Lacie than a true friend. But wanting a better rating also meant to get her dream house, where she could finally start her own life, and more than that, a higher rating and an invitation to be Naomi’s bridesmaid was a symbol of approval — and that brings us back to Essena’s case and the idea that happiness can’t be measured with likes and followers.
As any other previous Black Mirror episodes, Nosedive has again one more “wake up call” for what society we are heading to with the help of technology. But, in this case, considering that such technologies are so close and real, the episode is, again, just an extrapolation of our reality, a caricature that uses exaggeration as an easier way for us to see things, but not to exactly demonize them. And this is another issue (maybe) not to be addressed here, though Black Mirror faces the possibility to be seen less as a dystopia to make you think and more as an in-depth entertainment to make you frightful about the future and technology, therefore conquering the position that Terminator and Skynet has kept in pop culture imaginary for decades now. The closer to our reality and the more believable a fiction gets, the easier it is to see it as a prediction, when most of the times science fiction is actually about the present and what we should do now to shape the uncertain and open possibilities of the future.