Wednesday, May 31, 2017

#151 / Dark Reflections

On December 4, 2016, my posting on this blog was titled, "Bleak Mirror." I teach a Legal Studies "Capstone" course at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and I have focused the course on the issues of "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." I'm giving my students "Extra Credit" if they watch an episode from the Black Mirror series on Netflix (the series that stimulated my "Bleak Mirror" posting last December), and then provide an online comment. 

I recommend that Black Mirror series to everyone. Black Mirror definitely makes us think about how "technology" affects both our "privacy" and our "freedom." So does Dave Eggers' novel (now a film) The Circle, about which I have commented before, and which I also recommended last December. That recommendation continues in effect!

All too often, we assume that "progress," and especially "technological" progress, is something that takes us forward, and leads us on to a better future. Anyone who has read my blog postings more than occasionally knows that I am skeptical of this bias in favor of new technology. I am particularly distressed with the Silicon Valley idea that "disruption" is always desirable. 

Anyone not familiar with Black Mirror is encouraged to track down this series. There are three seasons, so far, and they are not very long seasons, so if you get hooked it won't take you forever to watch every episode. Netflix has a one month free introduction offer, and you could easily watch them all in that one free month!

Image Credit:


  1. Sabrina Uppal
    LGST 196

    Review of Black Mirror “Hated in the Nation”:

    This episode of Black Mirror, “Hated in the Nation,” sparks a debate over the effects of ever growing popularity of social media and technology. The episode takes place in England, in a time that seems like the not too distant future. In this episode, scientists have created robotic bees to supplement for the dying bee population. As bee populations are dying, we are all concerned about how this will affect our ecosystem. This fictional episode poses a solution to this problem, by creating robotic bees that behave like natural bees. They even make hives and replicate themselves. This is fine until one day someone figures out how to hack the computer bees and use them to anonymously kill people. The victims who are targeted are determined by social media. The murderer started the trending hashtag, #deathto, and whoever got the most comments with that hashtag at the end of the day was chosen to be murdered. I think this episode was very interesting and relevant to today’s society. Even though it was fictional, and not all of this technology is available today, the issues and solutions raised in this episode are directly relatable to today’s society. With global warming and dying bee populations, do we as a society see technology and possibly robotic bees as a solution we would want if it’s even possible? And more importantly, this episode shows how social media disconnects us from the real world. Everyone was so casually retweeting the #deathto hashtag and saying horrible things about celebrities they have never met, and this happened regularly in our world. These words we type online do have real effects on people, and we should not feel like it okay to say whatever we want online just because we do not have to face these people in person. If you would not be comfortable saying something to someone in person or acting a certain way in the real world, we should not act that way online.

    Review of Black Mirror “Nosedive”:

    Black Mirror “Nosedive” brings up concepts of social media and rating people, whether those ratings are superficial or deeper. In this episode, people get rated by other people based off of all of their interactions, both in person and online. The higher your rating, the better privileges you are awarded. Our world seems to be heading in this direction, especially with job companies in Europe using peoples’ social media accounts to determine if someone is eligible for a loan or a job. While some people may be in favor of a society similar to this, I would not agree. I feel that social media and interactions similar to this disconnects people and encourages us to have more superficial relationships instead of genuinely connecting with other people. Also, rating people like this and making these ratings worth something makes people lose their sense of self. If a person’s “rating” determined what they were allowed to have access to in the world, people would really care about these ratings. The problem with this is that if people were constantly worried about what others thought of them and what they rated them, people would always feel as if they have to have this positive persona and they are not allowed to have a bad day because then people will rate them lower, and that rating would stick with you. There are pros and cons to this. The pro would be that it would force people to be more conscious of their interactions with everyone around them, including strangers. This constant awareness could cause people to be more kind to one another. The cons would be having to have this fake, superficial persona all the time and therefore not forging meaningful connections with others.

  2. “Nosedive" explores a really interesting, but dark, possibility of our current social media. In this episode, people rated each other throughout their daily social interactions on a one to five “star” scale. These ratings contributed to their social acceptance, and granted new opportunities previously restricted, like being able to rent a better vehicle, or buying a lavish new home. However, if an individual's ratings were unacceptably low, it resulted in temporal incarceration and social isolation. This rating system, at best, can be compared to a credit score on steroids, updated instantly, but controlled by ordinary users who have access to a smart-phone.

    As seen through this episode, and through examples of today’s social media, every body and mind has been molded into acceptable, tolerable, or a desirable version of themselves. Hardly anybody expressed their own unpopular opinions, and for those who did, they were outcasted instantly. Although we rate restaurants and movies without question, what would happen it we extend this to people? As previously covered in class, we already have an idea of how a Facebook profile provides a constructed representation of an individual.

    Privacy, surveillance, government and power are themes explored in "Hated in the Nation," when the death of an unpopular writer sends detectives to social media to track her killer. Their following investigation links them to more deaths, hashtags, drone-like insects, and a “moral lesson.”

    As for government surveillance, this episode expresses how the collection of data is susceptible to being hacked, and used for other purposes, rather than its initial purpose of “national security." But, the collection of data is for the sake and question of “national security,” argue proponents of increased government surveillance. As Edward Snowden has exposed, this government surveillance already takes place, and if the U.S. becomes a target of a cyber-attack, with its many international enemies, this can directly jeopardize public safety. This episode highlights a paradox that questions whether or not increasing national security is “safer.” Instead, the mass collection of personal data has unpredicted “consequences” as it increases public vulnerability to cyber-warfare. All it takes is one sole hacker with psychopathic tendencies to murder an unprecedented amount of people.

    In conclusion, with today’s innovations, privacy is rare to come around. The obsession with technological innovation can not continue without morality and the question of “what is right." Black Mirror reflects that obsession with "worst-case scenario” episodes that don’t seem too far into the future, and that serve as a warning for future innovators.

    -Jahir Salinas, LGST 196

  3. Alexandria Wickers
    LGST 196

    Hated in the Nation Review:

    I thought this was an interesting episode as it incorporated many of the components we've been discussing this quarter such as drones, surveillance, social media and the possible negative outcomes of advances in technology. I think what is so scary about this episode of Black Mirror is that the bee drones are already in existence, in a short amount of time the bee drones have gone from science fiction to reality. Additionally, what is concerning about the idea of bee drones coincides with government surveillance. Already, I've heard a number of people express concern for their personal privacy in today's world. With advancing technology, it is easier than ever to track a person's location or personal information via their computers, cell phones and even cameras set up at every stop light. However, there is often little protest to this form of privacy invasion on the basis that it promotes national security. The part of this episode that revealed that the government had required access to the bee drone's sensors for purposes of national security really reminded me of this. It brings into question things like: where do we draw the line? I also thought the plot twist to this episode was really interesting. The entire episode made me believe that the targets of the DeathTo hash tag were the controversial public figures, as we see today on social media. However, the twist that the actual targets were the private individuals expressing their opinion online was a big shock. I thought it was really relevant to what we see going today and that it was a really good message to send out to our society. I think often times people get wrapped up in their idea of right and wrong as well as their own opinions and when someone does something “wrong” and it goes viral, the whole world is there to comment or criticize. This, I could imagine would be extremely overwhelming for an individual and yet we see it all the time. Although everyone has a right to express their opinion, this episode was a good reminder that there are people behind the screen.

  4. Alexandria Wickers
    LGST 196

    Nose Dive Review:

    In this episode, the main character, Lacie, lives in a world where everyone is judged and treated differently according to their “rating”. This really reminded me of the discussion we had about alternative credit scores based on one's social media profiles. For the alternative credit scores, your friends, photos, and even how often you charge your phone are all taken into account when considering if one is deemed responsible. This episode is similar in that the rating people received was based on the arbitrary opinion and judgment of others. Sadly, social media is becoming such an important factor that many jobs will hire a more popular candidate because of their networking skills. Which makes this episode of Black Mirror a possible reality in the future. This episode also reminded me of the discussion we recently had in class regarding the virtual world and the real world and how they intertwine. Interestingly, in this episode, what Lacie posted online effected her rating which then affected her chances of getting an apartment, getting on a plane, renting a decent car, etc. I interpreted this episode to be a warning of what may come if we keep putting so much of an emphasis on social media popularity. I also liked how the episode Nosedive really pointed out how fake we can be on social media. The relationship between Lacie and her childhood friend is extremely positive online and through video chat, however, in person it appears to be almost non-existent. I think this happens a lot online, and it's a big reason why many that are constantly on social media feel a bit isolated and alone, because they don't truly feel the connections they supposedly have. Also, it could be argued that it's unhealthy to keep so many people from your past involved in your life and visa versa. Before social media when people outgrew friendships or relationships, they wouldn't see them anymore, they would move on. Now, you're watching their lives play out through a screen, which is portrayed as unhealthy through Lacie as it is clear that Lacie should've moved on from that friendship. Lastly, the characters in the show that didn't seem to care about the ratings, like Lacie's brother and the female truck driver, were portrayed as very laid back and wise. I correlated them to the people these days that don't care to create a social media profile and how that could be a positive thing in the long run.

  5. “Hated in the Nation” Black Mirror Episode Review: by Ilan Zur

    I was fascinated by this Black Mirror episode, as it not only illustrated how easily social media platforms can enable users to be blatantly cruel and hateful, without fear of any accountability, but showed how incentives of manipulation and control are very prevalent in the government, when considering whether to endorse new technologies or not. I thought that the focus upon social media as a means of distance malice, by means of the “death-to” hashtag, spoke to the problem of online cyber bullying today, where people appear not to be aware of the power that their words have online, with online teasing and hate, pushing people in many cases to the point of suicide. As much of our interactions increasingly take place online, this episode really tried to show that what you say online should not be taken lightly, and that online words have immense power, and should be treated as such, which is something that I agree with. This episode also exceptionally illustrated a main theme of Black Mirror; the double sided nature of technology. This episode used both the social media platform of twitter, as well as ADI’s (autonomous drone insect) to show the incredible benefits that technology can provide, with ADI’s providing a miraculous solution to the honeybee die out and its impact upon environmental health through loss of pollination. On the other hand it also showed how such technological growth has potential to be distorted and bring about terrible consequences, focusing how even a technological innovation such as a ADI’s, created with an innocent intent, have potential to be used as a means of government control and surveillance, as well as devices of violence, when hacked. I think that many technologies can be used in a variety of different ways, and that it is in our best interests to try and be aware of all types of ways in which a new technology can be used, regardless of intent, before implementation

    “Nosedive” Black Mirror Episode Review: by Ilan Zur

    In this Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” we saw the importance and relevance of social media in our everyday lives, magnified tenfold! This episode showed a future where almost every human interaction entails rating someone on social media from 1-5, with such ratings determining ones social status and privilege within society. This episode showed how this social media rating system manifested in many people a tendency of artificial fakeness, where in order to rise up the ranks of society, one had to meet and greet everyone with happy faces and smiles, maintain an exciting and attractive online presence. I thought that this episode was very much related to my class presentation on “Alternative Credit Scoring” and the inclusion of social media in determining ones credit score and loan worthiness, as both of these topics embrace the notion that ones social media presence tells some deep truth about who you are, and what you deserve. One the other hand, while I thought the episode was VERY thought provoking, I personally found it very distasteful to watch, as while social media can tell certain truths about someone such as where they spend their time, what they like and who their friends are, it can also promote a fake image of who one is. Such fakeness and pretense of perfection and an attractive lifestyle, which we see intensely on social media platforms such as Instagram, is something that I believe stimulates loneliness and unworthiness in social media users, as it gives the appearance that everyone else is happy and is not suffering or unhappy in any way, which is largely not true. While social media platforms have many incredible uses, this episode “Nosedive” imagined a future where such fakeness and persona of perfection is not only dominant, but is needed in order to survive and find social and economic success in society.

  6. "Hated in the Nation" -Edith Lopez

    This episode of Black Mirror highlighted two extremities of technology whereby the use of the ADI’s can mimic life and thus continue the responsibilities of an animal to the ecosystem but also cause harm when it is in the hands of the wrong person. Further, “Hated in the Nation” encompasses many of the themes that we have learned about in the capstone: privacy, surveillance, and freedom in relation to individuals and the government. This dichotomous relationship between privacy and surveillance creates a double edged sword for the implied right to privacy for individuals and the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens. In my opinion, that is the most difficult issue to balance because citizens want the government to protect them but, in return, they need to give up some of their privacy. However, the gray area is where the government begins to overstep its broad powers. This issue was exemplified in this episode where the government agency, National Crime Agency, set up a deal program with the ADI company. In this deal, the government fully funded the ADI program in exchange for being able to use these drones to track people and potentially use it as a weapon to find government enemies. As a result, this loophole became exploited by a hacker who was able to gain control of the ADIs that resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. While the government tried to use the ADIs to strengthen national security, instead it ended up endangering its own people with a massive terrorist attack.
    Social media is a powerful technological platform that joins people together worldwide for political, social, and other informational issues. Although social media has many positive elements, the ability to be anonymous increases national security risks. Technology is a double edged sword that creates powerful and lasting changes in the world but it can also be detrimental by creating caveats–such as anonymity, hacking, and cyber-bullying–for people who misuse it. Therefore, laws help catalyze the power of technology for both individuals and the government.

  7. “Hated In The Nation”
    This was a very well made episode that commented upon the social media usage today as well as the negative consequences of technological advancements in general. As social media users, people can hide behind a screen and say whatever they want to without facing any consequences. One doesn’t have to look far to see the extent of cyberbullying. If one looks at the comment section on any youtube video, a couple of the highest liked comments would be a criticism of the uploader or the person in the video. This is very common, especially when videos go viral or someone messes up and it is caught on tape and the whole online community tends to send a react negatively. The episode “Hated In The Nation” aims to address this issue directly by bringing in a criminal that punishes all the people that resort to cyberbullying. One could even view him as a vigilante because when there are no consequences by the law or the society, he takes on the role of a punisher.
    Additionally, the episode also comments upon the government surveillance and the issue of privacy. A technology as simple as little robots that transfer pollen could be used by the government for surveillance without the knowledge of the public and they aren’t obligated to tell the public either. This is very similar to National Security Agency’s phone surveillance in United States. The truth about the government surveillance didn’t come out until Edward Snowden’s revelation of government documents, which makes one question as to what other kinds of government surveillance could be going on under the pretext of national security, without the knowledge of the people.
    This episode also brings up another threat to security when it comes to privacy and technology-the threat of exploitation. Even if the government uses technology for the safety of the public, it is very vulnerable to hacks from those experienced. This opens up the public’s safety to various unforeseen threats. Overall, this episode makes one question the potential negative consequences to the seemingly harmless advancements to technology.
    As a social media user that uses websites like instagram where the posts depend on the number of likes, this episode was very relevant to me. In the episode, the woman relies on social media and the ratings by her peers. She goes to great lengths in order to increase her likes and in the end, loses her sanity before realizing the extent of control it had over her. This brings up the unhealthy habit of young people posting on social media websites and spending long periods of time to get the perfect picture, which is further related to body image issues. Looking at other people’s profiles and their “lavish lifestyles” can make one question their own and produce a want to attain similar goals. This creates an unhealthy dynamic where people, especially teenagers can develop low self esteem.
    Additionally, the issues brought up in the episode resonated with the concerns in my senior thesis “Do You Control Data or Does Data Control You?” The reliance of housing rental agencies on the level of rating a person has is quite similar to credit scores but also, to the potential usage of metadata in the future. Metadata is data, such as a person’s shopping history or likes on facebook, etc. that is collected and analyzed by data broker companies such as Acxiom. When sold to third parties, this helps the sellers cater to the needs of the consumers in a better manner but it could also be used by insurance companies as a means of choosing members with the lowest risk. For example, unhealthy eating habits could be related to a higher risk of health issues and could be used as a basis for health coverage.
    In conclusion, this episode brings attention to the interesting cycle of consumerism where the very act of consumerism (related to social media) could be harmful for consumers (the dependency on social media for self-validation) or be used against them (when being exploited by third parties).

  8. “Hated in the Nation”:
    As I watched the episode “Hated in the Nation”, I was amused by the amount of people that were on their phones rather than making conversation with the people around them. The reason I believe I was started is because it depicts the way in which our society is today, majority of the time we observe that people pay more attention to their phones rather than their surroundings.
    This particular episode focused on people being “rated,” the rate of the individuals gained him or her access to various facilities. In the same way, individuals with low rating were denied access if their score was too low. The ratings reminded me of a credit score, our credit score determines if banks or other agencies are able to trust us. However, we as individuals develop our credit score depending on our payments. In the other hand, the individuals in the episode, were rated by random individuals. Forcing people to act in a forceful manner in order to obtain high ratings. It is concerning to think the way in which technology affects us in our daily lives. In our current society, people are able to portray themselves different from who they actually are; known as “catfishing”.
    The episode focuses on the technology a government is able to produce and utilize in order to maintain a secure nation. However, the episode put into perspective that there are individuals who are good with technology and are able to hack the government’s cyber system for their own personal use. Technology has many benefits however, it can be used as a dangerous weapon. This was clearly observed in the scene in where law enforcement tries to keep a young lady safe, yet, they are unsure of what they are looking for. It allows an individual to observe the capability of technology.
    Another great scene to observe is when the federal agents board a self-driving car. To think we might be able to see such technology in our life time is amazing and scary at the same time. Advanced technology in motor vehicles have been improving throughout the years. For example, the technology company Google begun a self-driving car project in 2009 to be able to release to the public. It is fascinating to watch the series Black Mirror because it allows us to realize the different ways technology can be used for good and bad.
    - Veronica Ignacio LGST 196

  9. Kira Akka-Seidel
    LGST 196

    “Hated in the Nation” Review:

    “Hated in the Nation” is a compelling storyline that makes you think twice about technology as a solution to real world problems. Just two days ago, I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. The very first class I took in the major was Environmental Policy and Economics where we discussed various approaches to address contemporary environmental catastrophes. We learned about the Malthusian perspective, which holds that humans have a carrying capacity and that the way people abuse the planet will eventually result in our own demise. We were also taught about the Cornucopian perspective, which maintains that innovations and advancing technologies can extend our carrying capacity no matter what environmental roadblocks we should face. The reason I bring this up is that this episode is a perfect illustration of the flawed reasoning associated with the Cornucopian view. The ADIs (Autonomous Drone Insects) featured in this show were created as a solution to rapidly declining honeybee populations worldwide, something, I might add, that is occurring in our own reality. Cornucopians would regard ADIs as a groundbreaking remedy to an environmental setback and say that it exemplifies just how resourceful people can be when confronted with ecological problems. I contend that, instead, these creepy, flying, insect robots serve as a chilling reminder of what the planet could turn into if we neglect the natural world and turn to manufactured species as a viable solution. To me, this episode demonstrates why it is so important to live sustainably, stop destroying critical habitats, and be wary of the phrase “technology is the answer.”

    “Nosedive” Review:

    I was disturbed while watching “Nosedive” because the world depicted in the episode does not seem very far-fetched from the reality we are experiencing today. The episode’s main character, Lacie, puts all of her time and effort into increasing her “rating” by being excessively chipper to food servers, pretending to care about acquaintances’ lives, and posting “likeable” pictures on social media platforms. The way Lacie was acting combined with the premise of the episode made it impossible to tell if she was actually a kind person or merely acting to improve her quality of life. There have been several occasions throughout my high school and college experiences where I have wondered the same thing about people I have shared interactions with. Maybe this is less prevalent in Generation X but Millennials have been raised in a culture where “likes,” “followers,” “shares,” and “retweets” say more about a person’s value than the authenticity of their character. This concern for popularity and how one appears on social media supersedes genuine human exchanges and makes it more difficult to truly connect with other people. It perpetuates a society that is based on deception and superficiality. Many people adopt the perspective that evolving technologies are indicative of human intelligence and set us apart from all other beings on this earth. But, in my opinion, technology inherently contradicts with humanity. “Nosedive” is a sad example of just how much we lose ourselves behind the confines of our screens.

  10. Edith Lopez "Nosedive"

    Social media creates a competitive and superficial reality for many people. People living in the real world use social media as another mode of connecting with others but also use it to enhance the adventure, happiness, or excitement in their lives. The episode “Nosedive” showed the cruel reality of living up and depending on other people’s “ratings” to live a good life. The superficiality created by the use of ratings in this society is problematic as it conflicts with the individuality of a person and instead makes them a standard person of society. In this case social media was a weapon of control, where individual such as Lacie, needed good ratings in order to get housing, cars, and flights. This is dangerous as people forget the meaning of life and suppress the importance of individuality. Previously, we read Hannah Arendt’s article on individuality and the need to be unique in order to make a stronger society. However, this episode creates a challenge to being individual, as those who rebel against the status quo become shunned as labeled as a “social maniac.” It is important, for technology to be used as a tool of advancement and not as a tool of manipulation, which in this case we saw how social media controlled individuals from expressing their true feelings.

  11. Rebecca Sheff
    LGST 196
    Black Mirror Episodes
    Season 3, Episode #6 “Hated in The Nation”

    This episode seemed like an exaggerated (or perhaps not) peek into what our society could become. The episode storyline followed a murder that a detective was investigating that related back to the computer programmed and controlled “bees” that were helping to take over bee’s function in the ecosystem since they had gone extinct. The victim was picked due to this hashtag that was circulating on social media that people could use and whoevers name had the most hits with that hashtag was the victim at the end of the night. It brought up an interesting perspective into social media as well, and how the consequences often time seem unreal when one is hiding behind a computer screen.
    The episode ended with everyone that had participated in this “game” being killed, to demonstrate a greater message. Social media is boldly present in todays society and often times it is forgotten how deeply intertwined it truly is. Hashtags are a grouping mechanism on social media that connects all posts with that same Hashtag in the same place. More and more of these new social media mechanisms continue to revolutionize social media. But with every positive impact there are also equal or greater negative ones that are often not taken into consideration, which is what this episode demonstrated. It is interesting to explore: Will social media have restrictions? When does it stop?

    Season 3, Episode #1 “Nosedive”

    The first episode of season 3 was another fictional future reality, where individuals were restricted by their “ratings”. Every individual rated other individuals based off of their daily interactions, and naturally, the higher the rating the more privileges and special opportunities one got. It reminded me a lot of how high school popularity worked without the individual ratings. Everyone wants to be popular or have good ratings, for the most part, and would almost do anything to achieve that. It creates an environment where desperation and insecurities are in control, and where hierarchy is alive and present.
    In the episode the main character starts loosing her rating as she was trying to do everything in her power to raise it in order to qualify for this new apartment. With each partial point lost, she became more and more frantic, trying to do anything to get good ratings from strangers even. Watching her whole world get turned upside down in this episode reminded me a lot of friends that I know who have gotten so entirely wrapped up in social media that it often seems like they’ve lost themselves. They go on a trip or go out to eat with friends and immediately go to post it on social media, or base where the go or who they go places with off of social media likes. This episode was another example of how intertwined social media is within our lives and how much of an impact it has on us.


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