If you’ve never stopped to ponder the impact of our growing dependency on smartphones and social media, Black Mirror’s here to set you straight. And when I say set you straight, I mean scare the bejesus out of you. Charlie Brooker’s dark and often depressing glimpse into our tech-obsessed future is at its terrifying best when it depicts stories with more fact than fiction. Here’s my top picks of the most disturbingly oh-my-god-this-totally-could-happen moments in Black Mirror. Spoilers, obvs.
1. We should all have stickers covering our webcams
Episode: Season 3, episode 3 - Shut Up and Dance
When an online troll hacks into Kenny’s laptop and covertly records him er, spending quality time by himself, Kenny finds himself at the hacker’s mercy. Unless he embarks on a series of frantic - but ultimately harmless - errands, the troll will release the video to Kenny’s friends and family. But as the deeds darken, Kenny finds himself caught in a perverse game that none of the players can win.
The magic of the deeply disturbing Shut Up and Dance isn’t just in its grim conclusion, or the masterful storytelling, or even that it’s got Ser Bronn of the Blackwater in it. The bit you’ll come back to over and over again is that really, we’ve all done things we didn’t want made public knowledge, and how would we feel if someone used this against us?
2. Being blocked on social media will never feel the same again
Episode: Season 1, episode 3 - The Entire History of You
In The Entire History of You, a snazzy implant enables everyone to re-see moments from their entire lives - all helpfully tagged and categorised by names, places, dates, and more - complete with the ability to share them on nearby screens. It makes Facebook status updates look positively retro, right? But what happens to privacy? What happens to indiscretion? And what happens when all you have left is your memories?
The Entire History of You is an episode so rich in what-ifs, I could’ve written an entire article on this episode alone, but the lasting impact of this story - one based on paranoia and infidelity - is that our growing desire/need to document every night out, every dinner - every everything - might eventually come back to bite us in the collective arse.
3. You can’t even trust your own eyes anymore
Episode: Season 3, episode 5 - Men Against Fire
If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter, the plot of Men Against Fire will instantly feel familiar. You know the drill; you’re the good guys, the other guys are the baddies, and your job is to take them out as quickly and as ruthlessly as possible. Leave no survivors, soldier.
Men Against Fire follows a military team tasked with eradicating ‘roaches’, grossly mutated lifeforms that need to be killed on sight. The soldiers can communicate and revise their MOs on the fly thanks to MASS, a military implant designed to make operations easy. Thing is, that’s not all it does. It’s not until you see - or unsee - your world without MASS that you discover precisely what it’s doing… to you, and the world around you, augmenting reality so certain types/races of human beings are presented as snarling creatures… creatures you would’ve merrily shot had your MASS been operational.
4. Your social media status can affect your real life status
Episode: Season 3, episode 1 - Nosedive
Have you ever posted a selfie or a particular tweet and then sat there hitting refresh to see who liked it? You’re not alone, and Black Mirror knows it. Season 3 opener Nosedive takes a long hard look at our growing obsession with social media and… well, it’s not pretty.
In Nosedive, your social media status affects your real life. Every interaction - from buying your coffee to attending a friend’s wedding - may have lasting ramifications, which means, on the face of it, everyone’s super happy and friendly because they want positive feedback.
Naturally, Black Mirror wouldn’t be Black Mirror if it left it just at that. Nosedive explores what happens when people put too much stock in social status that can be oh-so-easily manipulated either way. Inadvertently upset someone with a higher rating than you - someone who’s perceived to be better than other people - and you’ll see your own standing plummet. Before you know it, you’re friendless, jobless, and homeless.
5. You can no longer tell the difference between reality and virtual reality
Episode: Season 3, episode 2 - Play Test
Maybe it’s because this episode is directly about video games and VR, but if you’re a gamer, I defy you to sit through season 3’s Playtest and remain unaffected.
In Playtest, an American backpacker looking to raise cash by doing odd jobs, stumbles across a job ad seeking testers for a new VR game. But when technology can construct a virtual reality as real as anything you encounter in your everyday life, how the hell can you tell the difference? Worse still, how the hell do you get out?
Playtest is a genuinely terrifying glance at our not-too-distant future. I’ve said for some time that I reckon I’m going to cark it playing VR horror; Playtest has now all but confirmed it.
You can catch up on all 13 episodes of Black Mirror right now on Netflix.