The world’s truly changing faster than we can comprehend: flying car prototypes, bionic eyes, lab grown hearts, and invasive medi-nano bots that repair you from the inside. But these advances are just the beginning. In fact, these developments appear mundane compared to future possibilities. I’m taking about the game changers:
Choosing our biological ages, effectively creating societies of biologically immortal people. Generations of students that will have to upgrade or evolve to compete with a robotic workforce. Creating augmented implants so users can interact with smart cities.
We live in a time where the hypothetical is no longer ridiculed because we’ve witnessed so many incredible innovations come to life. Maybe this is why the British sci-fi thriller-drama anthology series, Black Mirror, resonates so strongly with us.
Futurism and Futurespeak
The lasting power of science fiction is in its futurespeak. It’s laden with ‘what if’ prophecies. We’ve seen countless versions of this in productions like The Discovery, Ex Machina, Selfless, and Altered Carbon. But I’m not just talking about cool action movies filled with the spectacle and tech of later humans. I’m concerned with the social ramifications.
Many of these ‘future-historical fictional realities’, if you will, have been posited by leading scientific minds and futurists who have pondered many surreal possibilities that could affect our destinies. These include how society would reshape after encountering extraterrestrial life, Elon Musk’s prediction of the merging of biological and artificial intelligence, Stephen Hawking’s 100-year doomsday clock, and Michael Kaku’s research on the existence of ‘soap bubble’ parallel universes attached to our own. But whether we are casting our minds thousands of years in the future, like in the Time Machine, or merely decades, such as in I, Robot and Blade Runner, one thing is certain:
We live in an unprecedented time where radical changes and revolution in society, culture, livelihoods, technology, and education will push us to become survivors of our own unstoppable progress.
Sci-Fi’s Darkest Prophecies
By now, you’ve probably heard of Black Mirror which first aired all the way back in 2011. The anthology show features four seasons full of captivating stories. Other shows have certainly tried and tested this formula before, such as The Twilight Zone and Electric Dreams, but in this series, creator Charlie Brooker, combines discomfort and delight while exploring our technological addictions. Here social science fiction is introduced with fresh perspective, hard-hitting visual effects, and modern insights. Of all the sci-fi shorts produced, three episodes stand out as the most compelling: “Nosedive”, “San Junipero”, and “USS Callister.”
“Nosedive” is perhaps one of the easiest to relate to because of our ever-plugged in, ‘perma-logged’ social media junkie lives. In a soon-to-be future America, social status is intrinsically linked to character ratings. Everyone is judging and being judged. Often having profound impact on livelihoods and access to premium housing and transportation. Any decisions in the negative can seriously cripple someone’s whole life. For one young unfortunate woman, everything spirals out of control when she begins getting disapprovals from those she meets. Often the happiest score the lowest and really don’t care about what anyone thinks, while the most popular and influential elites fight for the highest ratings and often can be seen living glamorous yet superficial and shallow existences. Sound familiar?
Today studies have shown that the people that feel the need to share progress stats, constantly update their images and Instagram feeds, and advertise their career and relationship goals are living vicariously through a projected medium. Some may have depressive or other mental disorders that equal the seriousness of videogame and gambling addictions. The fact that Zuckerberg sees instantaneous thought messaging or computerized telepathy as the future of Facebook makes this episode all the more alarming.
“San Junipero” touches on some things that are still considered uncomfortable or even taboo; the biggest being talking about and accepting death. A woman who has been paralyzed for life seeks refuge in a virtual world. Through her experiences she meets a lover and considers staying in San Junipero forever, her mind code uploaded to the city’s core. Through all of this she escapes death and the fear of what comes next – subjects that we as humans are never able to completely come to terms with.
In Mitch Albom’s true story bestseller, Tuesday’s with Morrie, the writer’s rabbi asks him to write his eulogy. Powerful conversations emerge. Instead of shying away from the subject of death and the weakening of illness, the rabbi embraces the realities of it and explores what it all means. Yet another topic San Junipero touches on that’s considered a matter of disinterest in our largely secular world is the concept of the afterlife. Characters in this episode have the opportunity to bypass death and the great unknown. We have discussed these things for centuries, but no one really knows where we go after mortality breathes its last. Interestingly enough, Stephen Hawking said that not only does the afterlife not exist, but the idea of a self-creating, non-divine created universe is possible. While that may be a novel notion, one can’t help feel trapped by something that devalues our humanness by unnaturally prolonging our lives.
“USS Callister” is a sure-fire contender for one of the best recent episodes to air. In ‘Callister’, we witness what happens when an awkward man is socially shunned and rejected unfairly at his workplace. Why is it so powerful? Aside from all the Star Trek nods and gamer references, it is essentially about coping with loneliness. It asks us to consider what does a person do if they have nothing in their lives but their loneliness. Some seek escapism in drugs or entertainment, but for Robert Daly it fuels an anger and cruelty that almost seems primordial.
Narratives of the ‘loner’ number in the thousands. We’ve seen it recreated on the big screen with movies like Taxi Driver, High Noon, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The tales of the outcast are largely popular and many of us in some way or another relate and see ourselves in these characters. The social outcast is considered a powerful character motivator which is still explored in the Horizon: Zero Dawn videogame and the Divergent series. That wanting to belong has existed ever since civilized societies began. We yearn to be part of intimate groups, brotherhoods and sisterhoods, were we can find others of like minds and be accepted.