What do Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale and Back to the Future aII have in common? You won’t like the punchline for this one.
Each of these popular media texts portray future worlds that, at first glance, appear to be entirely fictional. Dig a little deeper and the similarities between these worlds and our potential future are enough to creep anyone out.
Let’s start off light, eh?
Black Mirror is a British science fiction anthology series that’s been hailed for being dark, discussion-provoking and oddly satisfying. Each episode focuses on a potentially disastrous piece of technology and how humans manipulate and use it for their own gratification, revenge or sheer curiosity.
In a world where cat fishing has its own TV series, cyber bullying is at an all-time high, and nude photos are being leaked from the cloud, it’s not a huge jump to assume that technology could be the demise of us all. But let’s get into the nitty gritty.
In Nosedive (S3, E1) characters use a social rating system to score their peers based on real-time interactions. Each character has a permanent contact lens implanted, that allows them to see everyone’s ranking as they pass by. The lower your ranking, the worse it is to be seen with you. Sound spookily familiar? Well it should. ‘Cause this episode is just a walking and talking version of our fave procrastination past-time, Instagram.
Unlike Nosedive, Instagram doesn’t track our every interaction. For now, the app heavily showcases the highlight reels, travel photos and avo toast brunches in people’s lives to convince followers that they truly have their shit together.
Similarly, influencers and brands use Instagram to push their messages and promote products through a curated and aesthetically pleasing feed. Let’s face it, they’re not going to show their boozy Christmas party on Insta stories and risk ruining the following and engagement that takes so long to build and maintain.
Sober Insta-lives are bad enough, thanks.
The amount of followers, likes and engagement on personal and professional Instagram accounts can also have a huge impact on the psychology and social status of users. According to the United Kingdom’s #StatusOfMind survey of almost 1500 young people (ages 14 – 24), the platform is associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO.
Brands like Marc Jacobs and Vivien Models have also begun to cast talent based on their Instagram influence. This creates an added pressure for professionals to present only the most perfect version of themselves on the feed, or risk being shunned and out of work.
But hey, arguably the best part about Instagram is that you can log off, delete your account and stop caring about the guy from uni who never followed you back (slowly, but surely). You know what you can’t log out of? China.
In 2018 the Chinese government revealed plans for a system much more parallel to Nosedive. It will be used to connect a citizen’s financial, social, political and legal rating to one social trustability score.
Currently, eight private companies have created pilot “credit databases” to compile information about individuals. Amongst these companies, people with high ratings can rent bikes or cars without leaving a deposit, skip lines at hospitals and even display their ratings on dating websites to enhance their dateability.
In response to widespread criticism and debate over the system, the Chinese government released a document which said:
“Accelerating the construction of a social credit system is an important basis for comprehensively implementing the scientific development view and building a harmonious Socialist society.”
So apparently we’re halfway there. As for the permanent contact lens? Samsung’s got us sorted on that one. In 2016, the South-Korean brand patented a smart contact lens that can take a picture with just the blink of an eye. Eventually, these lenses will seek to create an augmented reality by overlaying internet-connected services directly into the user’s vision. Kind of like that episode of Black Mirror, hey? Spooky stuff.
My hope for the future before researching this article vs now.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Don’t get your hopes up, we’re still screwed.
The TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, a 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, shows us an even darker side of the future – where classism, racism and the complete disregard for women’s rights are at an all time high. Set in the ‘near’ future, the series portrays the USA, led by a totalitarian dictatorship named ‘Gilead’.
After fertility rates collapsed due to a huge spike in environmental pollution and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Gilead took over and created a society where women are not allowed to work, handle money, own property or even read.
But that could never happen to us, right? Wrong.
According to health data from the NSW Kirby Institute, the number of gonorrhoea cases in Australia (reported annually) has increased by over 50 per cent over the past decade. Likewise, cases of syphilis have more than tripled and cases of chlamydia have increased by 43 per cent in this time. With the increase of the Earth’s temperature and recent freak-out surrounding plastic, it’s not a big stretch to imagine all of these issues causing us some big problems.
And what do ya know – the birth rates in Aus are also on a steady decline. Eeeeek. The ABS statistics from 2016 showed Australia’s fertility rates sitting at 1.79 babies per woman in the total population, down from a 30-year-high of 2.02 back in 2008. The problem with this? In order to achieve a self-sustaining rate in Australia (enough babies to replace a mother and her partner), the ABS believes we need to have an average figure of 2.1.
So, we’re slowly on the way to lower fertility rates, but it’s pretty widely believed that no first-world, political figure would EVER be able to push for the intense border control, oppression of the LGBTQ+ community and complete disregard for women’s rights that’s seen in The Handmaid’s Tale. That is, unless they were elected as the President of the United States of America.
The similarities between Trump’s “build a wall” campaign and Gilead’s border crisis are hard to ignore. Both powerful governments are guilty of imprisoning refugees and separating children from their families as they attempt to migrate.
Although Trump has signed an executive order to end family separations, thousands of children remain imprisoned and alone in the US led refugee camps. As the US/Mexico border crisis worsens, scenes of Gilead’s strict migration rules are beginning to ring a little too true.
To make matters worse, Trump’s recent memo promoting a ban of transgender people in the military and history of attacks on women’s figures, intelligence levels and independence could probably pass as deleted scenes.
Back to the Future II
It ain’t all bad.
Before I leave you sobbing into your pillow in fear of the world turning to trash, it’s probably best to touch on a lighter portrayal of our future (or in this case, our past).
Back to the Future II (BTF: II) was the second instalment of the famous sci-fi trilogy directed by Robert Zemeckis. The movie shows wide-eyed, unexpected teammates, Marty McFly and Doc Brown, travelling to 2015, where a villain steals Doc’s DeLorean time machine and alters history for the worse.
Although the movie’s portrayal of 2015 wasn’t 100% accurate (no sign of Miley..what’s good?), its technological foresight was definitely on the right track.
Personal drones? We got ‘em. Unlike in the BTF:II depiction, they can’t quite walk your dog yet, but personal and recreational drones are being used for a tonne of other things. As well as creating cinematic footage and taking “dronies,” (the new version of selfies, don’t ask), the devices have also been known to assist in proposals, deliver prescription drugs and serve alcohol at clubs.
Fingerprint recognition? Yeah, we have that too. If you’ve snagged yourself an Apple product since 2013 (and let’s face it, your old one probably went wacky as soon as these came out), then you’ve probably used your fingerprint to save the time and effort it takes to type in a passcode. Just as in BTF: II, fingerprint recognition is also now used to unlock homes and retrieve bank account information. Nutso.
And what about the almighty hoverboard? Perhaps the most iconic prop in the 1989 flick just so happens to be one of the major technologies we haven’t quite perfected. That said, a startup company called Arx Parx has created the Hendo, a hoverboard prototype personally tested by Tony Hawke that has successfully raised off the ground for seven minutes.
Likewise, Lexus’ prototype version also had lift off but requires “liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductors and permanent magnets,” to hover. At this rate, it doesn’t look like we’ll be cruising around the town square with anything except our two feet.
In the end, I’m not sure any script writer would be able to predict what the future will bring for our increasingly modernised world. But freaky rating systems, a complete loss of women’s rights and a funky form of transport certainly don’t seem too far out of reach anymore. We can only hope that the next episode of real life is a little less creepy than these screenplays… a little more Ryan Reynolds rom-com and a little less end-of-the-world sci-fi drama, pls.