Nosediving into Subtle Societal Criticisms

One might say the entire point of the Black Mirror is to make viewers see themselves as characters, causing them to critically examine the role which technology plays in their lives. As a fan of the series, I can’t recall a single episode which I felt completely comfortable while watch. Nosedive is no exception. During the episode, I felt uneasy watching the awkward, clearly forced interactions between Lacie and random strangers. While not the series’ best episode, Nosedive paints a not-so-crazy picture of what can happen when app that lets users review other users get out of hand. In the episode’s dystopian setting, it seems that no interaction between people is genuine; many of the characters do their best to appear pleasant in order to heighten their score on the unnamed app. What’s more, users’ scores on the app are corelated to their social standing and can be used to determine things like rent rate, airplane seating and even preference for life-saving organ transplants.

Much of the episode appears to be critical of such a system where people can rate their interactions with other people. In fact, there is an application called “Peeple” where users can rate other users and even post reviews; the company even called its app the “Yelp for people.” Soon after the company announced the app in 2015, it was met with a slew of harsh criticism by people who saw the platform as one for cyberbullying. Defenders of the idea say that the app would create an incentive for people to improve their character and thus improve overall quality of life for others around them. Eventually, Peeple was released with major modifications to its original idea in early 2016. Nosedive was released later that year and appears to have drawn some inspiration from the app. I wonder what the founders of Peeple, Nicole McCullough and Julia Cordray, would say about the Black Mirror episode.

Additionally, I noticed some other, more subtle societal criticism. One of the scenes that struck me was Lacie’s meeting with the realtor during which she was informed that she would need a 4.5/5 rating or above to qualify for a program that would reduce the rent by 20%. In a sense, the app’s rating system is like a modern-day credit score. People with low scores tend to pay more for the same housing product. However, the credit score is based in past credit transactions that would logically be able to predict the future behavior of a lessee. The app accounts for only social status and others’ qualitative ratings. I believe that the writers of the show were trying to paint the credit score system in a critical light. It is true that a single bad financial decision can haunt a person for decades, often without their knowledge. But there is some benefit to the system as it prevents landlords and banks from getting defrauded. Contrary to popular belief, it is in the bank’s best interest for you not to default!

Another interesting moment for me was the conversation Lacie had with the truck driver whose husband was denied a live-saving experimental procedure because he had only a 4.3 rating (the man whose life was saved had a 4.4). This brings to mind the transplant waiting list, where sick people are ranked using several metrics to determine their eligibility for an immediate organ transplantation. If some needs a liver transplant, that person’s age, disease progression, and alcohol/smoking history can all be taken into account to decide if that person will receive the life-saving procedure. Should this be the case? I would hope that most reasonable people can agree that social standing should not be taken into account (neither should religion, employment status, race or anything similar). This particular issue boils down to a supply and demand problem, but the writers of Nosedive seem to have some subtle criticisms of the process.

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