I, like a lot of other people recently binge-watched the latest season of Black Mirror. If you’re one of the lucky few who have somehow abstained or even better, know nothing about it, let me fill you in. It’s a show that explores a dystopian future where technology is ultimately the nail in the coffin of our already failing society – it’s enough to make you log off. Some of the best episodes have been about people trolled into killing each other via iMessage, or masses of people around the world being murdered by robotic bees because of a trending hashtag. And the one that shook me the most: a future where you’re rated on your appearance, demeanour, small talk, and likeability on a universally used app, kind of like Uber but for people. Good ratings lead to nice seats on planes, bad ratings leave you ostracised and potentially jailed.
It’s not the dystopian future we’re used to Hollywood selling us; you know the one with hover boards, silver clothing, and oddly shaped eyebrows. In fact, it’s so eerily believable it can leave you feeling deflated and incredibly suspicious of webcams everywhere. What I did was highly unrecommendable. I watched all six episodes back-to-back and followed that up by watching Snowden the very next day. Snowden, of course is the very dramatised depiction of old mate Edward Snowden exposing the NSA from within, only to reveal everyone’s worst fear – the government really is spying on us.
I live a lot of my life on the internet. I have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Messenger, Pinterest, VK, Kik, Whatsapp, Viber, and Wickr on my phone, plus I have my own website that links to other things like my Soundcloud and a grainy video of me DJing. Compared to the average person with an internet connection, this isn’t by any means excessive. While I’ve never been fazed in the slightest by how easily accessible I am online, the past few weeks have had me wondering whether it’s time to reconsider what I post, where I post it, and why.
Edward Snowden revealing to the world that the NSA is spying on us wasn’t enough for me in 2013, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s dramatisation as the (very cute) whistle blower certainly got me thinking —we all have deep dark secrets, and when you couple that with a ‘that will never happen to me’ mindset, it’s easy to become complacent. Complacency when it comes to your personal information and privacy is easy and I will reluctantly admit, that sums me up quite well. I don’t have much money, so I don’t give a shit about covering my pin at an ATM. I don’t have a passcode on my phone and I don’t use a VPN. I never thought I was important enough to be spied on, so I didn’t care.
It’s not as though hours of Netflix and chill (by myself) has led to some sort of misplaced self-importance, but to a fear I had not experienced ’til now.
There is something revolting about the way people are shackled to their phones in Black Mirror but upon a split second of self-reflection, I’m no different to them. I’m on my phone so much that sometimes I get headaches. Even then I don’t want to be anything like the miserable characters in the show, so I’m trying to keep off my phone as much as possible. It’s not working.
Snowden explores how while the NSA watches the ‘bad guys’ through the internet, if you fall within 7 degrees of separation to them, or their siblings, or their friends, or their primary school BFF who they last saw in 1995, they have full reign to watch over you too.
So here I am, at my laptop, my webcam covered with masking tape, wondering whether it’s time for me to log off? Then I think, that even if I did, I’m already Googleable, there are at least five fake accounts using my photos pretending to be me and who knows, maybe there’s a nude floating about on a forum somewhere. If someone intends to spy on me, steal my identity or worse, want to smear my name, all the required information is out there, ironed and laid out neatly ready for the taking. There’s no undo button, there’s no CTRL+Z for this particular dilemma. Just the very heavy realisation that it is possibly too late to reel this one back in.
I don’t want to end up having my hand permanently attached to my phone, or let it ultimately lead to not only my own but the rest of the world’s demise. Maybe we’re already there and Black Mirror actually is just a mirror into our own reality? Maybe someone slipped something into the brownie I just ate? Or maybe this is Edward Snowden’s ultimate wish – for us to all be more discerning, careful, and critical of who wants our information and more importantly why.
Logic usually stops me in my tracks, like, “bitch hold up, what have you got that’s worth stealing?” because on a surface level I have nothing. Nevertheless, if my privacy was snatched from me, I would be devastated. If my self worth was gone, because of an app, I’d be heartbroken. If my darkest secrets were revealed, I’d be humiliated and I’d be a damn fool not to protect all of that, right? If I lost all of that because of a few complacent keystrokes I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.
Whether we need to start moving more of our URL selves back to IRL or stop the constant live stream of our daily existences, I’m unsure, but I have a feeling neither will work. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else worries about this, or if I’ve made my way into ‘that group’ of people who stand by conspiracies about UFO, steal beams, and jet fuel. I can log off and spend the rest of my days appreciating sunsets without taking photos of them, but what can’t I do? I can’t log my brain off from being hyper aware of the consequences of living my life online – but I’m not sure how to stop either. Let’s just say it hasn’t kept me from tweeting about my secret crushes.
Kish Lal is a contributor for ACCLAIM. She’s a lady on the streets and lacks impulse control in the tweets. Don’t @ her – @futuristickish