Innovations in technology, as seen in Netflix’s Black Mirror, could make it possible to see everything our partner has done and relive every argument…would you want to?
Like many of my friends and co-workers, I have recently succumbed to the dark and disturbing British sci-fi TV series, Black Mirror, on Netflix. The series, set in the near future, explores how modern life and relationships are affected by the ever-expanding role that technology plays in our world. Yes, all the gadgets and gizmos we’ve grown to depend on add so much convenience and power to our lives; but, they also come with consequences to our privacy, dignity, and freedom!
I’ve just started to scratch the surface of the mirror, and won’t deny that I’ve already been horrified by some of what I’ve seen; but, it is so thought-provoking!
One episode, in particular, really makes me wonder about how certain very probable inventions could impact marriage. Episode three of season one, The Entire History of You, depicts a world so like our own where most citizens employ small memory devices, implanted just behind the ear, that record all events from one’s life.
The story follows the married couple, Liam and Fi, through daily life and how they and their social circle have come to depend on using their memory implants to obsessively replay and analyze past conversations, relationships, and events. In some ways, the devices are so useful because they help the wearer to recall forgotten information, like a name, or assess how a job interview went. The user is able to play past events back over and over, zoom in to study body language or background details, and use that information to improve future efforts.
As with every convenience, there is a dark side!
Private memories are routinely uploaded to large screens for crowds of onlookers to analyze, police and employers can probe the contents of individual minds to judge thoughts or deeds, and personal relationships endure the grueling replay of arguments and conversations. While a user can erase select memories, missing chunks of time from one’s database is looked upon as suspicious.
Some individuals, as unfolds in the story, hold on to sensitive memories, such as the steamy scenes from a past affair to relish them for future personal pleasure. At other times, such memories were recorded and stored, documenting infidelity and other offenses, then used later as evidence of those misdeeds.
This combination of events is where we join Liam and Fi’s tale. The couple’s relationship begins to crumble as Liam suspects that Fi has been unfaithful, and drives himself mad scrutinizing scene after scene of their past conversations and interactions with her suspected lover.
I felt his agony as I watched him wonder about the way she gazed at her affair partner, laughed at his jokes, and softened in his presence as compared to how curt and disinterested she acted around her husband. I imagined how valuable the memory implant would have been to me during my first marriage and how much I would have savored the opportunity to scan, relive, and review moments from our marriage when I was blissfully blind to the affair he had with my friend, right under my nose!
Oh, to study their body language toward each other, decipher their verbal exchanges, and catch our problems before they got out of hand! What I wouldn’t have given, at that time, to have a way to see for myself what was really going on. I thought he loved me and would never betray me! I thought she was my friend and a decent person! What did my eyes and ears miss that could have spared me the pain and humiliation of their affair?
I yearned for an implant, like Liam’s, then I thought better of it. Memories are important. Knowing the truth is priceless. But, once the past has occurred, it should remain in the past. Once a deed had been processed or forgiven, it shouldn’t be repeatedly and painfully be brought into the present for re-examination. In the height of Liam (or my) discovery, the memory device served to force the truth to the surface; but, it was also damaging to the couple’s relationship.
When we obsess over bad things that have occurred in our relationships (whether we have the technology to actually replay video of those events or not) we become trapped in a whirlpool of negativity.
The cycle of bad thoughts circles around and around, pulling us deeper into worry, doubt, anger, pain, and every other torturous emotion. As if it wasn’t bad enough to live the experience once, rumination forces us to relive the agony as many times as we entertain the thought.
It’s not healthy to fixate on the past to the extent that it becomes more important than the present or prevents us from living and enjoying life today. I can believe that a device, such as the memory implant depicted in Black Mirror could become a reality. Imagine the implications that audio and video of every event in a person’s life could have for criminal matters, and so much more! As technology advances, however, we have to be careful to understand how such a record of every life event is not only amazing and innovative but an invitation to unhappiness.
I’ve lived through and survived divorce. I could fixate on critical moments of the implosion of my marriage until it drove me mad. I think we all start to go down this road when betrayed by someone we love or enduring a trial in our lives.
Some reflection into our life’s mirror is necessary to help us learn from the events and evaluate what we need to change in the future. What we cannot do is slip into the hypnotic pool of blackness that will swallow up every ounce of hope, trust, or resilience within us. Gaze into the black mirror, but do so at your own risk!