Many of the most recent world events, like the election of Trump during the last term and a global pandemic, have been foreshadowed by TV shows, most infamously, The Simpsons. Recently, the spotlight has been on a TV show called Black Mirror, which seems to be revealing the unspoken side of technological advances, making the audience question the extent to which we rely on technology and the possibility of it going out of our hands.
Black Mirror is a sci-fi British series on Netflix that talks about the impacts of technology on our lives by setting each episode in a different reality with different characters who attempt to tackle issues from different types of technology. In episode one of the third season, “Nosedive,” the plot is based on a social rating application that urges people to be at their very best and pleasant in a social setting. Moreover, the citizens get to rate each other and use it based on specific social actions. Charlie Brooker, the creator and writer of the series, said in a video feature that it “is a satire on acceptance and the image of ourselves we like to portray.”
While watching this episode, many thought it was a built-up reality. However, after a bit of research, I realized it was not. It has been the reality for many Chinese citizens since 2009. China has been using this system in an application called Zhima Credit, which uses big data to track and rank what citizens do—from their purchases to their pastimes to their mistakes—to give people ratings similar to a credit rating. This nuanced rating system highly impacts people’s daily and future lives. For example, it will allow citizens with a higher rating to rent a car without a deposit, while those with lower scores may find themselves on no-fly lists and banned from other forms of travel.
China is most commonly known for its extreme authoritarianism and its economic prosperity. Here are some examples of the strict nature of the regime in China. For instance, in Hong Kong, a new law on security has emerged. The details of the law’s 66 articles were kept secret until after it was passed. It criminalizes any act of secession, breaking away from the country, subversion, undermining the power or authority of the central government, terrorism, and using violence or intimidation against people in collusion with foreign or external forces.
Censorship in China is not new. However, this application is extreme. Authorities in the eastern city of Suzhou, west of Shanghai, introduced a new function designed to measure a person’s civic performance. The new Sucheng Wenmingma, which translates into Suzhou Civility Code, aims to encourage people to follow traffic rules, take part in voluntary services, sort their trash, and do other things that make them model citizens in the eyes of the government. The code is accessed via a smartphone app. However, the government’s defense and line of reasoning are a front to hide the true purpose of this app: to limit civil liberties and maintain government control. The creation of this new application is tightening the authoritarian grip that the officials have on citizens.
The moral of the story of Nosedive is that your social status is all you need to be happy and successful. In the episode, the characters that have a high rating are the most successful and come off as the happiest. The meaning outside the episode is that being fake and hiding your true personality will not lead you to true happiness. At the end of the episode, one of the main characters, Lacie, gets imprisoned, but she is truly set free because she is no longer confined to society. Could this foreshadow the freedom of Chinese citizens in the future? Based on past events and recent politics, that seems highly unlikely. The episode broadens the viewer’s perspective by demonstrating that the world that the television show depicts is not made up and that the characters may not be either. More importantly, the episode is a warning of what our society is heading towards.