Nosedive: A Cautionary Tale

The Black Mirror episode Nosedive introduces viewers to an alternate reality, where virtual self-marketing plays a central role in one's life and where the line between online and offline personas is increasingly blurred. This grey area is primarily attributed to the lens each individual is fitted with, which allows them to grasp a more holistic view of a person's status – an amalgamation of their digital and real-life social standing - through a rating from one to five. The rating system is the determining factor for many aspects of a citizen's life, including their job, social circle, mobility, and class. Even though everyone can give a rating, the system appears to be fraudulently arranged, as ratings given by elite members of society - "quality people" – have a greater impact. Although seemingly futuristic, the episode appears to be a critique of class relations and the increasing social networking sites' increasing ability to shape one's reality.

The world is shown through rose-colored glasses, where an eerily, cheery, and orderly mood pervades all aspects of the protagonist, Lacie's life, as well as the lives of the people around her. As the episode progresses, the dialogue's robotic nature becomes increasingly apparent, where most verbal interactions appear staged or like excerpts taken from text messages with acquaintances or mutual friends – where just enough decorum is maintained to keep an amicable relationship. However, the conscious exchanges between coworkers and calculated demeanor play a much larger role than merely keeping awkward work encounters at bay – as appearances and one's social circle are utilized as a currency and determine one's mobility. This is seen through Lacie's struggles with "playing the numbers game," where she tries to climb the social ladder through polite exchanges to improve her "Repertoire Analytics" to purchase a home. Unfortunately, she shortly realizes that improving her ranking is an uphill battle, where even though those at the top can assist her by increasing her social credit with no material cost, they look the other way.

At first, the episode appears like an exaggerated version of our reality, where our monetary system is restructured around social credit, and an Instagram-like platform determines our mobility. At a glance, such a system seems to be an easy enough way of acquiring status: be nice to your coworkers, generously tip your cab driver, do not budge in line, love thy neighbor, and so on. However, as the episode progresses, it appears to be a commentary of capitalism's cynicism, where even though those on top have the means to boost lower classes, they choose to circulate the wealth among themselves - exposing the discriminatory nature of what appears to be a free-for-all system. Moreso, Nosedive reveals, there are many consequences to a system that revolves around social policing, as everyone has the ability to up or downvote you, on whichever basis they so choose. Hence, an individual's scoring method could be affected by how you treat someone, what you're wearing, and numerous factors in-between. Perhaps inadvertently, the system also endorses a vigilante-style justice, where members of society have the power to decide not only the quality of one's life but whether or not an individual will be exiled altogether. Ultimately, social credit also speaks to compliance and social media – the praise that one tends to receive for adhering to social norms and the lack of relevance or invisibility one experiences for doing the opposite.

Nosedive cautions viewers of how surveillance and social pressure can pervade and shape one's life and the risks that come with an increasingly public existence, where anyone can weigh in. Through Lacie, we are shown how social orthodoxy and fear of ostracization keeps us from stepping out of bounds that are not otherwise regulated – especially in a time where digital footprints will follow us to the ends of the earth, merging our online and offline identities. Part of what makes the episode so frightening is how many believe such a reality is not far off; with data holders like Zuckerberg enforcing the idea that privacy is a thing of the past, citizens are forced to slowly normalize the notion of overlap between public and private lives. The 1984-esque episode can also be linked to Glenn Greenwald's stance on why privacy matters: simply the knowledge of being monitored can drastically limit the "behavioral options" an individual considers. These self-expression constraints are evident in how Lacie finally speaks without filter and poise after her lenses are removed, and she is locked up for her astronomical downvotes. Although she is physically confined, she is visibly freer than the people functioning in society, as she no longer has to fuss over pleasing watchful eyes.

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