Black Mirror: Sex, Lies and Memory Chips

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“The Entire History of You” At the dawn of a new year, it is a natural time to reflect on the past. In light of new technologies, the depth and manner in which we record and evoke our memories are evolving.  Black Mirror’s 3rd episode explores how a complete record of our lives could impact our futures.

In its synopsis for the British television anthology, Netflix references The Twilight Zone but what’s exceptionally eerie is that the circumstances supporting each storyline is based on technology that is either contemporary or not a huge stretch from our current devices. Indeed, “The Entire History of You” is not a huge stretch.

Since recording devices and social media are integrated more and more in our daily existence, many of us are coming closer to building -and sharing- “The Entire History of (Ourselves)”. In the episode’s dystopian alternative, this integration is taken to the ultimate level; many people have had a memory chip implanted behind their ears that records the person’s visual and auditory experiences throughout every minute of every day. With unlimited data storage, the user can pull up any particular event in their lives to personally review or project it for others. (Not for nothing, it is creepy when the host’s pupils shift into a zombie like stare as the characters play their memory clips.)

The protagonist's wife brings up an event from her memory chip.
The protagonist’s wife brings up an event from her memory chip in the Black Mirror.

This story revolves around a couple in their thirties and, much like with Facebook, it is awkwardly received when one of their peers says that they never opted for a memory chip or, even stranger, choose to have one removed.

Initially, the memory recall is generally innocuous. In an early scene it’s used as entertainment at a dinner party to revel in a night out. The memory chip only has a hint of negativity at the beginning when the main character, Liam, stresses over the conclusion of a job interview in his taxi ride home and then is pressured to share his concerns by way of replaying the meeting for his peers at the party.

However, as the storyline unfolds into the following morning, Liam becomes bothered by his perception of flirtation between his wife and another guest, her supposedly short lived beau of years past, and begins ruminating over his ‘film’ of the dinner. Adding to its antagonistic elements within the plot’s development, the chip’s recordings can be repeatedly rewound, fast forwarded, paused, zoomed in and deleted. In addition, the host can even garner dubbing for conversations that were originally out of their earshot.

From there, our tragic protagonist quickly strings together more clues about his wife’s possible unfaithfulness through his own recall and forcing others’ to watch and replay events from their own databank.

No, I’m not going to give away the ending, but it is a cautionary tale to consider as we enter a world where recording and sharing is becoming ever more ubiquitous. At the same time, scientists are developing pills to engender memory loss geared towards trauma survivors that brings The Giver to mind.

By and large, we as a species are drawn to this tension between selectively preserving and destroying memories for a whole host of reasons. In this season of reminiscing, for better or for worse, it’s a good time to ask where we will draw the line in constructing and deconstructing our past. At some point, is it better to let some of our memories become mere whispers of themselves or let them be rendered with a rosier tint as our brains are apt to do? What about the spirit of living in the now?

As the traditional New Years’ song, “Auld Lang Syne” (R. Burns), asks:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?”

(Translation:

“Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago !”)

“The Entire History of You,” in full, living color. Do you really want it?

Please comment below!

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