Season 5 of Netflix’s popular show, Black Mirror, aired on June 5th and after only seeing one out of the three episodes, I’m already shook. Episode 2, Smithereens, takes us through the roller coaster of peaks and valleys that technology brings into our lives on a day-to-day basis.
From the jump we see the positives: how ride shares give people cheap alternatives of transportation, how quickly we can connect to our loved ones whether they’re near or far, etc. However, this peak quickly declines into the deep valley that is our society’s addiction to social media and our cell phones.
While Chris (Andrew Scott), the main character, sits at a coffee shop, he is triggered by the amount of people zoned into their phone. Other than the baristas, no one is really talking because everyone else is too engaged with what’s going on, on their phones; people, places, and events, that exist anywhere outside of where they are currently sitting. Descending deeper into the episode, we see more dangers unravel due to the all-consuming beast, technology. Jaden (Damson Idris), an intern at the company Smithereen, got into Chris’s ride share car to get a ride to what he thought was going to be the airport. However, due to the fact that Jaden never even looked up from his phone to see that Chris was driving anywhere but the airport, he ends up on a dirt road beneath the highway, kidnapped. Maybe if he had been aware of the road around him, the person behind the wheel, or the fact that Chris had switched his GPS route, he would have figured out what was going on and escaped. Skipping farther into the episode, viewers listen to details of Chris’s story that pushed him to do all of this in the first place. He tells the story of how looking at his social media app, Smithereens, caused him to not see the other driver on the road late at night. This distraction ending up killing the other driver, his sleeping fiancé in the seat beside him, and all his happiness for years to come. The other driver was drunk and all blame was put on him for the accident, but Chris knew that he was truly the culprit. The parallel of the drunk driver to the distracted driver goes to show that whether you’re drunk, or you’re on your phone, the damage is the same. Not to mention that after hearing Chris’s confession, Billy Bauer (That 70’s Show’s, Topher Grace), Smithereen’s founder responded by saying that the app has a whole “engagement team”. This team’s job is to research and create new ways for the app to trigger our brain’s dopamine sensors and create addictive-like feelings so that we constantly crave it. Bauer goes so far as calling the app a “crack pipe”.
Does all of this seem a little dramatic and far-fetched? A little, sure. But isn’t it all too realistic at the same time? When’s the last time you checked your phone at a stoplight or looked at your phone to “just change the song” while driving? When’s the last time you participated in a ride share app and trusted the driver to get you where you needed to go, in turn, allowing you to let your guard down and not pay attention?
Even more obvious than the last two, when is the last time you checked your phone today, for whatever reason?
The only thing that’s scarier than all of this, came at the end of the episode after the gunshot rung and led viewers to believe that Chris had been killed. Before the gunshot, there was constant streaming of this kidnapping event, Netflix viewers lingering in the suspense of if Chris would kill Jaden and eventually talk to Bauer, etc. After the gunshot though? All the people binging the story on social media, sending tweets, and snapping photos, got the last little “ding” notification in their pocket that Chris was dead. But was this significant? Nope. They peered at it for all of 2 seconds and then went on with their normal activities. Actors or real time Netflix viewers, this whole event, this whole episode, just another blip in our entertainment for the day.
Season 5, Episode 2, Smithereens definitely poses as a “black mirror” of the everyday reality of our society, and that’s hard hitting. But even more hard hitting is wondering if our society will ever take a good, long look into that mirror and realize we need to make a change.