Recently, I have been following a series on Netflix called Black Mirror showing a disturbing future in which humans rely on technology.
One episode I’ve watched is Nosedive where your entire life is measured by ratings you get from others on social media – a 5-stars is the highest you can achieve. The higher in social media ranking you are, the more well off you’ll be, from getting that dream apartment to gaining access to places for social media famous and elite circles. You rank people after every interaction you have with them.
The protagonist, Lacie, spent her day curating her profile to climb that social media ladder. She put effort into publishing ‘picture-perfect’ photos to make her mundane life much more exciting as if she was living her dream. In this world, you are forced to always put on a smile and appear happy to everyone and at everything, because if you don’t, your social ratings will be degraded. Lacie gave everyone she met five stars, despite not liking the person or service they offered, with hope for a five-star in return.
Despite all her efforts, her rating remained at 4.2 while she needed at least 4.5 to get her dream apartment. She went to a “coach/psychologist” who advised her to seek endorsement from social media celebrities to boost her profile. She eventually got attention from her childhood friend, a social media star, who then asked Lacie to be her bridesmaid and give a speech at her wedding. During her journey to the wedding, Lacie stumbled upon several setbacks that degraded her rating to below 3. She met strangers who then gave her one star for no reason, despite not having talked to her, simply because they saw that she had bad rating.
The episode ended with Lacie in prison, having her social media filter taken off her eyes. She could finally see the world for what it really was for the first time and express things she wasn’t allowed to say before.
Black Mirror’s Nosedive highlights perfectly how social media has distorted our world. A few weeks ago I was planning to write about Instagram, the worst social media platform for mental health.
There is a tremendous pressure on Instagram to put on perfectly curated content, both photos and texts to get more likes and followers. This is what you need to do if you want to boost your profile and become insta-famous. You will find people who publish their unrealistic glamorous lifestyle, such as yoga teachers wearing cool, chic and trendy yoga clothes that cost more than 200 USD and posing in various exotic locations, while inadvertently quoting inspirational sayings about being happy and true to yourself. When you dig deeper or meet them in real life, you’ll probably find a different story. The clothes they wear are gifts from their sponsors and their social media photos are indirect marketing of the products. The photos they post are in no way spontaneous. They are all planned, with camera setup to capture the perfect lighting and angle as well as hours of editing both photos and texts.
Another aspect of our current world that was reflected in the episode was the five-star rating system and people giving bad rating to one person even though they do not know the person at all. The five-star rating system reminds me of Uber and AirBnB. I guess in a way it forces service providers to offer excellent customer services. I personally find Uber drivers much more polite and friendlier than normal taxi drivers. Uber drivers also drive more carefully as they want to maintain their star ratings. With Uber and AirBnB you can find good services as a customer and as a service provider, you can also rate your customers and keep out those with low ratings.
However, there is a catch. Ratings can be subjective on both sides. Think about if you have had a bad day. While the other person has done nothing wrong to ruin your day further, you give that person low rating anyways as a way to release your anger and frustration. It sounds really unfair but things like this do happen. Hosts on AirBnB are pressured to maintain a 4.7 star rating to achieve a Superhost status. While 5 is considered ‘Excellent’ on AirBnB and 4 is ‘Good’, nothing below 5 is actually acceptable. This is an unwritten rule well known to those who are familiar with this platform. Once you give someone 4 stars or less, it means you do not want to see that person or return to his or her place again. For hotels, I bet you’d be happy to stay in either a 4-star or 5-star hotel at reasonable prices.
What about giving bad rating to a person you have never met? I call this ‘crowd effect’ – monkeys do what monkeys see. Here is an example: Early this year in Vietnam, there was a rumor that went viral on Facebook: mother and baby died immediately after the mother decided to give a ‘natural’ birth at home alone all by herself. An unidentified person originally spread the rumor. Within 24 hours, the news reached millions of people in Vietnam. It became headlines in almost every news agency. TV channels invited health experts and hosted debates and discussions regarding ‘natural birth at home’. The day after, the police issued a statement: there was no such case. People, even major newspapers, reacted without proper investigation of whether this was fake news or not.
As Daniel Kahneman described in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, most of us act based on intuition, prejudicially presuming our intuition is correct, instead of using rational thinking to proper understand and evaluate the situation. Rational thinking is much more time consuming and exhausting for the brain. Look for comments on Facebook beneath a controversial news headline. The media is really doing a good job in writing catchy, attention-seeking title while their content may indicate something else. Browse through these comments and you will easily find who actually read the article and who have not.
I am not against social media or new technological invention. I think they are excellent. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram help businesses reach their customers more easily and effectively. AirBnB and Uber provide customers with great experience. I wonder, though, how our world would eventually turn out to be. Would it be like in Black Mirror where our mere existence is completely defined by technology? Would my generation be the last generation that understands what it was like to have a real conversation face-to-face? Only time will tell. I believe we, who are users of technology, have the responsibility to shape and define it for our future generations. What do you think?