Black Mirror: Nosedive, Authenticity, and Lost Connections

I just finished watching Black Mirror’s episode called Nosedive, which is an interesting episode about the impact of continually rating people for every social interaction. It explores what happens when someone who was previously a very high rated person has a very bad day. It was, implied that it would happen throughout episode, that everyone was just a series of misfortunate events away from dropping from their current social hierarchy to a lower strata where they’d be unable to function in current society. Ratings indicate which jobs a person can have or not. Dropping too low indicates you’re not worthy of that job and in many cases, network effects and game theory type logic comes into play. Where you have to judge if a low ranking person or a person that’s currently out of favor would negatively impact your image.If that would drop you from a person of respect to a person of disrepute.

This episode made me uncomfortable to watch, because in a lot of ways it feels like it hits close to home as it deals with a major reason why I don’t like social media. I don’t like the constant need for validation through pictures, likes, and comments. I’ve tried to, in general avoid, Facebook lately, because it feels inauthentic, and creepy. Between Facebook, itself, tracking what you do online and partners with companies to track your shopping habits offline. Combing that with the desire to display the best of your life on platforms like Instagram, this can lead to depression.

In many articles it’s because of the fact that you’re comparing your messy every day life to what people are willing to post, which typically represents the best parts of their life. Their happy dogs, walking in a vineyard, going surfing, or some new thing that they bought. Even if you know that you are doing this, doesn’t really help. However, I think there’s a few reasons beyond that. For one, it forces you to live an inauthentic life, which is one of the major themes in the show Nosedive. The character knows she’s putting on a show and clearly has some serious anxiety around behaving that way. Her brother, who lives a more authentic life, doesn’t care as much about his social media score and directly asks for Lacie (the main character) to return to her authentic self (“remember when we had real conversations?”)

Being an inauthentic version of yourself is a type of acting as well pushing down the values you actually believe in. This is something referenced in Lost Connections as a root cause of depression. Where our intrinsic values do not align with society’s values and we must adopt society’s values over our own we become depressed. In the episode it Lacie only became aware that it was a possible to reject those norms when she was picked up by a trucker with a rate of 1.4/5. This woman allowed her to reflect on her experience as her rating declined and bottomed out.

However, it wasn’t until she’d been rejected by the society and put into a prison of sorts that she was able to find a truly authentic interaction. It was rage filled, but eventually became filled with joy as the two people in prison were able to be an authentic version of themselves.

In our society, while we don’t have the intensity portrayed in the episode with social media, it is possible we could move into that direction over time. For us to really have authentic interactions, we need to find people that support us being our authentic selves even when there are people in our lives that might not fully support our decisions. Or people in our lives that make it more difficult to be authentic.

The digital generation – not special when it comes to the internet

I’m reading a book called Build for Change that has a really good message, but the way that the author talks about Generation Y, Millennials, or whatever the hell else the people born from 81-2000 are called. Essentially, he pushes forwards the theory that because we grew up at the same time as computers were truly personalized and in homes, that these folks some how have a better understanding of the internet. That these folks are more self-centered and all about me and thus harder customers to handle than any generation in the past.

Being born around computers doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a deeper connection with the technology. To some extent, since I’m frequently around computers and know how to use them in a lot of different ways, I’m surprised when I hear people my age or younger that don’t get technology. That learning to code is terrifying or how code works is a foreign concept. I’ve also met a lot of people that are older than myself that know as much or more about computers and technology than I do. Some of them are in IT, but some of them, like my Dad, aren’t truly IT specialists. They just understand that technology is a powerful tool and computers are probably the most flexible tool we’ve ever had.

Social media is one of the tools that the author claims all Millennials know how to use. This is a complete and total misconception. Sure, the kids might have a better idea than the parents, but it’s not because the parents can’t understand social media – it’s not hard to learn – they don’t have the time or the desire to learn the tool. Furthermore, just because you’re interested in computers and other digital content doesn’t necessitate an ability to understand how to use social media effectively. After working at AMD I learned first hand that I was one of the few people at the company that truly understood the tools available through social media and I definitely don’t consider myself an expert or sophisticated user of any of the social media platforms. Many of my older co-workers weren’t fluent in any of the networks, but that’s because they had other things that mattered more.

Social networks are to some extent extremely fast word of mouth networks. The difference is that between some users there used to be an intermediary – like a news paper or TV show – that would share the information with interested parties. Now, if you want Jaden Smith’s thoughts on tibetian monks and she happens to tweet about it, you’ll be able to retweet that instantly. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same reach or that all tweet will be treated equally. In fact because there is STILL an intermediary, algorithms, between trending tweets and hashtags, the reach of a given topic isn’t endless.

I’d also argue that the people that will claim they are social media experts, for the most part, are not Millennials, they are Gen Xers or Boomers. This is an obvious result because they are snake oils salesmen and a lot of social media users know they are full of crap.

The choice to be fluent in a given technology platform or “language” isn’t a matter of growing up with it. It’s about making a choice to devote time and energy to the topic. It’s no different than anything else. The big difference between a parent and the kid, is that the Kid has a lot more free time to mess around, while the parent is out working.

Social network patent war?

Today the first salvo has been launched in what will likely be a brutal and bloody patent war in the social networking world. Yahoo! has decided to go after Facebook with several patents which were bought from Friendster a now long defunct social networking site. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts companies that start suing over patents likely have lost their competitive edge. However, I think this is going to have long reaching impacts.

Facebook will likely try to find something they can use to counter-sue Yahoo! Which I believe will open a huge can of worms. A large number of companies have put forth effort into creating social networks and there are companies that are built on top of those networks. Essentially, this is an entire ecosystems of companies and products that interconnect and work together. Until now, it has been rather peaceful except for a few angry words tossed back and forth.

I’m not really aware of what patents are out there for these types of sites, however, it is likely that all the major companies are going to be scrambling for patents. Some of the companies involved have already been in patents wars, Google for example. I don’t think Google is going to sit by and allow other companies to attack them the way that Apple has gone after Android. This would be an extremely foolish business move so, I think it makes sense for Google to actively defend (attack) competing firms by acquiring patents and aggressively targeting firms that may be infringing.

Apple has also tried to get into the social networking side of things with their Ping network. Based on their previous patenting strategies, it seems likely that they have built their own war chest of patents and we know how Apple likes to use them.

Yes, much of this is simply speculation. However, as the entire ecosystem of social media and networks have developed into a huge new area of business and marketing, we need to be aware of how these could impact us. Systems that allow access to multiple different social media accounts could be shut down using patents to enforce the use of each platform. I use tweetdeck and I know other people that use Hootsuite they essentially work in the same way (results may vary), but could a patent derail their use? I don’t know at this point, but i’m not happy about the prospect. I’ve mentioned before my distrust of Facebook, which is why I use tweet deck and sign in using Incognito. An all-out patent war could seriously disrupt this growing environment and reshape the way we use these networks.