Black Mirror

Values: Do we go daft with digitization?

In Black Mirror Episode 1.2 “Fifteen Million Merits” we experience a dystopian world generated by digitization. Obviously it’s not our planet, but he could be. The people living there are all equally attracted and all pursue a uniform activity. You drive for days on your home trainer and look frontally into a large screen. There they watch either commercials, reality formats or porn movies. They have to pay for this consumption. Each service is priced with a certain point value. People earn this points money on their home trainer. The longer and faster they pedal, the more they earn and the more they can consume. In the private sector they can be seen in a “Cube”. It is a 3 x 3 meter bunk with one bed and six interior screens. They’ll be sprinkling advertising on it all the time. If you do not want to have an advertisement, you can skip it against payment of points. Some advertisements, however, are obligatory.

We experience a “permanently overexcited” and simultaneously “sedated (sedated)” society. For the inhabitants there are no dangers, as long as they look at the advertisements and cycle reliably at the Hometrainer. If they are not powerful enough to earn points, they are assigned lower tasks such as cleaning services. People do pointless things and watch pointless videos. Life there is really stupid. There is no peace, there is always noise – at least there is a noise. Because there are no real dangers either, the film could have got its title.

Besides humans, there are also avatars on this planet. These beings are responsible for almost all communication. There is no direct interpersonal communication. Each person appears in the form of an avatar and develops a fake identity over it.

In short, it is a performance-oriented society with the goal of consuming as many “digital goods” as possible. There are no plans for windows, nature or going out. Although for self-realization there is the reality show “HotShot”. Who has cycled enough points can register there, can deliver his performance and will then be judged by a jury similar to DSDS (Deutschland sucht den Superstar). Those who get a good rating are then allowed to participate in commercials or porn movies.

The following considerations show how we can protect ourselves from such a fate. A digital world between smart and stupid.


Whether a society/person is smart or stupid depends on four factors and their characteristics. Decisive for this are:

  1. Exit Option
  2. Possibility space
  3. Cognition
  4. Environment

The possibility of getting out is essentially described as the possibility of leaving the “hamster wheel”. This problem is illustrated in the episode by the cycling of points. People cannot leave their home trainer because they will no longer have points for survival. Such a situation already existed in times of industrial class struggle. Workers on the assembly line were exploited in a similar way. Either to continue working monotonously on the assembly line or to become impoverished. The dropout syndrome is rare but recurrent.

People who live in a very prosperous situation throw everything away and start something completely new elsewhere. Happens over and over again in and after burnout situations. That’s not smart, it’s just inevitable. A smart case would be one that a person can change without any particular compulsion, his life circumstances. It is easier for those who have experienced a multicultural environment in their childhood.

The potential space is a set of alternatives from which a human being can draw. The elements of this set are usually very uniform. Like the inhabitants of the stupid planets, they have a high number of video spots. However, they come from a single set, namely the set of digital entertainment services. For outsiders, this looks like a sensory deprivation for the time being. Even in our culture we find contemporaries who only pursue this occupation – playing computers, watching pornography and eating fast food. As a result, this episode is not that futuristic, because we are already beginning to recognize it in our societies. If a person can draw from several different quantities of alternatives, this is already smart. So if you can use the services of the digital world just as you can move around in the great outdoors, have a relationship without a smartphone and are not dependent on Facebook. The appeal of the digital world is its diversity. There is a device and an app for everything and everyone. With IoT, this will multiply again. Yes – there is a danger that this will lead us into a stupid world. Therefore we must do everything possible to lead a diversified life, to declare our own values and to allow otherness.

Cognition describes the mental performance of a being (human being). It is therefore clear that this is an essential factor for smart or stupid. The following is a tabular comparison of individual cognitive performance characteristics.

Smart                                      Stupid

Information – Change             Data – Meaningless

Differentiate                            Noise

Experience multi-sensor         Experience single-sensor experience

Prediction                                Procastionation

Remember                              Forget

Learning                                  Reaction

Until now, it was the brain embedded in the human body that was responsible for cognition. We can already expect an extension through digital intelligence in the near future. The example of personal digital assistants shows how close the line between smart and stupid is. An assistant could take away all our thinking and the brain would lose its efficiency. Then we would only be able to do stupid things. On the other hand, we could use such an assistant for highly demanding discourses and intellectual disputes and train our brains at the highest level.

It is undisputed that the environment into which we are born has a great influence on our personal development. If we live in a meaningful environment, our brain will also become more networked and thus expand the space of possibility. Two generations of parents have already bought the Lego bricks for their children, thus providing a varied environment and a large room for opportunity. A deprivation of liberty/prison is an environment with very few possibilities and with it a stupid life is connected, thus the punishment. Now, however, there are people who voluntarily remain locked up in their four rooms and thus deprive themselves of their surroundings. Whenever boundaries are discernible, it is a signal for stupid. Whenever horizons are recognizable, it is an indication of smart.

Back to the episode.

Yes of course – a toilet is needed. This is exactly where the two protagonists Mr. Bing and Mrs. Abi get to know each other. Bing hears the young woman sing first and only then does he see her. He is so taken with their beauty and their singing that a little romance arises between them. Because she has too few points to sign up for HotShot, Bing gives her 15,000 points. She is rated very well by the jury, less because of her voice but more because of her female physicality. As a result, she is offered services in the Porn Department, which she ultimately accepts. Bing is so disappointed and decides to start a fight against this senseless world. With almost superhuman effort he earns another 15,000 points, logs on to “HotShot”. Although he is massively against the system, the jury evaluates him positively and gives him an advertising channel as a dissident. So he is calm again and continues to lead his stupid life. An exit is obviously not possible.

Even if we get out, we can’t get out.

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