There are no spoilers in this post but there are spoilers in the links I’ve provided. Click at your own risk.
A few weeks ago, I watched the latest season of Black Mirror. Like all seasons after the epic first one, it had some episodes that blew me away (Hang the DJ) and some I could have done without (Metalhead). For me, the primary brilliance of Black Mirror lies in how close we are to every dystopian terror they depict becoming reality. Yes, some more than others, but the technologies highlighted in the episodes seem to me decades away or less, rather than the centuries implied by shows with long-distance space travel and flying cars. The kidnapping/ransom plot in the brilliant debut, The National Anthem, could easily happen tomorrow. And although I vow to always resist any attempt to implant surveillance technology in my body, there are millions out there willing to be early adopters, making many of the show’s other plot lines right at our fingertips. Some of the technologies probably are already in beta testing in a lab somewhere close to home. Since I was going to have nightmares anyway, I decided to rewatch some of favorites from other seasons, such as Nosedive from season three.
Nosedive is about a world in which social capital is everything. This isn’t the kind of social capital that I learned about in graduate school or the kind that Putnam talks about in his wonderful book, Bowling Alone, the kind that helps us trust strangers so we can do business and collaborate and be engaged with our communities. This is exaggerated Facebook/Instagram style social capital in which snap judgments about your attitude and actions and station in life every second of every day affect your ability to rent a car or an apartment, get a promotion, and associate with certain people. It’s an infinitely, horrifyingly influential Yelp for humans. Given everyone’s obsession with posting their stylized, perfect moments all over the internet and fiending for likes and followers (habits which I am not entirely immune from), the kind of world depicted in the episode is too close for my comfort.
Last week I had a small issue with my laptop that required the assistance of IT. I filed a ticket and about ten minutes later, one of the service desk guys pinged me and asked me to bring my computer over to his department so he could see what the problem was. I did, and about ten minutes after that, the problem was resolved and I was back at my desk. The first email I received post-ticket resolution was from the IT department asking me to rate the service I had received on a scale of 1 to 5. That was the only question and no criteria were given on which I was supposed to base my rating. One star was poor and five stars meant excellent. I paused. The repair had been fast, professional, and effective. Five stars. But…the guy who helped me out wasn’t so friendly. People in Boulder are friendly. Really friendly. Freakishly friendly. This guy didn’t smile. He didn’t make small talk. He was all business. Very un-Boulder. A “prime influencer” would have been most displeased. And then I remembered that in all my previous interactions with IT, the IT guy came to me. This guy asked me to come up to his desk. Hmmm. Maybe he only deserved four stars. I mean, wouldn’t a smile and accommodating me be the difference between “good” and “excellent” service? But would he know I was the one who gave him less than the perfect rating? Would he retaliate in some way next time I had an IT ticket? Did I really want to be that person marking someone’s service down because he didn’t whistle while he worked? Images of Lacie, fake and miserable and desperately trying to earn a 4.5 rating, flashed through my mind.
I gave him five stars.