When my friends told me about Black Mirror (“it’s so messed up; you’ll love it”), I probably should have known I’d end up watching all six episodes on Netflix over a weekend. Though I’m usually lukewarm on science fiction, the show confirms all my deepest held fears that the internet is successfully taking over my life, and generally doing a better job living it.
If you haven’t seen the show, stop reading this. Now. And go watch it. I will not be held responsible for spoilers.
If, for some reason, you’re still reading (perhaps because you’re at work or some other place where immediately accessing Netflix would be frowned upon), here’s the run down.
Black Mirror is the creation of British satirist Charlie Brooker, and though it premiered in 2011, it seems to have reached U.S. audiences somewhat more recently through the magic of Netflix. Each episode operates as a standalone narrative, centered around some seems-like-it-could-be-real-but-isn’t-yet form of technology, and, to borrow from an A.V. Club review: “nudge[s] uncomfortably close to our reality, giving us a glimpse of a world populated with technology we understand that’s driving extreme behavior we nonetheless fully recognize within ourselves.”
Basically, it’s custom-made to destroy any sense of well-being you may have had, replacing it with a epic and gnawing discomfort in the world as it is.
The Entire (Terrible) History of You
While the first two episodes of Season 1 are nothing short of brilliant, I found episode 3, “The Entire History of You,” particularly striking given my line of work.
The episode centers on a digital “grain” implanted into the users (which now amounts to almost everyone) and hardwired into the optical and nervous system allowing storage and instant playback of all of your experiences (“redos”) on a large television screen or displayed directly on your cornea for personal viewing. So the episode opens on the protagonist, Liam, sitting in a job interview, which he then obsessively re-watches trying to determine if he’ll get a callback.
After returning home, and seeing his wife, Ffion, with an old college friend, Liam becomes convinced Ffion is having an affair, and uses his digital memory to redo the night’s events and earlier conversations from their relationship, until he forces Ffion to confess to the affair and replay it from her own grain. The consequences are predictably devastating.
While the technology generally sounds horrific (though not that much more horrific than Google Glass), the show makes a compelling argument for the usefulness of a grain-type technology given the fallibility of human memories:
The Future of Divorce
It doesn’t take too much effort to imagine what the grain-enabled, future divorce courts might look like: discovery requests to produce all footage from your grain, digital discovery specialists who will mine it for the best clips which you will then be confronted with (likely on a curved Ultra HD monitor) during your testimony and forced to explain.
It’s true, isn’t it, that Mr. Jones asked you to return to work when your first child was three and you refused [cue video]
Mr. Jones, you would agree with me, wouldn’t you, that there were several occasions on which you became intoxicated and yelled at Ms. Jones with the children in the next room [cue video]
Ms. Jones, do you recall calling your husband an [insert head-slap inducing expletive and cue video]
And for custody issues you could completely dispense with custody studies and drawn out testimony from parents about their parenting “roles” and “concerns.” Enough to download footage from your child’s grain to establish who provided what care, when, and how well. Every second of your parenting, every less-than-optimal decision or sleep-deprivation induced freak out, every moment of short tempers or distracted parenting, all captured in living color and carefully curated (by your spouse’s counsel, of course) for presentation to the Court.
I don’t know any spouse or parent, even very good ones, that could withstand that sort of instant-replay scrutiny every moment of their lives.
The Future is Now
If this vision of divorce (at least very high conflict, high stakes, and high fee divorce) leaves you uneasy, I’m with you. But maybe the most nerve-wracking thing about “grain” technology and its potential impact on family law is that, in many ways, it’s already here.
While we may not be recording through our eyeballs, we’re pretty close. Think about the amount of your day that’s already electronically documented on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram (dare I say, Tinder). Add to that everything that you do on your smart phone, tablet, and laptop (and soon your T.V.).
Right there you probably have a fairly accurate picture of your day. And to the extent that picture still has some ambiguity and fuzzy lines, the advent of wearable devices (Fitbit, Google Glass, Apple Watch, Pebble) seems likely to sharpen these images dramatically.
If you’re not persuaded, take a look at Sensors, Wearables, and Liability: The Brave New World of IoT by Minneapolis attorney, Damien Riehl on the revolution of wearable technology (under the ominous subheading “Anything that Can be Recorded Will be Recorded”):
Like them or not, IoT [Internet of Things] sensors are proliferating, providing petabytes (one petabyte equals 1,000 terabytes) of data to Internet services—and to other IoT sensors. In 2008, the number of connected devices exceeded the human population; in the coming year, the number of IoT devices will explode to over 25 billion. By 2020, that number will likely exceed 50 billion. Cisco’s CEO estimates the IoT market potential at $19 trillion. Lastly, as the cost of storage continues dropping exponentially, we can more easily store all the newly captured data. Some IoT sensors are relatively traditional (e.g., recording temperature and humidity). Others transform traditionally “dumb” items into tracking devices: telephones, cars, thermostats, hardhats, wigs, toothbrushes. Anything large enough to house a chip can transmit data.
All that data means an awful lot of information about us, our relationships, and our parenting. All of which we can, and should, expect to see played back to us whether we like it or not.
The future is here. Ready or not.