What I hear all around today, is the idea of the sharing economy in which consumption is made in a conscious and collaborative way. The Consumerism of the 90s has transposed to another level of how we buy things and exploit natural resources.
As of today, we already have good examples of companies that are climbing the first steps towards the Collaborative Economy System, like AirBnB and Uber. In other words, this new format of economy enforces the idea of buying an experience rather than possessing something (in Uber’s case, a car) when you just need the ends (getting to somewhere) and not the means.
As posited by Rachel Botsman, collaborative economy guru “I don’t want a CD; I want the music it plays”. But in this same scenario, more than money, trust is becoming a valuable currency.The third episode of Black Mirror series called “Nosedive” is portraying a hypotethic Instagram universe and the possible consequences of a society which only values online social popularity, the episode set in a world where people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, which can impact their socioeconomic status.
The movie presents Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is an ever-smiling woman. She is currently having a 4.2 rating (not great, not terrible) seeking to reach 4.5 for a discount on a luxury apartment; however, despite her attempts to be an outgoing and pleasant citizen, her rating seems to have plateaued.
It talks about inequality not just in terms of wealth, but of also in terms of “trust capital” – very similar of what we might experience from the current Instagram generation’ values; “if its not posted, it has not happened” and “If you did not get enough likes, try fake it ’till you make it.” But in Nosedive, this symbolic capital can be quantified in a ranking system compared to existing apps in real world such as AirBnB or even Uber itself; many discovered that even passengers have a score on Uber only after this episode. Apps like Peeple where you can rate rate and recommend your peers based on professional, personal or romantic relationships received widespread criticism over concerns of cyberbullying and harassment.
When life is guided by social conventions, all actions, from consumption to small talks in the elevator, are rated, politeness gets an upgrade to become a PR case. It is an exaggeration of the idea that no kindness comes without interest. When in the coffee shop, Lacie rates both the attendant and forges her perfect breakfast moment to be shared on social media by biting and spitting a cookie before taking the perfect picture. (familiar to anybody…?) This scene is a clear comparison to Instagram’s mechanics and aesthetics, and very discretly addresses eating disorders. Nosedive also addresses personalized marketing. Via customization of ads after your very own profile, extrapolated here with the combination of Lacie’s unconscious desires combined to rent a house with a pricetag out of her profile. A personal ad is including a holographic projection of a morning scene with a dream lover for Lacie.
Bloggers and vloggers have become a thing and a business. If you look at “Influencer marketing”, which has turned advertising market upside down lately, advertisers are reaching for Youtube and Instagram stars, having much bigger audience than any TV or movie star before. Even just 10 years ago this was unimaginable.
Likes, views and clicks are a currency now, and it’s all exchangeable to travels, products, experiences to be repaid with posts on social media. Media consumption thanks to fast internet access and technology innovations has been totally transformed. And it is this very social media that has made fame something easier to be achieved now, in comparison to the time that fame followed something like being featured in a movie or releasing an album. Now, with social economy and the importance of trust and reputation, would the internet celebrity mechanics then apply to average citizens doing average things, such as trying to rent a house.
This is not fictional: China already intrduced social credit system, also referred as Citizen Scorecards.
All citizens are under survillance, and their social credit value is based on credit history, social network, personal factors, behaviour and such. China’s social credit system expands that idea to all aspects of life, judging citizens’ behaviour and trustworthiness.
Caught braking laws, don’t pay a court bill, play your music too loud on the train — you could lose certain rights, such as booking a flight or train ticket. Those with the best ratings will qualify not only for the best jobs, will be able to send their children to the best schools, and even have access to the highest speed internet, getting preferential financial credits. Those with low ratings, however, will be barred from accessing such privileges (like travelling by train). The program is currently voluntary, but the People’s Republic will introduce it countrywide in 2020.
Private projects, such as Sesame Credit, hoover up all sorts of data on its 400 million customers, from how much time they spend playing video games (that’s bad) to whether they’re a parent (that’s good). That can be shared with other companies. One infamous example is Sesame Credit linking up with the Baihe dating site, so would be partners can judge each other on their looks as well as their social credit score; that system is opt-in. There’s plenty of pressure to volunteer. In a scenario where you supposedly wouldn’t need to own things, only rent them when needed, renting a house would become something even more often. That doesn’t mean it would be affordable to everyone, as it wasn’t for Lacie when she visited her dream house in Pelican Cove, but she could get a really good discount if only she had a higher rating. In other words, her popularity is an exchange currency to the real state company: it is the same mechanics used by real, current companies when advertising their products and services by the means of a blogger and Youtube stars or other influencers.
Thus companies “borrow” celebrities’ symbolic capital and fame, linking their status to the image they want other customers to have about them. In a world of no intermediaries such as big companies, but peer to peer (p2p) services, everyone would become an entrepreneur at the same time we become a brand to be endorsed too. In the movie, Lacie gets the help of consultants that give her tips to increase her score via social interaction and also techniques of sharing in social media. In real life, you can already find agencies offering these services, especially for brands and bloggers. And this is the reason why Lacie starts to act in weird to get a better rank, she feels forced to start a talk with a higher executive you meet by chance at the elevator, or when you just feel you need to be nice with the cleaning personnel, because “you never know when you will need them.”
Because when other people notice that Lacie is begging for good ratings, she ironically becomes cheap, though everyone else is always playing roles in order to get well rated. But Lacie succeeds, in a way, to the point that Naomi (Alice Eve), an old friend from childhood, notices her rank and invites her to be her bridesmaid. That was the signal that she was doing all right, in spite of her brother (James Norton) have told her that she was acting strange and in an exaggerated way. And that is just the start of Lacie’s descent from “average” to “poor” adn ultimately “untouchable” because her driver decides to rate her with a lower score and this affects her average. The situation worsens as she tries to bargain with the airline ticketing agent as flight was overbooked, so she loses her cool, swearing at the agent and upsetting other passengers. This incident concludes with airport security doling out a punishment of a temporary 24 hour reduction of her ‘Rate Me’ ranking lowering it from 4.2 to 3.2 and ‘double damage’ for the same period. ‘Double damage’ means that any negative rating Lacie is given has twice the effect on her overall ranking. To cut the story short, due to her misfortute of loosing her ranking, she starts to go down to hell. She is not able to admit that Naomi wasn’t worth of anything, since she was more of a bully to Lacie than a true friend. When she understood her motive, its too late.
The higher rating and an invitation to be Naomi’s bridesmaid was a symbol of approval and that brings us back to the idea that happiness can’t be measured with likes and followers.
As any other previous Black Mirror episodes, Nosedive has again one more “wake up call” for the society. But, in this case, considering that such technologies are so close and real, the episode is, again, just an extrapolation of our reality, a caricature that uses exaggeration as an easier way for us to see things. I truly believe this remains an utopia and will not become reality. Keep your eyes on China.