Thursday, 22 December 2011

Black Mirror, 3: The Entire History of You

The final episode of the Black Mirror trilogy wasn’t written by Charlie Brooker but by Jesse Armstrong, whose CV includes Peep Show and Fresh Meat. Here the topic was memory. In The Entire History of You, we entered a world where our memories are captured by an implant called a ‘grain’ (not unrelated to a pod). We can then scroll through these (how they are sorted into files is left to the viewer to imagine) and select memories to replay: install recall at a click. It is a neat way of taking the world we already have, where we are already familiar with vast internet memory caches, tablets  and memory sticks, and looking a little further down the road.
The Entire History of You touched in passing on various possibilities created by this technology: memories scanned and checked when we travel; the chilling prospect of ‘retrospective litigation’, where parents are prosecuted for their children’s lack of earnings; and the idea of memories being stolen, manipulated, sold. In the end, the story explored the idea that instant access to memory stores could (already does?) lead to obsessive behaviour, as a young husband pursues his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity until their relationship is destroyed, and memory itself has become toxic. Most of the action in fact lay in the relationships of the key figures in this triangle, the technology being worked into a familiar jealousy story. As the story unfolded, it was clear that the perfect availability of the past was eroding the value of the present: this was suggested in the sleek, soulless houses and the oddly empty green spaces between them. There were a few quirks, perhaps: wouldn’t the wife know her husband was the jealous type? Is it plausible that his behaviour could be suddenly triggered at a moment he feels vulnerable about his career? And why does he drive such an old car? Are those who voluntarily don’t have a grain -  it doesn’t seem to be a compulsory ID marker, yet - not able to travel? The main character of Borges’s greart story ‘Funes el Memorioso’ remembers everything but as a result he cannot really think, because thinking involves constantly abstracting from particulars. In The Entire History of You the protagonist drowns in a sea of particulars, until he comes to realize that living must involve forgetting. In a world where we recreate ourselves on Facebook, blogs, and in digital info of all kinds this is worth, well, remembering. A strong end to this interesting series.