This is a review of ‘An Entire History of You’ from a sci-fi TV series ‘Black Mirror’ by Nonny of Class X (2017). It gives us a disconcerting glimpse of the future world and the changes technology might bring into our lives.
In today’s world, technology has become such an all-pervasive force that it knows more about us than we do ourselves. In the world of the future, it might start to play an even greater role. ‘The Entire History of You’, an episode in the TV series ‘Black Mirror’, shows such a future. In this world, everybody has a memory implant called a ‘grain’, a device that records everything they do, see, and hear.
The main character in this episode is Liam Foxwell, a well-to-do lawyer working in a corporate job. His life is a typical modern one- he worries about his next promotion, complains about his boss, and has the occasional quarrel with his wife, Fion. The episode opens with a scene at Liam’s office where he is getting an appraisal, and then proceeds to a dinner party with some of his friends. Liam isn’t particularly fond of one of the people he meets in the group, Jonas, an old friend of his wife.
Like the modern smartphone, the ‘grain’ is the most all-important piece of technology in this imaginary future. It is used for security in airports, for payment in cabs, and for monitoring health conditions. Just like we tend to forget our surroundings, our worlds consumed by our smartphones, we see the inhabitants of this future world ignoring the present and endlessly using their grains to replay memories from the past.
As innovations like these envelope the world, there is little choice that we have. It is not within our power to refuse to accept them. As individuals, life in a world that we can’t keep up with is near to impossible. One of the characters in this episode, Helen, did not have a grain. After an incident when her grain was stolen and sold, she chose not to get a new implant. In a world where the grain was used for almost everything- from playing redos of the past to personal safety- not having one made life much more difficult. In another scene of the episode, we see the police refusing to accept Helen as a witness in a case of physical assault because she could not show the re-do of the event. If we fail to keep pace with each of the innovations that slowly start to change the world, all of those changes will eventually render us obsolete.
As the episode goes on, Liam replays the scenes from the dinner party several times. Each viewing makes him more and more uneasy- the way his wife looked at Jonas at the dinner table, how she laughed at his jokes, the subtle ways in which her behaviour changed when Liam entered the room. Each further replay continues to haunt him, leading up to the final confrontation at the end of the episode.
‘The Entire History of You’ shows that however powerful human beings become, however much the world changes, human nature will not change. Our primordial instincts of insecurity and jealousy will continue to dictate our lives, in spite of living in times of unparalleled prosperity and power. In fact, as technology gives us power and makes information more accessible, it enables us to act on those primordial instincts rather than curbing them.
Technology might make our lives more convenient, making us richer and more powerful. But is that really worth it if we spend our lives haunted by doubt and suspicion, fuelled by all the knowledge and power that it can give us?