The series Black Mirror is a dark commentary of technology and media and its pervasiveness in our lives. Each episode is a stand alone story with a different cast, what links them is a bleak and pessimistic view that taps into the social and ethical unease that exists at the periphery of modern technology.
Episode two The Entire History of You (2011) was recommended to me because of my investigation into memory. The premise of this story is that people have a tiny device inserted behind their ear called a ‘Grain’; this device is linked to the brain and collects and stores memory. With a small hand held remote it is possible to scroll back through your own memory and replay the events of your past as though you are seeing them again. In addition, you can also play your memory on a TV screen for other people to view.
The episode suggests that if people had access to all of their memories, they might be tempted to relive all their failures in horrifying detail, or become lost in what were once happy memories, that in the reliving only serve to underline what we no longer have.
Having a technological memory storage means that you cannot forget unless you actively delete a memory. Crimes can be played back to authorities, and airplane security can check out your recent memory for anything untoward. It also means that through assault your ‘Grain’ and thus your memory storage can be stolen for someone else to experience vicariously.
One interesting minor character has had her Grain stolen, and she explains that although it was an excruciatingly painful experience, her memory of the attack has almost disappeared. Forgetting is a relief. Instead of replacing her Grain she decides to revert to ‘Organic memory’ and is much happier. But the flip side is that she is no longer a reliable witness when she later tries to report a crime.
The main character employs the technology to scrutinise the minutia of his interactions and subsequently discovers a brief affair his wife has had. Far from bringing any resolution or happiness, instead he tortures himself with all the details.
The episode rigorously critiques our desire to record the details of our everyday lives. How tempting it would be to be able to have easy access to the full clarity of recorded memory. It is not a huge leap from obsessively updating social media with what we eat for breakfast or ‘selfles’ taken in the bathroom. Having a recordable memory would be invaluable to police for instance, it would make losing things virtually impossible, important information or knowledge could be revisited easily. But given human fallibilities how many would succumb to self-obessively living in the past? The role of forgetting is vastly underrated.