Virtual Future: Survival of Love

Futuring thinking is a form of storytelling. This is seen in film and literature where speculated futures, technologies and objects have become our reality. Sustainability researcher Dr Chris Riedy explains this as ‘stories about the future spread, replicate and evolve, shaping the future – the past which is backed up by data and evidence forms a case of the future’. Riedy explores the different kind of ‘stories’ that we have come to know when we think about the future of humanity in a technologically advanced world. From dystopia and techno utopia to sustenance/discipline and transformation eco cities, we see vastly different variations of how the future could play out. The future is not fixed – is it probable, possible or preferred? It is through these questions, I will that explore the dark future – a techno dystopia, hyper-reality and its effect on how we love.

Film maker Keiichi Matsuda does an amazing job to capture this future in his concept film ‘Hyper-reality’, He demonstrates a possible future where our excessive desire to consume and use of technology have enveloped every aspect of our lives – from our relationships, interactions and experiences. Physical and virtual realities emerge and we are ruled by an arcade-like reward system, our identities are data based and almost forced upon us. Everywhere is saturated in media from the street to the grocery store and every object is catered to the individual by gender which is seen where the yogurt is being advertised to the woman as a way to lose weight and to look beautiful, then a glitch in system thinking she is male, changes the advertisement to masculine, ‘tough’ yoghurt. This reality is an insight into dangerous trajectory of which our humanity becomes inseparable with technology and sets up the scene for my review of the episode “Fifteen Million Merits” of television series, ‘Black Mirror’.

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Black Mirror, 2011, television program, Fifteen Million Merits, Channel 4, UK

This episode of ‘Black Mirror’ presents a depressing, totalitarian, transactional world, where society are isolated into cubical cells are forced to cycle on stationary bike to generate power (post-oil future, energy crisis) and earn ‘merits’. Energy is used to distract them as they perform mundane tasks for an unseen bureaucracy. Everyone has the same living quarters, outfit (grey jumpsuit) and routines. Every wall is a screen – ‘fresh’ food come form vending machines and they are bombarded with advertisements for reality television, game shows, porn and comedy, which cannot be skipped without costing merits.

The story follows Bing, who has inherited 12 million merits from his deceased brother, allowing him the luxury to skip advertisements. Bing keeps to himself and has little interaction with others, until he notices a woman named Abi, whom he hears singing in the bathroom. He forms a friendship and liking to Abi and offers to use his merits to purchase a ticket for her to enter a singing contest. Abi becomes the only ‘real’ experience for Bing – their tender interactions between mundane tasks and routines develops into a warm love in such a cold environment. When Abi auditions, the judges offer her a chance to become an adult actress instead, which she agrees to as she was drugged to comply prior (e.g. ‘cuppliance’ drink). Bing now with little merits and without Abi, is forced to see advertisement of her and can no longer skip them. In a rage of guilt and anger, Bing smashes the screen in his cell, hiding a piece of shard. Determined, Bing cycles everyday, limits his food intake to save enough merits to buy a ticket. Making it to an audition, Bing threatens to kill himself on live television and in front of the audience, comprised of virtual avatars of the people, ranting about the unjust system. Ultimately, Bing is offered his own show where he can rant about the system all he likes, which he accepts and now lives in luxury.

This sarcastic version of reality demonstrates that love cannot survive, with both characters meeting their respective fates. Their relationship was corrupted, stripped away and doomed by unrelenting techno-dystopia. Any hope or sacrifice for love resulted in their own demise and suffering, leading to a life of exploitation. In this dark virtual future, expression of honest, real love is oppressed and unable to flourish or exist.

References:

Week 2 lecture Dr Chris Ready
http://hyper-reality.co/

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