‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Hang The DJ
In an unexpectedly different episode, “Black Mirror” examines the datafication of everything, digital assistants, and the algorithms of modern life.
‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.
The Datafication of Everything
“Everything happens for a reason”, the digital love assistant, Coach, tells Frank. She says this to Frank in an attempt to comfort him after a series of tiring relationships that amount to nothing more than an opportunity for Coach to gather data that will, eventually, lead to Frank’s “ultimate” match. It’s a means to an end. All of Frank’s actions and reactions are silently noted by Coach, quantified, then used to further fine-tune the search for “the one.”
Everything is given a number so “the system” can be fully-automated. Your order at the restaurant will be pre-determined, the house you’ll spend the duration of your relationship in is determined for you, and last but certainly not least, the length of your relationship is calculated for you. Everything is turned into 1’s and 0’s for a computer somewhere to make sense of in the name of better “serving” you.
Much of that datafication already exists today, and it’s almost identical to what we see in “Hang The DJ.” There is very little difference between the digital assistant “Coach” and digital assistants we have today. Similar to Coach, the Google Assistant, for example, is always listening to you, waiting for a voice command to trigger an action, which gives it an opportunity to gather data on your habits and preferences, so it can recalibrate the data it has on you to better react the next time you need it. Coach is essentially a digital assistant programmed with one specific task: to find your soulmate.
The entire digital ecosystem Coach belongs to is also analogous to what we have today. All the Coaches answer to a single large entity (“the system”; Google), they’re all compatible with (pun intended) other related services (the AirBnB-type service; Spotify), and there is a largely-invisible set of rules you must follow to retain the services (i.e., terms of service agreements).
The Algorithms of Modern Life
Frank’s frustration with Coach and “the system” after losing Amy is palpable. At the end of the day, he’s at the mercy of an algorithm. He can never really tell whether or not the algorithm is doing its job or if it’s just messing with him. Neither can we, with the algorithms that quietly shape our lives: the Facebook algorithms that determine what news makes it onto our feed, the Google search algorithms that answer millions and millions of inquiries a day, subtly shaping our thinking.
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So like Frank, and all the others who gave themself to the system, the only thing we can do is place our faith in those algorithms and hope for the best. It may not be a huge leap of faith for your search results, but a lot more so in regards to something as delicate as finding “the one.” That’s the horror of “Hang The DJ”: whether or not we find true love, like more and more things nowadays, may very well depend on an algorithm.