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Black Mirror as Pedagogical Tool in the College Classroom

by Ethan Tussey

by Frank Bridges for IN MEDIA RES

In Danah Boyd’s “Participating in the Always on Lifestyle,” she states, “I may not be always-on the Internet as we think of it colloquially, but I am always connected to the network. And that’s what it means to be always-on.”

Discussing this pervasive concept to an undergraduate class can sometimes be a daunting task. Students might be competent with Yik Yak, Instagram, and Snapchat, but have never heard of Google Glass, big data, and the Deep Web. Anthropologist Amber Case echoes Boyd’s thoughts with the idea that a mobile device on our person makes us all nodes on a network distributing and consuming information. Case refers to us as cyborgs that have modified ourselves for our current environment.

A show like Black Mirror allows the students to experience a taste of the not-so-distant future for 45 minutes and still have time to discuss their ideas in class. In the episode, “The Entire History of You,” an implanted device called a “grain” captures and indexes the video and audio of everything that is viewed by the recipient.

After watching the Black Mirror episode many of the students are unaware how the memory recording technology depicted is nearly already here. The episode may feel jarring and its ideas inconceivable, but it can be explained to the class that elements are already available with existing technologies such as augmented reality glasses, compact flash memory, retinal implants, and networked home devices.

By incorporating preliminary material such as Boyd’s and Case’s to prime the students before watching the episode it facilitates meaningful discussions through a glimpse of our highly possible future. All of this allows the students to think of their relationship with electronic communication technology, which is often a ubiquitous part of their lives.

What are the learning lessons being depicted in Black Mirror episodes and how can they be reinforced through other material to stimulate discussion and critical thinking in the class room?

Black Mirror and History

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A clip from Black Mirror

from Black Mirror - The Entire History Of You (2013)
Creator: SoHoChannelNZ
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey