China’s Social Credit Score, and the distraction of Black Mirror

Adam Greenfield has a good introduction to the scope and folly of China’s new tech-driven social credit score in The Atlantic. On Metafilter, he also remarked on how he was disappointed by constant responses of “it’s just like Black Mirror!”:

It makes me really sad that so much of the response to this piece has been, “Gee, it’s just like an episode of Black Mirror.” (The same thing happened with the new Boston Dynamics video the other day.) It’s really made me rethink the role of that show in the culture: how it works, what effects it has, what it does. It seems to me to be dulling our capacity for preventative disgust, in that we see something like social credit, or a military robot capable of operating in domestic environments, and nod and say, “Yeah, that’s some real Black Mirror shit right there, huh?” and go back to the thing we were doing before.

And that doesn’t, you’ll forgive me, seem like a superhealthy response. I’m not accusing anyone here if doing that, necessarily, just noticing how often the show is invoked as a kind of palliative or preemptive gesture of learned helplessness.

I don’t know that we can blame Black Mirror for learned helplessness, but a couple of episodes notwithstanding, the show’s utter dystopian nature combined with its outsize budgets and outsize audience has meant that we’re lacking in stories of hope and optimism.

Perhaps Black Mirror was an antidote to the techno-utopianism of the early days of Twitter and Facebook, but now we need an antidote to Black Mirror.

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