A reflection of ‘The Entire History of You’ Netflix series and its warning for mass media society

[Grade: High Distinction]

Although The Entire History of You is played out in a futuristic and somewhat distant society, Brooker’s creepy representation of data archiving technologies and their mutilation of personal and intimate relationships resonates with today’s technologically obsessed society. Admittedly, the grain is far more intense than any current archiving technology, but considering our current appetite for narrating our lives through the likes of social media platforms, particularly Facebook, this concept of real-time virtual archiving isn’t exactly far fetched. Similar to the grain, the Facebook Timeline feature allows its users to create a digital archive of their physical lives by documenting their personal experiences and automatically updating their Newsfeed to depict the outside world.  The Entire History of You functions as a subtle, yet eerie warning of what a media system characterised by devices that enable our lives to be archived in real-time actually looks like. In this essay, I use Mitchell’s (2014) concepts of temporal and spatial expansionism and van Dijck’s (2012) idea of the private and public spheres to illustrate the potential consequences of the Facebook Timeline feature that are not unlike those reflected in Brooker’s Black Mirror series.

The Timeline feature of Facebook user profiles creates a ‘digital scrapbook’ of the user’s most memorable moments (Mitchell, 2014). Mitchell coins the Timeline’s capacity to tell our life story ‘temporal expansionism’ (Mitchell, 2014) as users are no longer confined to the categorical information boxes that structured the previous interface, but can present their content in a chronological narrative for personal or public reflection.  Robards (2014) has also acknowledged Facebook’s capacity to function as a ‘memory archive’, claiming that it serves two main purposes: a platform to perform and organise life narratives and secondly, a space to reflect on personal and public disclosures (Robards, 2014). Robards emphasises the significance of the Timeline for today’s youth who can use it to reflect on their biographical and personal development during their adolescence. Much like Mitchell’s (2014) reference to a ‘digital scrapbook’, Robarbs (2014) explains that the Timeline effectively captures ‘growing up stories through a chronicle of mediated, transitional experiences’ (Robards, 2014).

In 2008, Facebook introduced a controversial yet undeniably, irresistible extension known as Facebook Connect. This feature allows users to log in and sign up to external websites through their Facebook profiles, conveniently automating the mundane task of creating separate accounts for different websites. This feature acts a sort of virtual passport, allowing users to travel across the Web with their identities. Facebook Connect dramatically extends Facebook’s reach across the Web, channelling enormous data mining capacity. However, the prevalence of Facebook Connect  only reveals the media giant’s mildest ambitions as Facebook strives to expand to exist as a unified medium through which people access the digital world (Mitchell, 2014).   

In addition to plaguing the digital sphere beyond its own domain, Facebook is extending its reach in the physical realm as well (Mitchell, 2014). In a world where we increasing rely and depend upon our mobile technologies, Facebook’s introduction of a mobile specific interface was priceless.  Our smartphones play host to the media platform enabling it to passively monitor our movements, interactions, expressions and moods and ultimately, integrate its way into almost every aspect of our lives. The Facebook Home application furthers this entrenchment in our everyday lives, by replacing our smartphone’s generic interface with a Facebook interface that grants effortless publication of person content to the user’s Timeline (Mitchell, 2014).

Mitchell (2014) coins Facebook’s growing dominance in the digital and physical spheres ‘spatial expansionism’, which could render social implications not unlike those in Brooker’s Entire History of You.   Facebook establishes the spatial coordinates within which 62 per cent of the entire adult population communicates (Duggan, 2015).  Facebook users construct their identities from the symbolic resources provided within the communicative enclosure (Carah & Louw, 2015).   As Facebook continues to expand across the digital landscape, it reinforces its ideologies into our perception of reality, encouraging a simulacrum orientation of the world reflecting the somewhat capitalist interests of the culture industry. 

The archiving nature of Facebook’s timeline resonates with van Dijck’s (2012) theory that Facebook is nor a private, public, or corporate sphere, but a dynamic and highly contested integration of all three (van Dijck, 2012).  The Timeline feature illustrates the overlapping of competing interests. The digital archive and the submission of personal information into the public internet realm demonstrates the conflicting personal and public objectives. Additionally, the information collected from user’s archives and from Facebook’s wingspan across the Web makes consumers vulnerable to preying corporate industries.

The Timeline feature fuels Facebook’s temporal expansion by generating ‘memory archives’ over a user’s life. Facebook’s increasing dominance across the Web and over digital technologies has somewhat gruesome implications for the integrity of our hegemonic discourse. This special expansionism amplifies the platform’s data mining capacity, which enables Facebook to track and record user’s movements, purchases, habits, social networks, etc. outside of its domain and in the physical world through it’s tactical introduction of the smartphone interface.  As Facebook continuous to temporally and spatially expand, it projects ideologies onto our perception of physical reality, essentially framing the world we see. Facebook’s gradual introduction of automated postings of our lives outside of Facebook, such as current Spotify tracks, Amazon purchases, and Nike+ running routes, marks the early stages of real-time automated archiving, rendering a conveniently browsable world like the one depicted in Brooker’s Entire History of You.

In The Entire History of You, Brooker warns views of the consequences of our current direction. In this episode, we witness archiving technology sabotage subjectivity, increase media dependence, fuel obsession and anxiety, and risk privacy and theft of personal information/memories.  Archives are a product of our real-life experiences, but our obsession to create and reminisce leaves us in some kind realm no here or there – but trapped in the middle of a digital and physical world. In addition to Liam’s manipulative and abusive behaviour, the implications of this physical absence is played out in the character’s deformed relationships. Brooker also hints at the broader implications relating to surveillance and power. As discussed in this essay, our participation is confined to the communicative enclosure that allows Facebook to track, monitor, and respond to our content (Carah & Louw, 2015). This is further complemented by Facebook’s obtrusive data mining capacity, which together with our memory banks, provides a very elaborate representation of our lives. In this sense, the grain and Facebook are emblematic of reflexive and participatory modes of surveillance and control.

Works Cited

Carah, N., & Louw, E. (2015). Media & society: production, content & participation. Los Angeles: Sage.

Duggan, M. (2015). Mobile Media and Social Media 2015. Washington: Pew Research Centre.

Mitchell, L. (2014). Life on automatic: Facebook’s archival subject. First Monday , 19 (2), 39.

Robards, B. (2014). Digital Traces of the Persona through Ten Years of Facebook. M/C Journal , 17 (3).

van Dijck, J. (2012). Facebook as a Tool for Producing Sociality and Connectivity. Television & New Media , 13 (2), 160 – 176.

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