Black Mirror S5 E1- Striking Vipers

It’s another year and there is another season of Black Mirror. This will look at some of themes within the first episode of the fifth season of Black Mirror. In order to do that, there will be spoilers so consider yourself warned!

Black Mirror: Season 5 Episode 1 Striking Vipers

The nature of desire

A theme, which seems to be threaded through this entire episode is desire. Mackie plays Danny as a man who is removed from every situation that he is in. Even when he’s physically present, his mind is somewhere unreachable. This makes him a difficult character to empathise with and contributes to an inability to care about the consequences of the character’s actions. His relationship with his wife oozes inertia. He has a family and a stable relationship with his wife, Theo. The fighting game Striking Vipers allows him to explore his desires in an environment, which is outside of ‘real’ life. Theo too longs for a break in her mundane married existence. She considers going home with a man at a bar and giving in to her desires during the episode.

Karl is a much more oblique character in this respect. He’s successful, he has a beautiful girlfriend and can access any thrill he could think to try, What he finds most satisfying is the relationship that he finds with his friend in Striking Vipers, he playing as a female avatar, Roxette and Danny playing a male character called Lance. When he tries to convince Danny to start playing the game again with him (and having sex), he tells him that he’s tried it with other people in the game and that nothing has been like his and Danny’s relationship. This alongside the failed kiss between the two in reality shortly after convey a lot about Karl and Danny’s relationship. When they both said that the kiss held nothing for them, it felt unconvincing. At least on Karl’s end, we can see that this assertion that he felt nothing is untrue. At the end of the episode, Karl can be seen alone and keenly awaiting his annual rendezvous with Danny in Striking Vipers. Is Danny’s refusal to acknowledge a more concrete relationship with Karl a sign of his lack of attraction towards his friend? Or is it a more deeply embedded inability for Danny to address his desires in life? Perhaps it is only within an unreal environment that he can express himself truly.

Can technology save your relationship?

It seems as if what this episode addresses in many ways is the way that people feel unfulfilled and unhappy in any possible kind of relationship configuration that is possible in life. Even if it’s good, some need or desire is not being met. Black Mirror’s answer to this age old quandary is technology. Technology can fill the gaps in ourselves that ‘real’ relationships will always fail to meet. Danny and Karl obviously feel the effects of their virtual relationship in their ‘real’ lives. Does the fact that their relationship occurs in a virtual environment make it less ‘real’? It doesn’t seem that way given the ways that it affects their lives. It also clearly equates Danny’s and Karl’s virtual relationship with Theo’s future one night stand at the end of the episode. This episode doesn’t give us any simple answers about the nature of love or desire. The end felt contrived, their life choices felt half baked at best. The episode fell short of making any grander point about the role of technology in our lives, a point that many other Black Mirror episodes successfully make in a startling array of original and beautiful ways.

Watch/reading list

Black Mirror: Season 5 Episode 1 Striking Viper

Food variety is the spice of life

Biodiversity is the variety of life at genetic, species and ecosystem levels.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has stated that approximately 75% of crop diversity has been lost between 1900 and 2000. This has profound implications for the future of humanity on the planet. Why exactly is biodiversity vital for the continued existence of human beings?

This is one of the questions I address in my contribution to our project. Overall our project is about technological methods that have the potential to ameliorate or stop climate change but I had a particular interest in addressing how climate change affects food production and how this can be addressed through technological means.

A global seed bank was set up in Svalbard that collects samples from all over the world. The seeds are only available from this bank as a last resort. One of the advantages of this location is that it is politically neutral and many countries are satisfied with the location as a result of that. It not only functions as a method of keeping a collection of seeds that have been lost to biodiversity but it also functions as a gene bank. Many of the seeds stored there may hold the key to developing valuable traits to cope with the changing climate.

The organisation The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) was the first group to request to remove seeds from the Svalbard vault in 2015. This was prompted by the effects of a war in Syria upon the headquarters of ICARDA in Beirut. They lost access to their main seed bank because of this conflict. Seed banks housed in individual countries are vulnerable to many factors including war etc.

The ICARDA collection – backed up for now in Svalbard and shortly to be redistributed to Morocco, Turkey, and elsewhere – specialises in crops adapted to the harsh environmental conditions of the Middle East and North Africa. The benefit of the biodiversity inherent in this archive, evolved and engineered by farmers and nature over generations, is not disease and pest resistance, but climate resilience. It is from this resource that scientists hope to mine new genetic traits to moderate the ravages of climate change – for instance, by splicing heat- and drought-resistant crops such as chickpeas and lentils with maize and soybeans to make the latter viable in rapidly changing, and heating, ecosystems

James Bridle, New Dark Age of Technology (pg. 5)

Gene editing can be used to create new strains of crop, which can be used to produce food in the changing climate. Loss of biodiversity means that these valuable traits within crops will be lost if they are not preserved in locations like the Svalbard vault.

This is not a preventative measure for dealing with climate change but rather a means of addressing it in the future if the world should come to an end for humanity. It also functions as a way of increasing food production in a world increasingly beset by drought and other environmental disasters. However, it is not enough to create measures to deal with the harm that we have caused to the biome but to also act preventatively and limit our own actions, which contribute to climate change.

Reading List
Bridle, James. New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future. Orca Book Services, 2019.
“Companies Use CRISPR to Improve Crops.” The Scientist Magazine®. Accessed May 21, 2019. “The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture 2019.” Accessed May 2, 2019.
McGrath, Matt. “Global Warming Increases ‘food Shocks’ Threat.” BBC News. August 14, 2015. Accessed May 2, 2019.
“Securing Our Food, Forever.” Crop Trust. Accessed May 3, 2019.
Vincent, James. “First Seed Withdrawal from ‘doomsday’ Vault Prompted by Syrian Civil War.” The Verge. September 23, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2019.

Produse, Produse, Produse

Prosumer or Produser?

The concept of a content produser or prosumer originates with the American futurist Alvin Toffler. In his book The Third Wave (1980), Toffler prophesied that consu

The concept of a content produser or prosumer originates with the American futurist Alvin Toffler. In his book The Third Wave (1980), Toffler prophesied that consumption would become increasingly enmeshed with production. This means the that power of production would increasingly belong to the general population. Prosumer, a portmanteau of the words ‘consumer’ and ‘producer’ attempts to encapsulate this idea.

There is a distinct ideological bent to this idea. With greater control over production, theoretically this should translate to greater empowerment for the prosumer. However the ways in which prosumption functions to serve capitalism means that this does not necessarily become more empowering for the prosumer.

Axel Bruns built on this idea when he coined the term ‘produser,’ a term which he felt better fit the role that many individuals assume online today. He feels that word ‘production’ is not useful when examining the development of user-led content creation in the context of sites such as Wikipedia. It is difficult to say whether there is a meaningful distinction between these two terms.

The Principles of Produsage

How useful is the concept of a ‘produser’ when it comes to analysing my role within the context of the group project?

One of the principles of produsage is ‘Open Participation, Communal Evaluation’ and this means that anyone can participate and members have the ability to evaluate each other’s work. Our group of three is too small for this to be applicable. In a small team, politeness will play a larger role and everyone’s contribution will be similarly weighted. This feeds into the second principle, which is ‘Fluid Heterarchy, Ad Hoc Meritocracy.’ Within a small team, there is little room for meritocracy. In our group, we have acknowledged the ability of each member to make a meaningful contribution, which is in line with this principle

Since this project has a clear start and end point, the principle of  ‘Unfinished Artefacts, Continuing Process’ is not particularly applicable. Once the project has been finished, there will be no one continually working to improve it, it is not in a perpetually unfinished state.

The final principle is ‘Common Property, Individual Rewards’ and although we all own the project that has been developed, there is no accessibility for those outside the project to contribute to it.

Although the idea of produsage has some bearing on working in a small team toward a common goal and finished project, it is not particularly applicable in this specific context.

Reading List

Comor, Edward. “Contextualizing and Critiquing the Fantastic Prosumer: Power, Alienation and Hegemony.” Critical Sociology 37, no. 3 (2010): 309-27. doi:10.1177/0896920510378767.

“From Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content Creation (Transforming Audiences 2009).” From Production to Produsage: Research into User-Led Content Creation. Accessed May 2019.

“Produsage: Key Principles.” From Production to Produsage: Research into User-Led Content Creation. Accessed May 2019.

“Stuffing Face Template.” Imgflip. Accessed May 11, 2019.

The True Self

An Authentic Inner Self?

The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.

Carl Jung, “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” (1928). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.305

The quote above by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, defines a persona as being a sort of mask for the individual, one that attempts to present a particular kind of self to the external world but that ultimately does not present the ‘true’ self to others. But is there such a thing as a true self? Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher defined his self as an ’empty palace of mirrors.’ By this he meant that there is no internalized authentic inner self, only the projections of those around us.

This idea of a true self has long been a contentious subject among philosophers and psychologists. It is a concept that exists primarily within Western philosophy. Generally, it would seem that there is a tendency in the West towards individualism. The inverse of this has also been found to be true and there is a tendency towards collectivism, a more holistic way of regarding the world, in the East. In a BBC article titled How the East and West Think in Profoundly Different Ways, David Robson discusses Hokkaido, the ‘Wild West’ of Japan. The personalities and values of the people of Hokkaido have been forged by the extremes of the weather and the difficulties of frontier life. The ‘cognitive profile’ of the people in Hokkaido have more in common with most Americans; they are more individualistic, less connected to those around them etc.

From this we can assume that our environments contribute towards our personality and towards building the framework through which we view them.

Gish Jen in a video for Big Think conceives of this difference between Eastern and Western thought in terms of differentiating ourselves from others. In the West, there tends to be a lot of emphasis placed on this endless differentiation, of our choices as an expression of our inner selves. She says that in the East, they do not tend to see the choices made as being representative of an individual’s self. But what of non physical locations? How do online spaces shape identity?

A Digital Self?

Online, there is an additional layer of how we represent ourselves to others. In games and programs alike, an individual can sometimes customise an avatar to represent themselves. In a game like Fortnite for example, the user can buy skins for their avatar to wear. The degree of customization varies from game to game with many of the more desirable skins being monetized.

As Sartre pointed out, the self (to him at least) was merely a collection of other people’s projections of an individual. If this is true then using an avatar to represent yourself equips you to manage how your identity is perceived to a larger extent. There is however limited ability to control the associations someone may have with particular hair colours, genders etc. that an individual might choose for their avatar.

Personally, I prefer picking male avatars to represent myself. Sometimes I pick female avatars but it really depends on what I’m playing/using. The origin of this may certainly be in some inherent discomfort I have with the idea of an assigned gender, an idea that comes alongside a host of preconceived notions and stereotypes. At the heart of it, perhaps I wish others not to make any assumptions. Unconventionality aside, I would prefer that our assessment of others is based solely on what is said rather than what they appear to be. At the end of the day, we cannot control how others perceive us and expecting an avatar to represent some true inner self is a fallacy. Maybe there is no true inner self, maybe there is. Either way, perhaps it limits us to put so much emphasis on appearance as an expression of a true inner self.


Author, No. “Volcanic Alert Raised for Mount Meakandake in Hokkaido.” The Japan Times. Accessed April 12, 2019.

Boulé, Jean-Pierre. Sartre, Self-formation, and Masculinities. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005.
Gerson, Jen. “‘Gender-swapping’ Gamers: Why Some Men Prefer to Play with Female Avatars – and Vice Versa.” National Post. June 05, 2016.
Accessed April 19, 2019.

Jung, Carl & Campbell Joseph. The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious. Penguin Books.

Robson, David. “Future – How East and West Think in Profoundly Different Ways.” BBC. January 19, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Think, Big. “Philosophies of Self: East-West Distinctions | Gish Jen.” YouTube. March 12, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2019.

More than a Medium

Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian cultural theorist, coined the ubiquitous term ‘global village’ as well as the well worn expression ‘the medium is the message.’ The latter expression and the concept behind it was one of his main contributions to cultural theory. He thought that how something is conveyed; the medium, has profound implications for society that often get overlooked in favour of the content of a message.

“For the “content” of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.”

 — Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man [London, England: MIT Press,1964; p.18]

By this, McLuhan means that it is not the information of the message that we should be focusing on but rather the wider implications and effects of any shiny, new technological advance that becomes mainstream. How do tools affect and shape our behaviour, the ways that we think and perhaps even the structure of our brains?

Image source:

McLuhan discussed this in terms of television and radio, which were the dominant media forms in the 60s when he was writing but the internet would be more relevant to discuss today.

In his essay for the Atlantic Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr notes that he and many of the people that he knows now experience difficulty concentrating when reading long texts as a result of using the internet. Given the lack of long term studies on how the internet affects our cognition, his account his anecdotal but one that definitely is reflected in the people that I know.

Carr also discusses a study of research habits conducted by University College London, which looked at the data associated with reader habits on two prominent research websites. They found that users demonstrated
“a form of skimming activity” when they used these websites. What will be the long term implications of this change?

Although I am a champion skim reader if needed, my concentration when reading has not suffered as a result of internet usage. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I have autism spectrum disorder. It has long been noted and has been supported by studies that people with ASD have an increased capacity for intense focus.

The internet’s ability to act as a vast repository for information will also probably have profound implications for human memory. If I no longer need to remember even the most basic things because technology will do it for me, how will this affect my brain?

Although we can observe the changes that are occurring in people around us anecdotally, we need long term studies, which look at how the internet interacts with our cognition. James Bridle, an artist and software programmer has noted the alarming lack of technological literacy in society. People use technology but do not see its wider implications. It is not the sum of its parts, it is not reducible to mere code and requires an ability to consider what technology’s wider implications are and how it affects the world around us.


“” The New Aesthetic and Its Politics. Accessed April 1, 2019.

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. June 13, 2018. Accessed April 1, 2019.

Quora. “Research Shows That People With Autism Have A Stronger Aptitude For Focusing On Tasks.” Forbes. July 20, 2017. Accessed April 1, 2019.

Thompson, Clive. “Your Outboard Brain Knows All.” Wired. June 05, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2019.

Between Omelas and the Unknown

Le Guin’s short narrative piece The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a short parable about a utopian city, Omelas whose prosperity and happiness is dependent upon a single child’s suffering in a basement. On one level, it is about exploitation. The child in the basement whose misery is essential for the happiness and contentment of the rest of the population of Omelas represents our own uneasy relationship with many of the commodities and services in our own lives, which are wholly dependent upon human suffering.

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

Ursula K. le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (1973)

Like the people of Omelas, we all understand the fact that the vast majority of the clothes we wear or the phones we use are produced in conditions of abject suffering. A peculiar kind of cognitive dissonance occurs and because it’s not happening to us, our friends, our family and we do not see it every day, we allow it to continue to happen.

But how does this relationship between exploitation and product play out in reality?
If we look at a company like Amazon, whose business practices have negatively impacted their lowest paid workers for years, we can see how this particular ethical dilemma occurs in reality. Amazon warehouse workers are subject to unrealistic targets, pay not in line with the living wages of the places they operate in as well as their workers being docked pay for using the bathroom during their shifts. If workers are not being paid enough to maintain a basic standard of living then this comes to impact other areas of their lives. With less money to spend, they are forced into using services that cost the least amount. If I have the choice between buying an ethically produced pair of jeans for eighty euro and and an unethically produced pair for fifteen, which will I choose? Unethical business practices produce unethical consumer choices in a neverending circle. Personal choice obviously plays some part in this matter but the more capital that you have, the more choice that you have in our society.

How can we see a way to do things differently, to treat others in our society as if they too have inherent worth and dignity? The only reason that Amazon as one example among many has been so discussed in the media is that it is an example of exploitation happening within the west. If it were happening anywhere else, we would not be discussing it at all.

In Omelas, the ones who disagree with the treatment of the child in the basement walk away. They do not try to change things from within.

“They leave Omelas; they walk ahead into the darkness and they do not come back.”

This parable about Omelas tells us how things are but does not tell us how they should be. We can take personal responsibility for our choices in life; buying ethical goods etc. There are no easy answers to the question above. Is taking personal responsibility enough? Arguably not. We must see ourselves collectively working towards treating others with the dignity and respect that they deserve and changing our practices in the world. This world is all we have and to walk away from it is a fallacy. We are of it, we live in it and we cannot escape it.

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Ursula K. le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (1973)

This walking away is not a physical walking away but making a clear decision to change things, taking personal responsibility for your role in society and the choices that you make. To stay in Omelas is to live in delusion. But to walk away is to make a decision to open your eyes and to change.


Le Guin, Ursula K. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” In New Dimensions 3. 1973.

Price, Rob. “Some Amazon Warehouse Workers Are Reportedly Sleeping in Tents to save Money.” Business Insider. December 11, 2016. Accessed April 11, 2019.

Žižek, Slavoj. First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. London: Verso, 2018.

Reflection on the importance of effective task management

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Matrix helps an individual to plan their daily activities using two variables: urgency of the task and importance of the task. I have included an example to illustrate this. The Urgent-Important Matrix is helpful for people who wish to increase their productivity and struggle with task management.

Ideally, an individual would want to be spending most of their time on the items in Quadrant II but for most people, they prioritise by level of urgency rather than level of importance. It is understandable that this happens. If something is staring you right in the face, you’re much more likely to do it than something that’s important but not urgent.

This method of managing tasks and boosting productivity was first suggested to me because of my difficulties with executive functioning. It has been widely noted that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (such as myself) experience difficulties with executive dysfunction. Wikipedia defines executive function as:

‘a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.’

With an issue like this, it becomes vital to develop strategies to cope with managing and completing tasks. As an example of how executive dysfunction manifests is in an inability to prioritise tasks, to assign tasks their correct importance because they all seem equally important to the person with executive function issues.

Although I am a proponent of this method of managing my day to day activities, I unfortunately fell into this trap when it came to organising a meeting for our team in Second Life. Urgent issues like work for other modules, my job and other factors came into play and my team and I were unable to facilitate a meeting with one another. However, we were in contact with one another. KexinHuang added me on Facebook shortly after our class and we corresponded a bit about various things pertaining to our assignment. The other member of our group was absent from class when the assignment was discussed and although we both attempted to talk to her, we were unable to do so until almost a week later.

Our meeting did not happen for various reasons. I definitely fell into the trap of prioritising my urgent tasks rather than balancing them with my important ones that week. The Urgent-Important Matrix can be a powerful tool when used correctly!


“Executive Functions.” Wikipedia. February 22, 2019. Accessed March 02, 2019.

Huber, Liz. “How to Master Your Priorities with the Urgent-Important Matrix.” July 06, 2018. Accessed March 03, 2019.

Lebowitz, Shana. “A Decades-old Time-management Strategy Can Help You Become More Productive and Less Stressed at Work.” Business Insider. March 09, 2018. Accessed February 27, 2019.

Beyond the map and the territory

Viewing the cityscape in Dublin in Second Life creates a sort of cognitive dissonance in the viewer. Although there are many familiar landmarks, the layout of the place is utterly alien to one familiar with the city. Because this is a simulated environment based on a real location, which a user is viewing through the lens of an avatar, there is a multi layered sense of abstraction.

Two locations that do not exist side by side in ‘real’ Dublin.

The relationship between an object and its representation is displayed through this ‘virtual’ Dublin when compared with the ‘real’ Dublin. Alfred Korzybski concisely summed this idea up when he said that ‘the map is not the territory.’ A model of reality is not reality itself. But what do we mean by reality? Perhaps reality is a collection of perceptions agreed on by the majority of people. If that is accepted to be true, then there is no such thing as an objective reality.

Baudrillard said that this idea of a map i.e the representation of an object and the territory i.e the object itself became more complex with the introduction of electronic media. This idea is explored in his book Simulacra and Simulacrum (1981) in which he defines the verb to simulate as:

“to simulate is not simply to feign…feigning or dissimulation leaves the reality intact…whereas simulation threatens the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false,’ between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’

In a simulation, the barriers between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’ are eroded, reality (if it exists) has ceased to exist and a new reality has come into existence. This idea can be seen in films like the Matrix (1999 ) where the reality that the majority of people live is one that is simultaneously ‘real’ and ‘unreal.’ This is what Baudrillard referred to as ‘hyperreality.’

A simulacrum on the other hand is when signs of the real replace the real. In Dublin in Second Life, my avatar sat down at the bar in a pub called ‘The Blarney Stone’ and a stout glass was put into my inventory. When this item was equipped, my avatar would simulate the motion of sipping a pint. The sign of the real, which is buying a pint from a pub, drinking from the pint glass have replaced the real world actions. This can also be seen in the in game currency, which buys you the signs of the real but not the real itself.

After this interlude in Dublin, I decided to pick a random place to visit. I teleported my character to Leipzig, which turned out to be a sparsely populated and aesthetically pleasing underwater spot. So far, I had only encountered places that tried to simulate reality in some way. Although human beings are unable to walk around underwater, the simulated landscape did not push the boundaries of what could be created. Perhaps there is a sense of profound narcissism in most human beings in that when you give them the ability to create, what they try to simulate is human life and experience itself.

A shoal swimming around a rock in Leipzig

The final destination was an in game art exhibition/project by artist Bryn Oh, the alter ego and ‘ghost artist’ of a Toronto based oil painter. There has been occasional startling success in the use of online spaces and games as places where cultural events such as music performances, art exhibitions etc. take place. One of the most recent and successful iterations of this was the performance by the artist Marshmello in the game Fortnite, which allegedly had ten million concurrent viewers. Bryn Oh attempts to create immersive experiences within Second Life and her current project is called Daughter of Gears.

Daughter of Gears

My avatar teleported into an antiquated house and wandered around looking at the locale. There was a retrofuturistic feel to it and it reminded me of Mark Fisher’s writings on how the future is being “slowly cancelled” and that we have become unable to imagine the future or produce anything culturally and genuinely new. The detritus and created antique objects in the game were reminiscent of this idea. They felt like reiterations of other ideas, which were iterations of ideas before that, harkening back to some original somewhere. Perhaps there was never any original at all and they are simply simulacra.


Jean Baudrillard- Simulacra and Simulation (1981)

Mark Fisher- Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (2014)

Alfred Kobzynski- Science and Sanity (1933)