The worst that could happen: looking in the black mirror

(Originally published on my newsletter — here are previous ones)

When did you start watching TV?

I never watch any TV. I don’t have one. The last series I watched was “Fringe” five years ago. Leila told me I should watch this new TV series everyone is supposedly talking about, “Black Mirror”. I just watched Nosedive the first episode on my flight home from Paris to San Francisco and was hooked.

Why is everyone talking about Black Mirror?

The story of this episode happens sometime in the near future and shows how technology can turn really bad.

Take a ride with Uber, and you can rate the driver from one to five stars and the driver in turns rates you as passenger. Rent a place on AirBNB, and you rate the owner and get rated as a tenant. Reputation ratings, also called “gamification,” are everywhere. We get rated and rate everything and everyone. You can even rate the company that you work for and your own boss and colleagues on Glassdoor. It has become so popular that CEOs have to listen and change their behavior in the face of negative feedback.

What if we rated everyone around us up to five stars constantly?

This is the gist of the episode. Get a drink and rate the waiter. We kind of do that already with a tip. Imagine if we did this constantly with everyone. You get upset at someone in the street and he gives you a one star. You go from 4.3 to 4.28 rating.

Your score is displayed live to everyone and constantly evolves as you do anything. Imagine we all have Google Glass like augmented reality data displayed straight on your retina.

Post a cool photo people like on Instagram and get 4 and 5 stars. Your score improves to 4.4. We’re not so far with our number of followers and likes on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Your 1 to 5 personal life rating determines what you can do in life.

We already have this in the U.S. with the credit score. If your score is good you get better mortgage rates and more advantages on your credit cards. What if we all had a score for everything. Black Mirror shows the main character as trying to rent a new fancy apartment and there is a discount if your rating is above 4.5. The TV episode characters get married at a resort that “only 3.8 and above can get into — no exceptions”.

The show does a really good job making you think that a global rating system of the lives of everyone is a credible possibility. Badges of honor are as old as humanity. We have always had medals, like the legion d’honneur in France, diplomas and thousands of different distinctions. Black Mirror’s episode turns everything into a single rating for all.

This is terrifying. The characters live very shallow lives. Ratings make fame and “how you matter” or how much money and power you have the most important criteria. Helping others and making the world a better place doesn’t seem to count much in how everyone rates other people.

How will you measure your life? Money? Power? Family? Accomplishments? Art you created? Do you see a transparent and global rating of everyone on the planet a possibility? What would such a world look like?

Quick update on my conference in Paris April 11–12 we’re about to increase the registration price ask for an invite and get a pass soon if you want to join. I had a blast presenting How to think like a startup to about 400 marketing & innovation managers in Paris (slides updated). Our leader of the week: Marie Ekeland.

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update: From a 2003 novel… (thanks, Jean-Francois Gagne)

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom


Whuffie is the ephemeral, reputation-based currency of Cory Doctorow’s science fiction novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and his short story “Truncat”.[1]This book describes a post-scarcity economy: all the necessities (and most of the luxuries) of life are free for the taking. A person’s current Whuffie is instantly viewable to anyone, as everybody has a brain implant giving them an interface with the Net.

The term has since seen some adoption as a synonym for social capital, including its use in the title of the Tara Hunt book The Whuffie Factor.[2]

In 2016, Doctorow stated that Whuffie “would make a terrible currency.”[3]

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