I was washing my dishes in the dayroom, where people were watching Netflix. It was Arkangel of the series Black Mirror.
In it, Marie took her daughter and gives her an implant. The implant allows the mother to GPS track her, see what she is doing, and a feature that filters out inappropriate content like blood or violence. So as baby Sara passed by the neighbor’s barking dog, all she saw were pixels and all she could hear was random noise. She could not see her grandfather who had a stroke. She could not see people fighting. She probably couldn’t even hear kids yelling at her or shoving her.
Sara enjoyed no privacy and was completely controlled by her mother. She also had a terrible social life since obviously she could not keep secrets or have any kind of authentic relations.
While the episode focuses on overly controlling parents and to a certain extent privacy infringement, I think there’s another important aspect of the story that should be examined. Also, it happens to be what made Marie put away the parental control tablet for many years: the filter.
Due to the filter, Sara couldn’t see blood. She tried drawing it but then even that was pixelated. Frustrated and angry, she sharpened her pencil and stabbed her finger. The blood was pixelated. She smeared it on her face. When her mother flies into the room, Sara slaps her.
And she had every right to be furious and angry. Marie had ruined her daughter’s life.
Immediately after, a counselor shows Sara pictures of people fighting and asked what it was. She said they were talking, but she can’t guess what it is. Sara couldn’t spot anger, aggression, or any negative things that would cause stress or discomfort.
With this, Marie finally realizes that she ruined her daughter’s life, and shuts down the parental control and with it the filter.
When faced with the real world, Sara was terrified. When she came to the barking dog, she was terrified. What we could normally simply stroll past caused her so much shock and terror that she backed into the street and almost got hit by a vehicle. I am just surprised that Sara didn’t just start screaming, as I imagine I would if I was in that predicament.
Because of her lack of any understanding or preparation of a response to fears, Sara could not deal with the real world’s fears. In the series, she luckily survived, but in real life, I suspect few could survive the trauma. Without prior exposure, she would not have been able to navigate the complexities of the world and know to avoid the dangers that present themselves.
When shown a TV series, we all understand. Sara was “protected” from dangers and stress, but when she does have to face the real world she is so much worse off and realistically she likely wouldn’t have survived at all.
Except, in our own lives, we seem to not recognize this at all. We seem to think that children should be protected from all the dangers and stress of the world. Not even that, even as adults we still have a filter. We need trigger warnings, we need people to not be offensive, no matter if the speech is actually dangerous in any way, and we need our space to be “safe”. We are self-imposing a filter, and not even realizing how damaging it can be.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that wish to be protected from discomfort, I’ve run away after trigger warnings before, and if I was a parent I would want to protect my child as much as possible too. It is our nature and it is a very good ting to aspire to do.
But it’s not good for us. Because of the complexity and diversity of human nature, there will never be a truly safe world, and we need to prepare ourselves, not try to delay the inevitable.
The best way to prepare Sara for the world and decrease her overall stress in life was to let her face them, not to hide them from her. The best way to prepare us, and prepare our children, for the real world, is also to face them.
Outside of Pearson College, and maybe certain universities, we won’t always be in a “safe space”. As long as there is real diversity of thought there will be people who disagree with us. There will always be unintentionally offensive words. There will always be well-meaning comments and actions that we somehow interpret as hurtful.
So maybe it’s time that we learn to open up. Maybe it’s time that we no longer have a filter. We can choose how we react to words, and we can choose how we approach discomfort in the world.