Balance June 2019 - 16

stars a so-hot-right-now Andrew Scott, will dominate conversations given
smartphones, and the sweet dopamine hit they provide, play a key role.
"Our job isn't to tell people what to do or think," reasons Brooker, who
met Jones when making Channel 4's 2008 zombie drama Dead Set. "We're
presenting a story with a hopefully interesting dilemma that's exciting."
He adds: "What is interesting is that I was at an event a few weeks ago
where there were lots of tech people and Silicon Valley-type folk. And the
topic of conversation was the unseen ethical ramifications of the very things
they were developing.



he lightning bolt of inspiration has just struck
Charlie Brooker while he's mid-flow with Balance
and his producing partner, Annabel Jones, in a
London hotel. "I've just had an idea for an episode,
so I'll shut up!" The fifth season of anthology series
Black Mirror has just landed on Netflix, and Balance
may have just witnessed the exact moment Brooker
had an idea for season six. It's exciting.
We're enjoying a wonderfully freewheeling chat about technology,
the future and all things Black Mirror. Brooker and Jones, the double act
responsible for the Netflix smash, are talking passionately about ways of
combating tech use when Brooker has his lightbulb moment. His eyes
widen. It was quite a thing to witness, the moment inspiration ignites.
Balance has admitted to using its smartphone too much, and Brooker
suggests a device called a Kitchen Safe, a
transparent box with a timer, to combat it. "You
put something in it," he says, "set your timer for a
minute or a month and it locks it. And you cannot
get it out."
"Why can't you just do that on the phone?"
reasons Jones. "Why can't you just set the phone to
not turn on?" Chatting with Jones and Brooker is
like spending time with siblings; they join in with
each other's answers, occasionally bicker in the
warmest way possible and are clearly incredibly
close. It's a partnership that's spawned Emmys and
BAFTAs, worldwide acclaim and hit shows such as
Dead Set, the satirical Wipe series and, of course,
Black Mirror.
Brooker parries: "You can. But it is well recognised that willpower is a
difficult thing to sustain. You can always override a phone. The funny thing
is... oh actually, I've just had an idea for an episode, so I'll shut up."
And, with that, Balance practically explodes with excitement (you can
hear the moment on the latest podcast). Because technology is at the dark
heart of Black Mirror, Balance has long been eager to chat with Brooker
and Jones. After all, we all worry about technology and wellbeing and
how we're using our phone too much, right? The negative impacts are
well-known: posture, concentration and mental health can all be affected.
When you try to kick the addiction, it can trigger withdrawal symptoms,
anxiety and depression. One new episode in particular, Smithereens, which

"It was something they were worried about. The unforeseen consequences
of something is a real problem for them to grapple with, and it's something
the world is grappling with at the moment. But I wouldn't profess to know
the solution.
"When writing the episode it was at a time when I was trying to
concentrate and I felt like my attention was being shattered. I had an app
called Moment which tracks your phone usage and it was immediately
terrifying. No matter how much time you think you spend using your
phone, you probably spend three times that amount. It would tell you
you're spending this much time on Twitter, email or Facebook and it was
horrifying. Like being told you smoke 120 cigarettes a day. So I turned my
phone screen to monochrome, which was a thing I'd read about, and then
that got irritating after a couple of days.
"Author Douglas Adams once said that in the olden days, writers used
to look out of the window when they should be writing. Now the internet
exists, the thing you're writing on is the same place where the window exists
and it's a real problem. "As soon as I cut off my internet connection, I'd start
Googling things on my phone and use 4G. It's like trying to stop the flow of
water: it just goes around the rock."
Jones says: "Andrew Scott" [she pauses to pray, alluding to Scott's
remarkable performance] "plays it as he always does: small, intense,
personal, passionate. And you follow his story. We also want to make a wider
point about how this world has been created, how this phone is so seductive
and what's behind all of that.
"There is something deliciously ironic that the phone that's been designed
and created to hold your attention for as long as possible is now being
designed to warn you. It's evolving itself in terms of design and a worry
about backlash. It's becoming ethical. It all evolves."
Brooker then goes on a characteristically
hilarious 'rant', the sort made famous via another
Jones and Brooker hit, the satirical BBC Two
Wipe series. "Smithereens is risky for us as a show
because what you don't want to be perceived
as is people going: [Brooker adopts the voice of
a gruff older person], 'You young people, you
whippersnappers! You're spending too much time
looking at your iPads and your phones and your
screens! Go on! Climb a tree! Scuff your knees
up! Go on! Eat an orange! Touch some wood,
you f*cker!' We're not trying to say that. There is
a difference between that and pointing out that
a lot of these products are optimised to keep people hooked. That is true
and has ramifications."
"The ingredients of the drug are changing and you're not even aware of
it," Jones explains. "One day you wake up and get a number of how many
emails you haven't looked at yet. It becomes like a game: 'I've got four and
have to get that down.' Those subtle things draw you in and pull you back."
Brooker agrees. "Every app on your phone is competing for your attention.
It's like a nest full of baby birds for you to f*cking throw up in. Of course it's
a box of f*cking madness."
Part of the reason behind Black Mirror's success is that it's believable. OK,
you can't inject a camera into your child's head as you can in the haunting
Arkangel. But, you can imagine it happening in the future. Any protective




Balance June 2019

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