The Netflix series, Black Mirror, looks at futuristic worlds that are not so distant from our lives today. In the first episode of season 3, the show introduces a society that operates around personal ratings.
People rate each other after every exchange – getting coffee, talking in the elevator, walking by each other on the street. Your rating affects your social status and depending on your status, you can buy better houses, rent better cars and even have better friends. When the main character becomes obsessed with her rating, the curated life she’s built for herself quickly unravels.
The episode feels almost too pointed, but the message is important. This world, where people are the sum of the score they are given, is not unlike our own. We obsess over our Instagram likes, we rate our Uber drivers, we review each other’s services or products online. The internet has made it easy to assign value to just about everything, including people.
When we search for something online, we type “best tattoo artist” or “best breakfast spot in Brooklyn.” Thanks to Amazon, we can read reviews for 10 different toothbrushes and have the top-rated one delivered to our house within the next hour. We've become accustomed to having the best of everything within reach at all times.
It’s a privilege to have so much information available to us, much less our pick of anything we want in any color, shape and size. Reviews and ratings protect us from unsafe food at a restaurant. They help us avoid wasting time and money on products or experiences that are collectively considered sub-par. They also leave us distracted and unsatisfied with the present world we are living in.
I've spent vacations with my head down, determined to find the best view or bar or restaurant on my phone. I’ve wasted hours comparing reviews for nearly identical products. I’ve put trust in people I don’t know who may be nothing like me, who have different taste or standards, who just happened to record their personal experience online.
This obsession with having the best and being the best has seeped into every corner of our lives. How many moments have we been absent because we’re wondering if we’re missing out on something better? How much time do we spend watching our phones, waiting for likes to roll in, or making sure other people aren’t having a better time than us? How often do we compare ourselves or our stuff in desperation to be the best?
A five-star life is not a life fully lived. It’s a life of second guessing, of obsessing and ultimately, one of dissatisfaction.
When we put so much stock in others’ opinion, we miss out on fully experiencing life for ourselves. We deprive ourselves of our beautiful capacity to form our own opinion. Five stars, in this imperfect, non-TV world, does not exist. How self-centered and classically human of us to think otherwise.
This is not to say we can’t value quality. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have high standards or care about success. This is to say that sometimes we could stand to put down our phone and stop worrying about what could be better.
With our head out of the internet and our eyes in front of us, we could discover something new and unknown, unreviewed and unrated. We could better define our personal taste outside of what the critics have to say about it. We could live a real, un-curated life that might not get as many likes, but would certainly be better than a perfect one.