Before I became a mum and settled down (yes, in that order), I dated.
I went on analogue dates (you know, where you meet people at parties) and I also went on digital dates through Guardian Soulmates. One of my digital dates was Charlie Brooker.
Of course, Charlie Brooker wasn’t Charlie Brooker online. But he was, unsurprisingly, funny as fuck. So we met up, shared Thai food and cigarettes at The Railway Tavern in Clapham on a balmy summer evening, and it was all very nice.
I’m reminded of this digital date because we’ve just binge watched season 4 of Black Mirror and one of the most compelling and disturbing episodes, ‘Hang the DJ’, is about digital dating.
In ‘Hang the DJ’, Frank and Amy meet at a Centre Parks style estate, date, sleep together then part. Then date other people, have sex and then part. And so it continues. So far so normal. Except they don’t get to decide who they date and sleep with – the System does. The System, as they are frequently reminded, is an algorithm designed to help them find the ‘perfect partner’. But in order to do so, they must obey the rules of the game.
Like Bluebeard, the System punishes curious minds. So when Frank betrays the System by checking how long they have together without Amy’s consent, their projected five years together disappears before his eyes. So they escape. Up and over the vast wall that guards the marital microcosm which pixelates into disintegration beneath them and separates Frank and Amy from… well, reality, apparently.
Reality takes the form of a scene in a pub, where Frank and Amy, or whoever they are now, look up from their dating apps and meet one another’s gaze, confident in the knowledge that they’re 99.7% compatible.
When I went on a date with Charlie Brooker, I tricked the system. A mutual friend gave me the head’s up about his online pseudonym, so I knew who he was before he told me. Thinking back on it now, maybe the algorithm didn’t connect us for a reason. But the moral of ‘Hang the DJ’ might just be that resisting the system is one of the best ways to make authentic connections. Despite the (inevitable) sinister narrative denouement, it’s an oddly romantic episode of Black Mirror in that sense. And perhaps the least futuristic.