I just watched an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series called San Junipero. Like most of this series it’s a “what if…” scenario where technology is used or misused in a dystopian society. This one presents a society in which the elderly wealthy who are dying can use virtual reality to visit any era from their own memories. They can stay for just a few hours if they are still alive in the real world but they have the option of “passing over” into permanent residence after their technical death. Each time they visit they can pick a different era and it got me thinking about what era would I visit?
At the age of 18 I left my home in the countryside and went to live in the big city. I arrived in Manchester in 1974 and it was so exciting and different. There used to be a series on the TV at the time called the Mary Tyler Moore Show where the eponymous heroine swings around in the middle of the street looking at the high buildings all around her and throws her hat in the air. And I felt like doing this every time I got off the bus in the city centre. I felt like I was starring in my own movie and it was all so exciting. Manchester was taking off as a hip place to be and I went to house parties, live bands, nightclubs, gay bars, illegal drinking dens and on political demonstrations. I even squeezed in a few lectures when I could. There has never been a more thrilling time of my life and I knew it would change me for ever.
Now, thinking about the San Junipero scenario I began to wonder whether I would go back even if I could. In real life I never really felt tempted to go back to live there because I felt that after I left it could never be the same again: the people, my life experience, my age all combined to make a totally unique experience. But would I want to go back even if it could be the same? What if my more jaundiced eye saw it as tatty and a bit naff or even boring? Do I want to spoil my memories? More importantly would I want to live there forever in an 80s afterlife?
In the episode there is a conflict between the two leads: Yorkie is close to death and is looking forward to living in San Junipero for ever but her new love, Kelly says that she is only visiting and that when she dies she wants to leave her memories behind. She is not sure what death means but she prefers that to the endless sameness of San Junipero no matter how fun it is to visit. The back story of each is that Kelly lived a full life with a happy marriage of 45 years whilst Yorkie had been paralysed at the age of 21 and been quadriplegic all her life. And perhaps this explains the split between them. The writer clearly felt that Yorkie would not have had a full and happy life and so this is her opportunity to have the life she never had in the real world – she wanted her life to continue even if in her heart she knows it’s all an illusion. Kelly on the other hand had done all that she wanted and was happy to accept the end.
I wonder how many of us would choose to live forever at one point in our own history, either in the real or virtual world? No matter how attractive a place is, to be stuck in it forever would surely grind you down. Life is about progressing and growing and new experiences rather than staying stuck in one place and time. Would the heaven of the best of our memories become a living hell if we were doomed to spend unlimited time in it?
What would be the era you would want to return to and would you want to stay there forever?