The drama, Mr. Robot, is a creation of Sam Esmail. The show follows the life of a hacker and cyber-security executive, Elliot Anderson, who has been portrayed by Rami Malek. He suffers from both clinical depression and social anxiety disorder. As he is going about his rather monotonous life, he is recruited by a man, portrayed by Christian Slater, who calls himself “The Robot”. He wants to attack a large corporation to erase all debt records, which is very similar to the movie: “Fight Club”. The show made its debut as an online series and won millions of hearts. It has been wholeheartedly accepted by audiences and praised by the critics. It even won a Golden Globe for the Best Television Drama Series. Among all the accolades, the show has also brought to the table a reality of life, which is seldom discussed, mostly because people do not even recognize it as a problem.
Mr Robot has become such a huge success, not because of its pace or unpredictable surprises, but for the complete opposite reasons. It shows and tells people what they already know or have witnessed. At the core of it are two connected thoughts: One is the unprecedented importance of cyber-security in the lives of the present day people, and the other encompases the problems that this concept poses on our society.
Technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. There are large data dumps created every single second that are becoming huge political and economic weapons with great destructive power. Companies are being hacked every day and sensitive information about unsuspecting netizens is being leaked routinely. There are huge gaps in cyber-security that are wide open for the public, but we all are completely oblivious to them. This is exactly what Mr. Robot shows – the fact that one man with the right tools and knowledge can bring the whole system down.
This onslaught of technology on our lives has also given birth to online communities that are ‘social’. This has led to a never seen before wave of adults who find themselves in a crowd and yet feel completely alone. Elliot Anderson is no different. His only form of interaction with others is through hacking into their personal accounts. He sees official lies, concentrated wealth, and so on. Thanks to his limited social interactions, which his social anxiety and depression have further worsened, he is addicted to loneliness. He is vulnerable and with his knowledge, a weapon in himself, something that has come to the notice of Mr. Robot. This man will do anything that seems right to him, because he has no other human voice in his life to interject him or reason with him.
Just when the finale of the show was to air, a tragic accident illustrated just how real of a problem Mr. Robot was showcasing. A news crew consisting of Adam Ward, a photojournalist and the accompanying news reporter, Alison Parker, were killed by their ex-colleague. Vester Lee Flanagan was a “disturbed” journalist, who maintained a pretty active Facebook and Twitter accounts. He had been fired from his job a while ago and has expressed discontent with the system online, but was never able to communicate efficiently with peers. The finale of the first season was postponed, given the similarity of the show’s concept.
The other aspect of the show deals with the cyber-security issues are a huge threat to privacy and safety of every citizen on the planet. In the show Anderson works at this powerful multinational technology company and hacks into the accounts of various people. This ‘cyber-security officer’ goes through the social media and mail accounts of strangers. If he finds something that can be called ‘wrong’, he forwards the material over to law enforcement. Initially, Anderson works like a self-appointed cyber police, turning in people such as a restaurateur involved in child pornography. This topic was also addressed the crime show Dexter: both productions are mainly about punishing the bad guys acting as vigilantes. However, as the series progresses, the logic that Anderson uses to punish people becomes difficult to justify. Technology has placed unlimited power in the hands of a person who does not identify with the society. The perils of it are unimaginable and as the show goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult for the audiences to accept his moral justification for his actions.
It is obvious that Anderson does not, by any means, represent the hacker culture. No living person for that matter. However what it does reflect is a truth – a product of our social practices that is not a part of the future but is already here. A member of the well-known hacking group Anonymous told media that this show is one of the most accurate portrayals of what the hacker culture wants to be seen as in the history of television and movies.
However, hacker groups have all started with little mischiefs, then graduated to harassing people and then moving to much bigger targets and leaking sensitive information that would help fuel social causes. We also have people like Snowden who have tried to inform the public only to be seen as a national threat by the government. But the evolution is pretty clear, as is the power. The question is – who will guard the guards? Preparing for a full-fledged cyber-attack is not only paranoia for companies or even individuals; it is something to be mindful of as a collective group of societies and cultures.
The show has come as a reminder to people that grew up with technology of the implications of their digital lives. This well-connected group of lonely individuals should be weary of the information they provide online. The power of technology is further fueling the evolution. Technology is not evil, but it can threaten us in a super evil way. Uninhibited power in the wrong hands can corrupt them without exception. Advancement in technology is the only way to cure illnesses, connect us with people around the world, and create new jobs. However, there is a need to embrace this change, while preventing a complete breakdown of the social machine. Mr. Robot may be fictional, but it is sure is very close to reality. It poses problems that not only should be fixes within ourselves, but also inside our global society.