Upload shows economic inequality in the digital afterlife

upload nathan sitting

There are many shows that deal with some form of the afterlife. From The Good Place to Altered Carbon and Lucifer, each has its own interpretation of heaven and hell and what happens to our consciousness when we leave Earth and our physical human bodies. But none tackle the concept quite as well as Amazon Prime Video’s original Upload series.

Now with two seasons under its belt, the highly-rated series, one of the best shows on Amazon Prime Video, is both a comedy and a thinly veiled satirical parody of societal priorities, economic inequality, capitalism, and our worship of the Almighty Dollar. . The year is 2032 and technology has advanced so impressively that death no longer means a complete departure from the world. Instead, your human consciousness can be uploaded to a digital community of the afterlife where you continue to exist and communicate with loved ones, as an AI being. Through advanced VR goggles and a host of other technological marvels, people on Earth can interact with you — and even visit — within these upload communities.

From a technological perspective, it’s a fascinating scenario that offers opportunities to hold onto someone special for much longer, say goodbye and share memories in ways that were not possible before. But this doesn’t come without a price, both literally and figuratively.

Our propensity for capitalist mindsets means that during the show, companies and a new type of real estate agent have emerged to offer all kinds of communities where families can register their loved ones – even themselves – after death. Do you want to experience your afterlife on an exotic virtual beach? Or maybe you want something with cityscapes, or a zen-like community of tranquility. It’s the new type of retirement community that goes on forever, or at least until the money runs out. Therein lies the problem: there is something for everyone… as long as you can afford it.

It is easy to see how such breakthrough technology can create an economic divide, favoring the rich and neglecting the poor. It’s not just about what experience you want to have after death, but also whether your family can afford to enroll you.

Financial inequality at death

This theme is explored in many ways. Most notably, it is through the protagonist Nathan, a young man who is forever tied up with a girlfriend he wanted to break up with because she is holding his wallet. But there’s also Luke, the veteran who gets special access to a premium community he doesn’t fit in and can’t afford upgrades to, and Yang, a young woman banished to the 2Gig basement community.

When Nathan’s wealthy girlfriend, Ingrid, in his last moments convinces him to be uploaded to a lavish digital estate called Lakeview, he finds himself in a world that offers both opportunities and challenges. Like a digital Ritz Carlton, guests have everything at their fingertips. Fancy a filet mignon? No problem! Do you want to take a steam bath? Go there. There is a casino, a hair salon – you name it. AI Guy, the jovial, overly attentive yet dim-witted human form of a digital assistant, is there to help with whatever you need on the spot. But there is a cost to your family every time you want something new.

While Lakeview is paradise, those who don’t have the resources either spend what’s left of their livelihoods in an inadequate upload community — the postmortem equivalent of relying on a homeless shelter, community housing, or a three-star motel — or simply cease to exist ​​after death, much to the despair of their surviving loved ones who watch anxiously as others bond with their dead.

Even in Lakeview, if your family hits a financial roadblock and you can no longer afford to stay there, you’re sent to a place called 2Gig. While regular residents enjoy unlimited data in the upper part of Lakeview, the Black and White Underworld gives residents a meager two gigabytes each month to use for free. Every phone call home, every bite of food, every moment eats up the data limit, after which you are literally stuck until there is a reset the next month or a new impulse to the money.

The economic divide exists not only in afterlife communities like Lakeview, but also in the real world. Horizon runs Lakeview and employs people for a ridiculously low salary to manage the onboarding and day-to-day needs of the uploads. Each Angel, as they are cutely called, has a heavy workload managing dozens of clients, rating them on a star scale that affects their salaries and performance ratings. Yet Angels like Nora and Aleesha barely get by on their entry-level salaries. A subplot involves Nora dealing with her ailing father who is not long on the world. Ironically, despite Nora’s job, she can’t afford to upload him anywhere when he dies.

Much of the second season focuses on a disruptor company called Freeyond that wants to shake up the industry by allowing free uploading for everyone, regardless of financial status. Capitalists call for socialism, while supporters call for equality for all. The anarchist group the Luds, meanwhile, are just clamoring for an end to the digital afterlife, period.

The commercialization of everything

Freeyond threatens not only the flat-rate, pay-for-play aspect of the industry, but also its many recurring revenue opportunities. There is a constant stream of upsells and add-ons at Lakeview and other afterlife communities, making it seem like you’re living in a mobile game app. You will be prompted and encouraged at every turn to “buy this” or “buy that”, with ads literally popping up in the air for you. At Lakeview, this can include enhanced skins (bigger muscles, better wardrobe), ad-free experiences (pop-up ads constantly promote this), special access, and even visits from relatives.

The importance of this pay-for-play strategy is emphasized when Aleesha, Luke’s Angel, finds herself having to constantly keep the troublemaker in line, prevent him from accessing areas he’s not allowed to enter, or manipulate deals to get free merchandise. to get. For those who pay, it’s a business built on guilt. How can you not want the best for your family member who can no longer enjoy the comforts of the real world?

A further example of corporate greed, decision-makers at Horizon hold meetings to discuss their next monetization innovations, which range from digital babies to a service called MindFrisk that captures the spicy dreams of uploaded residents and sells the content as a subscription-based product. based streaming service for people who want to satisfy their curiosity.

Uploading is terrifying, cynical and clever

The world, or rather the afterlife, seen in Upload, represents the most cynical, horrible, opportunistic form of preying on surviving relatives. If we thought that upsells to the most expensive coffin, the fanciest cremation urn, and the largest funeral package crossed a line, this takes the concept to a whole new level. After all, the case of death is one of the few that is recession proof. So it goes without saying that any opportunity to make money from it would be attractive to a company.

Upload is both fascinating and eye-opening, asking questions about how far we can go as a society when it comes to playing God. The moral and ethical questions it raises are questions we probably don’t want to tackle yet.

For now, the future world Upload presents is good for a laugh. The show is fiercely smart, well acted and fun. If nothing else, it’s a wake-up call that maybe when your time on this earth is over, it’s best for everyone involved that your time is really up and the surviving family members are allowed to let go forever .

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