July 28, 2015

How ‘Sense8′ mirrors our own digital lives

‘Sense8’ may be set in a world of sci-fi and fantasy, but are we really that far from being able to see the world through the eyes of others?


Hailed as the “most promising sci-fi show since Lost” that has the potential to “change Hollywood”, Netflix’s latest original drama offering ‘Sense8’ looks set to further the streaming service’s dominance over its major broadcast network rivals.

Directed by the Wachowskis (The Matrix and Cloud Atlas), the show boasts impressive visuals that sweep across often breathtaking landscapes, following the individual lives of characters from locations as far reaching as San Francisco to Mumbai to Mexico City to Seoul.

The fun of ‘Sense8” is in the idea that all eight character leads in the show are connected by a telepathic link. This ability allows them to see the world through each other’s eyes, infiltrating each other’s thoughts, accessing each other’s emotions and harnessing their individual knowledge. A Chicago cop suddenly finds himself seeing the world through the eyes of an Icelandic girl playing a DJ set in London. A scientist in Mumbai finds herself in the bedroom of a gangster in Berlin. So on and so forth.

The show’s main themes draw heavily around ideas of human interaction, social bonds and the exploration of cultural identity. Whilst it may sit well within the realm of fantasy and science-fiction drama, there’s a point to be made around how our ability to prise a window into the lives of others, to gaze and interact with other people and cultures, is simply no longer beyond our reach. The ease with which characters in ‘Sense8’ flit in and out of each other’s lives is a direct amplification of the current state of global interconnectivity.

Enter Periscope, a new content streaming platform that allows users to “explore the world through someone else’s eyes”. Users able to live broadcast themselves to a global audience via the app and with recent figures revealing that ten years of live Periscope content is streamed every day, a strong indication that the future of online communities is becoming increasingly reliant on video.


Together with an impressive map feature which points to live broadcasts around the globe, simple Twitter integration and the promise of new functionality on its way, Periscope is positioning itself as a leading platform in the visual social media market.

A quick play around on the app led me chat to a guy completing his MA in Islamabad, then to a group of friends hanging out on a rooftop in Brooklyn and finally, a guy speaking in hushed whispers for fear of being reprimanded on a bus in Southern Japan. My favourite though was an oyster farmer in California who was telling me about his life living in a tent, cleaning his friend’s house in exchange for wifi. The sharing economy is real.

The beauty of Periscope is that it facilitates the intersection of strangers with startling immediacy. The platform creates opportunities for users to form surprising social connections with unknown individuals in one quick tap. We can literally play a vicarious role in observing the lived experiences of others, exchanging stories, knowledge etc.

With that in mind, it doesn’t feel like a ridiculous thing to suggest that the appeal of ‘Sense8’ is in the fact that it’s truly tapped into a fascination we’ve developed for prising open digital windows to the lives others. The show plays on this idea of seamless interconnectivity and the very real way in which technology is allowing us to make human connections that transcend geographical boundaries through an unfiltered, authentic lens.

Elsewhere on Snapchat, this increasing appetite for authentic, unfiltered content is being thoughtfully catered to via the platform’s ‘Story’ functionality. Snapchat live curated user generated content during Diwali and more recently, provided an impressive livestream of Ramadan prayers in Mecca. The latter was met with high praise from the Muslim community, with many praising Snapchat for bringing positive attention around the annual pilgrimage, as well as countering the inescapably negative global narrative of Islam commonly seen across broadcast networks. With over a million people tweeting about the #Mecca_live, the pull of authentic, raw and alternative content is undeniable.


For me, what Snapchat has demonstrated well is the strength in repurposing user-generated content for the purpose of reinforcing positive cultural messaging. This messaging has the potential to go a long way in terms of social impact, both offline and in the real-world. Young people often feel that traditional mainstream media is not to be trusted and/or doesn’t speak to them. Emergent digital platforms are providing young people with a counter content narrative which is deemed more favourable and trusted as crucially, it’s being generated through the eyes of those on the ground.

In a recent insight group of 16-24 year olds here at Livity, one young person stated that to them “Snapchat is the news. It’s seeing it through the eyes of my friends, the people who are actually there”. It’s perhaps no surprise that trust over traditional news sources of news is declining with this audience, but this innate desire for credible authenticity is being answered by content-led platforms such as Snapchat and Periscope, who themselves claim to be the “platform for truth”. If harnessed correctly, such platforms could prove powerful tools for broadcast content, that would see them elevated beyond their “niche” status.

Organisations are already harnessing the power of Periscope to implement social good, with young activists group Girl Up taking to the platform to explore the challenges faced by adolescent girls in Zambia, Brazil, US and Nepal.

With this in mind, it’s important to not underestimate the fact that the advent of the digital revolution is allowing us to more interested in, open to and accepting of the experiences of others – a collective mindset defined by togetherness, creative collaboration and the power of “we” may just be the thing to ensure the cultural success of the 21st century.

Scary? Possibly. Exciting? Definitely. Digitally enabled transhumanism might well be in its infancy, but we should all be taking note.

Ultimately, ‘Sense8’ pushes the idea that we’d probably all do a little better if we made an effort to understand each other more. Harness the power of technology and get on board.

28.07.15, Will de Groot, Junior Planner at Livity


  • Sam Boggis-Rolfe

    Very intersting Will. How you can add value and produce behaviour change through ‘live’ content is an exciting area to look into.