Let’s say I write up a quick review on this documentary about the double-edged sword that is social media, search engines and our addiction to smart phones. And then I post the review to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Then you like, comment, or share it (wishful thinking, perhaps). And then you start getting ads and posts relating to what you commented on. And like-minded friends (and maybe a few strangers) weigh in on what you liked, commented on, or shared. And then you start getting all sorts of similar posts and ads relating to the subject matter of this review.
That, in a nutshell, is the point of The Social Dilemma, available now on Netflix. We apparently are all puppets on a social string, manipulated by a small number of engineers in Silicon Valley tasked with monetizing all those “free” services and platforms we devote “x number of hours” to on a daily basis. Cue the alarm emoji!
The documentary from Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral) features interviews with high-profile tech whistle blowers and innovators including: former Google ‘Design Ethicist’ Tristan Harris (now of the Center for Humane Technology); Justin Rosenstein, the co-inventor of the Facebook “Like” button; Tim Kendall, former President of Pinterest and former Director of Monetization at Facebook; Cathy O’Neil, author of “Weapons of Math Destruction, and others. They warn of how people are constantly fed reflections of their pre-existing ideology, thus moving us away from a shared culture where we would otherwise be exposed to different views and perspectives. Couched between the talking heads, the documentary employs dramatizations to highlight the addictive nature of our devices and explore how algorithms work non-stop to keep us engaged.
It’s like “Scared Straight” for the modern technical era.
The true danger emanates from the business model itself: if a service or platform is free, YOU are the product up for sale. ka-ching.
The social dilemma is just that – a real dilemma. We like our likes. And let’s face it – there’s no putting this genie back in the bottle, nor should we want to, or have to. Social media often serves as a lifeline across the miles, a support network in times of hardship, a way to reconnect or stay connected to family, friends and others whose photos, quips, words of wisdom or encouragement, shared experiences and memories we do indeed value – and want to engage with. At least until we’re able to safely engage in travel and myriad social activities again.
Those not hooked on Social Media will surely take this documentary as positive reinforcement of their decision to steer clear. For the rest of us, it’s a cautionary tale about how the technology has evolved and taken control of what we do, see and react to on any given day.
So what are we supposed to do with this information? That’s The Social Dilemma. Feel free to comment below.