By Mollie Campbell
For years, I have been chewing people’s ears off about how destructive technology and social media can be; I wrote an article about it a couple of years ago on my blog. I believe that whilst technology and social media obviously has its uses and tremendous benefits, the negative side of the technological coin is something we really need to accept as a real threat, a human race-altering threat. But when I talk about this stuff, people fob me off as some sort of conspiracy theorist. Even though there have been numerous scandals including the Facebook – Cambridge Analytical data scandal back in 2018, people don’t seem to take it seriously, because everyone is under the influence of social media. So when I watched The Social Dilemma and noticed that it was growing in popularity, I was compelled to write an article to hopefully keep the conversation going.
The Social Dilemma got its initial release at Sundance Film Festival and has now been added to Netflix, the film is a docudrama about Technology, Social Media and the people running things behind the other side of our screens. A group of former employees from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest etc… Explain how these companies manipulate ‘us’ or as they call it the ‘product’ by advertising, data collection and psychologically persuasive tactics so that we keep feeding their money machine. At the same time, there is an acted plot to back up the points that are being explained to us, a story that may help connect to people on more of an emotional and relatable level. One of the main voices in the film is former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris who has now devoted his time to firstly co-found the Center for Humane Technology and secondly in becoming a voice to warn the world of how dangerous their social media usage can be, enlightening people of this catastrophic danger before it’s too late, but my question is… is it already too late?
The movie helps peel back some of that mystical, exclusive curtain of Silicon Valley, of which society seems to view as the pearly gates. A lot of people have ambitions to go to Silicon Valley and when mentioned in conversation it is regarded as the Holy Grail, but it is a lot farther from holy than the average person perceives. Some of you may be thinking ‘how bad could it be’? ‘all they do is promote shows and stores I’m interested in’, whilst that is factually correct, have you ever asked yourselves the reason why? The pool goes a lot deeper than just marketing and advertising; in fact the pool is a vast ocean of money, greed and deceit. The people behind the screen that you stare at with such blind trust aren’t just putting out a few ads for each user to see, they are manipulating every move you make. The people who work at these companies are some of the cleverest in the world, and they are using their brain to control yours by inputting all of these strategies into computers in order for AI (Artificial Intelligence) to fulfil all of these strategies in real time, without supervision…if that doesn’t sound like a dystopian nightmare to you then we have no hope. It may sound harsh but once you realise that you are the puppet on the string, the easier it will be to start making steps towards changing that.
This movie isn’t telling you that you have to get rid of all social media and technology forever, it is simply warning you of the undisputedly intentional manipulation tactics these companies are using on you behind closed doors, tactics that are so clever and deceitful you don’t even know how it is affecting your brain. We aren’t saying that it’s all bad, but at this point the negatives are slowly consuming all of the positives. We don’t need a revolution but if we all work together we can dismantle the technological system and rebuild it in a more humane way, with a system that benefits us instead of treating us like virtual horses at auction.
Think of every new radical thing that has been invented in human history e.g. printing press, airplanes etc.… they have changed aspects of society. But that’s the thing, ‘aspects’ is the key word. Other than electricity, technology and social media is the first thing that has rapidly and abundantly seeped into every crevice of the structure of society, how it works and how we run it. We speak to friends online, we begin romantic relationships online, we can order anything we want online, we apply for jobs online, we read newspapers online, we watch movies online, the latest generation of kids have grown up in a society dominated by social media, think about it…they have grown up with a system that only really started to become of mainstream importance around 15 years ago.
Their lives and our lives are being controlled by apps, a word that wasn’t popularised until 2008. And these apps may be ‘free’, but as we have seen with everything else within commercial markets, nothing is free and in this case, we aren’t paying a monthly subscription, we are paying for it with our lives. We are being sucked into a reality that isn’t real, an existence whose principal objective is to monitor and monetise every action we take, every post we like, every video we save… that’s what we’re subduing ourselves to when we spend an afternoon scrolling meaninglessly, they are ultimately starting to own our lives. I’m sure some people will disagree with that statement: isn’t Facebook great for staying in touch with distant family members, documenting memories with friends and so forth? Yes, but not when the very thing that created this possibility is not only documenting our lives for its own artificial storage, with an intent to use that very data against us, it has also consumed so much of our time that our connections with the real world are lessening, ironically, people are now so caught up in a social media site that their social interactions are actually diminishing, their happiness levels are dwindling, a subconscious anxiety is bubbling within their minds due to the very thing they are holding in their hands that they ‘can’t live without’.
Lastly, the most cataclysmic consequence of all is its power to use people’s minds and brainwash them into ways of political thinking that they wouldn’t necessarily have thought about if the seed wasn’t planted by intentional misleading advertisements from sites like Facebook. This brainwashing is causing a battle between the left and right in real time that is so fierce and bitter, it is scary. The left are being told things about the right and vice versa and because they are reading this information on an ‘authentic’ site they think it’s true, and they take this belief into the streets with them, bringing out the worst members of society and giving them a viable platform that even highly ranked officials agree with and endorse. This is heavily covered in the film, a final point that seals the deal in terms of the importance of The Social Dilemma being one of the most chilling, candid and crucial films to be released in recent years. It starts the conversation, a conversation that is needed more than anything.
If you are interested, here is the link to my previous article about the consequences of Technology and Social Media: https://mollie-writes.com/2019/01/16/is-technology-and-social-media-becoming-so-integral-to-peoples-lives-that-it-is-lessening-the-impact-of-our-passions-just-how-dangerous-is-it/
Thank you for reading, and if you want to find out more information on ways you can help keep this conversation going, here is the link to The Social Dilemma website: https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/