Movie Review: The Social Dilemma (2020)

TL;DR – you are the product, your time and attention is what you pay. What you choose to do with this currency is up to you, but certainly this film depicts a side of tech giants that shows they are very good at convincing you to use your currency on them.

Review (warning: spoilers)

There are two sides to social networking through technology. Two sides that present a picture to the pros and cons surrounding social networking tools such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter etc.

On one side, there is this idea that this technology allows people to connect no matter where they are in the world. It allows people to share stories, to stay in touch, to provide information and to encourage each other on whatever journey they may be undertaking. There is a lot of inspirational contributions on social media that brings hope, joy, and a sense that we are not only connected but we can be there for each other.

On the other side, there is this corporate war being waged between tech giants to have your time and attention given only to them. Why? To make money. The longer and more frequent a social platform can consume your time, the more advertisements they can show you, the more chance they have in monetising your attention. And then there is the use of social media to tear down rather than build up. Dissemination of misinformation, the anonymity of trolls and hate speech, and the potential addiction from needing validation through social media “likes” or “hearts” or “shares” has seen an increase statistically in mental health issues resulting in self-harm or suicide.

The Social Dilemma directed by Jeff Orlowski focuses on the negative side. It is a docudrama that, in my opinion, is essential viewing to at least get you to think about what social networks and platforms seek to do. It presents a convincing argument that there is a problem by conducting interviews of individuals that have held significant positions in these tech companies. The ways in which programmers develop algorithms to learn from what you like and then funnel you down a rabbit hole to keep you on that platform or application is alarming. The fact that The Social Dilemma was released on Netflix, which uses the same techniques to keep you watching their streaming service, is an irony not lost on me.

The ability to switch off is becoming more and more difficult especially for young, developing minds in the teenage bracket.

Suffice to say, like most things in life, anything done in excess is usually not a good thing. How you achieve a balance is key to a healthy life in mind, body and spirit. Note, I didn’t say “happy” healthy life. For facing sadness, anger, disappointment and the range of other human emotions is part of life. How we acknowledge our humanity and the spectrum of feelings is critical to growth. The Social Dilemma shows that like any addiction, being addicted to social media is unhealthy.

Where I felt the film falls short is providing ways to achieve balance. Many of those interviewed simply say to delete the app, and go outside and take a walk in a park. I don’t think it is that simple. It is like saying to an alcoholic to throw away all their liquor and never go into a bar, or a gambling addict to ignore poker machines and casinos. If it was simply a matter of will then addictions would never be a problem.

Still The Social Dilemma delves deep enough to present a case that addiction to social media (or even addiction to technology for that matter) is a real issue and can have deep adverse effects to a person’s mental well-being. In a world where we are surrounded more and more by technology, this film is a must watch.

And on that note, I’m going to hop off my computer and go outside for a walk.

8.5 out of 10

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