Quito, ECUADOR – The Social Dilemma is a new documentary by Jeff Orlowski that discusses the dark side of social media. It portrays how addicted we are to technology.
And yes – as most people usually do – I watched this movie while clutching my phone tightly. I probably didn’t listen to parts of the movie because on some occasions – as we all do – I was looking at my phone while watching.
It was a pretty ironic scenario, watching a movie about the dark side of technology surrounded by screens. I was watching a movie while holding the villain in my right hand.
What this documentary is trying to show is that me clutching my phone so hard and sneaking a peek at it every five minutes or so isn’t necessarily my lack of discipline or the inability of the film to get my full attention.
It’s not the world surrounding me that has failed, it is the tiny thing in my hand that is manipulating me.
The film criticizes the profit-at-all-costs ethos of social media corporations through a combination of interviews, speeches, animations and acted out scenes.
Most people talking in the film are former stars from social media companies who have come to realize all of its negative impacts. Having these experts on the screen makes the whole premise more believable.
The film shows how, for the first time, humans are products instead of clients. It talks about social media companies designing something like voodoo dolls of each user to subconsciously change our behavior and steal our attention for a commercial.
If we aren’t paying for social media with money – quite simply put – we are paying for it with our time, our attention, our thoughts and our personalities.
Social media feeds us exactly what we want to hear. That is why over time, we will think that everyone agrees with us. We start seeing the world monochromatically. It builds even more gaps between humans until we can’t understand anymore why anyone would think differently from us.
These are some of the issues the film talks about. Even though it does a great job of making viewers think more in-depth about our addictive behavior towards social media, it does not consider various factors.
Social media and technology are portrayed as the doom of humanity. What the film fails to put in context is how our lives have been positively changed by allowing human connections across the globe.
Social media is blamed for polarization in the world without giving any political or social context. The same goes for teenage depression rates. It is all blamed on social media, while nothing is said about the competition young people face in education, which can also spur depression.
No other factors are mentioned that might contribute to a change in human behavior. The film isolated social media from all the factors of our current society that might influence us.
The film makes valid points and its criticism definitely should be taken seriously. It shows how easily humans fall into a trap. Exposing the dark sides of social media should make everyone more conscious of our everyday habits.
But the documentary would have had a more meaningful impact if it had a more dialectic approach and considered contradictory information.
Aileen Cevallos is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.