Netflix’s The Social Dilemma – A Must Watch For Any User Of The Internet
Last night my fiance and I sat down to watch some Netflix. A normal night for most but what we watched would be one of the best pieces of TV I have seen in a long time. The show was called The Social Dilemma and if you use the internet (which you obviously do) then you need to watch this show.
The Social Dilemma is all about how the internet, big tech, and people who have way too much power are going to cause the world to end. No seriously, there is a part where they talk about how social media can, and most likely will, cause civil wars and governments to be overthrown.
To be honest, I 100% believe it as well.
Let’s back up though. Full disclosure this post will have some spoilers in it but you should still watch it. Then you should watch it again with your elderly parents who are also addicted to social media. After that force your friends to watch it. Yes, it is really that important.
It’s A Scary Truth
The scariest part of this whole show is that it is all true and we all know it. We joke about not being able to search or even speak of things without getting an ad on our phone because our “FBI agent” is watching. Jokes on us though because instead of a single FBI agent watching us (not that scary), there are dozens of apps harvesting data on us (way more terrifying).
The show has two main parts to it. The first is a bunch of ex techies who are speaking out on how bad things are. It’s the ultimate tell-all piece. How privacy is no longer a thing and that social media machines are built to make you addicted. They talk about how they specifically order things in your news feed to keep you scrolling. If they see you are not being active, they’ll push a notification to trigger dopamine. They even go as far as admitting the extensive testing that goes into design, fonts, ads, content, basically every aspect of a site in order to get your attention and keep it.
Essentially, we are the lab rats using the apps every day. The apps are programmed to recognize trends and push more of whatever is popular. Basically, the more time you spend, the more it learns about you, and the harder it is to stay away. These apps are literally built to feed the addiction..and they make a hell of a lot of money doing it.
That’s the whole point though. They are a business and they need to make money. The question is: at what cost?
The second part is a portrayal of a normal American family and the addiction they all face with their phones. It highlights how social media affects the mental health of young people. The most present is the idea that we have to live up to ridiculous standards in order to be worthy. It’s scary to see the upward trend in mental health issues, specifically suicide, and the connection to social media being accessible on our mobile devices. The correlation is undeniable.
Let’s get one thing straight… social media isn’t real life.
We’re No Longer In Control
One of the best things the film does is its portrayal of the dreaded algorithm also known as artificial intelligence. Most of us have heard of the algorithm or are trying to beat some part of it. For instance, I want this blog post to rank on Google so I need you to read it and share it with as many people as possible. 🙂
Okay, seriously though, the film shows a teenage boy being controlled by three people (the AI) inside his phone. They discuss what content, notifications, ads, sounds, etc to use to make him stay on his phone longer. Say they noticed a pattern of him staying on one user’s image longer than usual. Well, they are now going to show him that user’s posts more often because they know he enjoys it.
This is one example of millions of what these computer programs are able to do. They know what you like, what you feel, where you are, and can accurately predict what you are going to do next.
Yes, they can basically tell the future in terms of phone usage.
Tomorrow when you are walking around a group of people, at work or a grocery store, observe what they are doing. Chances are high they are looking at their phones. What’s even scarier is that every single day we use these apps, they grow smarter. They gather more data points, learning more about what is popular or trending, understanding what keeps us on our phones the longest so they can make the most money they can.
Again, this is all about the money.
You may think that your social media app is free and it does appear that way. You downloaded it from the app store for free, it doesn’t cost you money to log in, you don’t have to pay anyone to post. So how are these companies making so much money?
The short of it is that they are selling YOU. Your data, your trends, your likes are all being collected and advertisers are paying to know that information so they can reach the audience that is most likely to buy their stuff. YOU are the product and they’re going to get as much out of you as they can with no regard for your well being. Sounds pretty bad huh?
Fighting Fake News
One of the biggest issues this film address is combating fake news. Or in other terms, putting the truth out there. My issue with this is they’ll never be able to win that fight. Why? Because if they do their business will cease to exist and they won’t make as much money. Incentives don’t align.
How? Well, let’s say I have a family member who is extremely conservative. That person scrolls their news feed and sees things that align with their ideals. The AI or algorithm takes these data points and feeds them more of that type of content. Over and over they read things that are conservative or anti-left. They enjoy it and share it, comment on other people’s posts, and continue to use the app.
All the while they are seeing more ads. A red hat with white letters might be a great ad to put in front of them. Or a large American Flag. This cycle continues over and over but was what they were reading real?
Unfortunatley we will never know. They think it is all 100% true but it may very well not be.
Now, take this example and go to the other side of the political spectrum. The cycle plays out in the same exact way.
The result? Well, the result is as you might expect. Both sides believe the other is ignorant of the facts but in reality, no one knows what the facts are. Social media is like a wedge being driven deeper and deeper to the point where people that disagree on any topic can’t even have a conversation.
But wait, this gets worse. Take these times the millions if not billions of social media users around the globe and you get an equation that leads to civil unrest. Not a great path we’re headed down.
What We’re Doing Personally
What a crazy coincidence this show was because just under a month ago, we took a week-long road trip around the Southwest United States and we deleted all of our social media apps. It was one of the best things we ever did and to this day, I have only downloaded two apps back, Twitter and Instagram.
In that article I specifically said this:
The whole point of this was not relying on anything to make me feel the way I should feel as a human. Our bodies are capable of amazing things and I trust mine to look out for me if I take care of it. I’m a human, you are a human, we are capable of some great things but having our bodies, in this case, our minds, addicted to something is a problem. A problem we need to address and fix sooner rather than later.
Social media does have some great benefits to it. We can communicate with family and friends anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds. We can keep up to date with what is happening globally. We’re the most informed generation yet.
But are those benefits worth wasting so much of our lives staring at a phone screen? How many amazing relationships and experiences are we sacrificing with humans face to face because we are simply addicted. This was the topic of conversation a couple of months ago with some great friends of ours over dinner. They also realized that they were spending hours on their phones every day. The first thing they did in the morning and the last thing before falling asleep was checking Facebook. That didn’t feel healthy so they quit their apps, cold turkey.
To me, that conversation over dinner holds so much more value than a “like” on a photo. I like seeing them and their daughter grow up. Pictures are great, yes. But seeing her start to talk in person is much cooler. I know social media is awesome when you can’t physically be close to the people you love but if you can, wouldn’t it feel good to be more present?
Some other steps we are taking are no phone first thing in the morning or before bed. I’m guilty of rolling over, turning off my alarm clock, and immediately opening my email. I haven’t even taken my morning bathroom break yet! That’s an addiction and something I need to put an end to.
Additionally, no phone during dinner. In the show when the family does this they can’t even have a conversation. They literally have no clue what to talk about. That’s a shame and something I never want in my life. So, no phone during dinner because again, we are trying to build a stronger relationship.
The Bottom Line
Becoming a better you should be related to all parts of your life. I know you typically come here for financial advice but I couldn’t let this one pass by. Our world is so connected now but at what cost? It is important that there are many great things to come from social media and it can be used responsibly. We just need people to open their eyes and create some laws that catch up to the times.
Yes, the guy that is usually anti big government is advocating for more regulations around these tech giants. Crazy, I know.
All I’m asking is that you be more conscious of what you are doing. Understand that you are the product and think about if you are actually getting value out of the time looking at your screen or just wasting your life. There is a giant beautiful world out there with amazing people that you haven’t met yet. Start building those more personal connections that can never be substituted for something online.
Oh, and one more thing before I end this article. Those techies that spoke out? They aren’t heroes for coming forward. The people in this documentary built the life-sucking, dehumanizing apps, knowing exactly what they were doing. None of them are evil but they all understood the potential. They had their opportunity to speak up years ago when they were doing it.
At one point an individual admits that his own systems were affecting him at home and he was addicted to his phone. None of them allow their own children to have social media. Hello! Maybe that is a red flag that what you are building isn’t beneficial to society.
Please, give it a watch. You won’t be sorry. It’ll change your perspective and if you’re already social media wary, it’ll confirm all your fears.