The Social Dilemma originally came out in January 2020 but made it on to the Irish charts last weekend on Netflix. The whole premise of the 90-minute documentary is based on ex-employees recounting their ethical concerns of powerful companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple.
The Social Dilemma is an interesting documentary as it does have a few fictional cut scenes of how social media and the ‘doom scrolling’ can lead to making bad choices. The documentary explores the effect of smartphones and social media on human behaviour. The premise of the documentary is solid, but after watching it, it leaves a lot to be desired. The fictional family depicts an extreme version of everyday life and fails to resonate with viewers as they watch.
There was one question the documentary did leave me with, though. Does social media decrease our quality of life? This is quite a loaded question so I’ve broken it down into a few different aspects.
In 2018 Apple came out with a new feature on their iPhones called Screen Time. This was a handy new feature that would allow parents to stop certain apps from working after a time or block them altogether. There’s even an option for downtime on the app so that you can schedule time away from the screen. It gives you all sorts of stats, like your daily average screen time and your most-used apps. As it is a feature of the iPhone there is no way to get rid of it or delete it.
While the feature is pretty good, it is disconcerting that people were spending so much time on their smartphone that a feature had to be installed to make sure they are not spending their whole day on it. Some peoples careers are now dependent on social media and the algorithm that these big companies used to expand their brand. Facebook ads have helped small businesses grow at a rate that was unheard of a few years previous.
The feature is good but not accurate. If you have a laptop or tablet it is just as easy to access your social media through that. Does spending eight-plus hours on social media mean you have decreased your quality of life? No. It doesn’t. Like with everything, people have their own interests which are not for others to judge. If you can regulate it and step away from social media when needed then it is not an issue. It’s if you’re losing hours of your days to it, then it becomes a problem.
We have seen during Covid-19 that staying connected is more important than ever. Social media enables you to keep in contact with family that have moved away. This is a major benefit of social media. It keeps people connected to the world around them and makes sure that we are always up to date on the hottest trends and latest gossip. The world has become a smaller place with the internet as you can find news on any country in a few clicks.
All of these are good things to have, now let’s talk about the downfalls of this. One thing The Social Dilemma spoke a lot about was how these big companies are watching everything you do and tailoring your social media. Michel Foucault’s- a French social theorist- theories are something that addresses this relationship between knowledge and power. Foucault died in 1984, well before the internet became commonplace in the world, yet his theories are still relevant today.
Foucault believed that the masses are controlled through language that influences them to take on an ideological perspective that may have very little to do with fact. In easier terms, this is something we now call ‘fake news’. The Social Dilemma makes use of this, as they have people with biased experiences stating their side of the story as if it is black and white with nothing in the middle. Social media is rife with this. So much so, that it is difficult to discern what is true and what is not anymore. Taking a step back from social media might allow you to think more clearly on the topics that are saturating your news feed.
There is also Foucault’s idea of the panopticon, which looks at how a watchtower in the middle of jail makes inmates regulate themselves even if they don’t know officers are in there. Think of the scene in Guardians of the Galaxy when they’re trying to break out of the prison. That big control tower in the middle? That’s the panopticon. Seems like a good idea, the inmates are being watched at all times so they self-regulate, but what if we apply this to everyday life and the internet? You look up something about the elections in America coming up, then suddenly you see on your Facebook feed more and more articles tailored to the elections. You have suggested friends that have ‘Trump 2020’ or ‘Biden 2020’ in their profile picture. So while the internet is great for connecting people around the globe there is a major drawback that we can’t ignore.
You can get 100 compliments on something but it is always the negative ones that stick with you. This is true in all aspects of life and the internet makes that worse. Before, kids could come home from school and get away from the people that might be tormenting them. Now it’s moved to online and it is something people can’t get away from. According to Hinduja and Patchin students who are cyberbullied are twice as likely to attempt suicide. Suicide ideation has doubled since 2008. It’s a sad fact that many teens go through this but there also isn’t much in the way to stop it. These big companies don’t mind taking your information and using it to keep you online but don’t care enough to try to protect the same people they profit off.
Does it decrease your quality of life?
Where is the balance? You have some arguing that any social media decreases your quality of life, and refuse to go onto it. Then others who can’t go more than an hour without checking their feed in fear they will miss something. It’s tough to say if it decreases your quality of life. If you watch The Social Dilemma you might come away thinking it does but it’s up to you to determine how much of your life it takes over. As with anything, there must be a balance. These companies taking your data and using it to keep you online is not something anybody wants, but it’s not like these companies are keeping this a secret. Those pop-ups that you click accept on when you’re online? That’s giving those websites permission to use your ‘cookie’s’, which is just using your data for more tailored ads.
So, while there are some bad parts of social media, it is not inherently bad. Like with anything, it is good in moderation but can have a bad effect on you mentally. If you are going to watch The Social Dilemma I would recommend being mindful of the fear-mongering that happens throughout the whole thing and encourage you to think on your social media usage independently from what the people in the documentary are telling you.
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