I am usually behind the curve when it comes to trending shows and movies. For example, I have yet to watch a single episode of Tiger King. Although, I still say fuck that bitch Carole Baskin. After hearing multiple times within a time span of 3 days that I needed to watch The Social Dilemma, I obliged. I heard it packed quite the punch and it didn’t disappoint.
In a nutshell, it unpacks what social media and smartphones are doing to us both from an IQ and EQ standpoint. It paints a vivid picture through the presentation of the overall impact. I will say that if you are someone who wears tin foil hats, gets scared easily or panics at the notion that you may be tracked or watched, tread carefully because this documentary will 100% play into all of those emotions.
Overall, I thought it painted a gloom and doom idea behind what is happening with technology while minimizing what it could be used for. I am not saying the documentary is wrong for that. All of the people they interviewed used to work for the giant tech companies like Facebook, Instagram, Google or YouTube. They shed light on what drove them out of the workforce…morality. There is no denying the manipulation these sites and this technology has on our daily lives. Even though it painted the dark side, it didn’t exactly exaggerate nor did it mischaracterize what is happening in real time…right fucking now. There were some hyperbole, but it didn’t miss the overall point.
I did like that the end of the documentary was Tristan Harris, co-founder of Center of Humane Technology, essentially saying we are not doomed, but we need to find a solution. There were several echoes throughout the hour and a half run time saying it is not time to be panic. But, we should be weary and we should be aware of the problems that exist.
I enjoyed how they compared technology now to technology of 50, 60 or 70 years ago. Information travels much faster. We get our breaking news instantaneously. If a new product you want comes out, there’s no going to the store or at least there is an option not to. You buy that shit online and it comes to you. We order car service like we do pizza. Everything is faster. These tech companies know that.
One of the more vivid parts of this documentary was dramatizations shot from inside the phone preying on the mind of a young teenage boy. There were three men sitting inside the phone suggesting what videos to watch to ensure the boy stayed locked in ignoring the world around him. When the three guys in the phone were discussing what to do, they used his past history. Once they got him hooked, my ears perked when I heard “ohhh we got him at $0.33 per click on that one.”
The documentary referenced data and statistics I have used in my personal business. It is the measurables that tell us what consumers want. My business is predicated on low cost per clicks, high click through rates, low cost per mili and estimated ad recalls. My business and anyone who currently works in marketing utilizes the data these tech companies obtain. We target certain demographics to ensure the best return on their investment.
Ultimately what these tech giants want is for you to stay hooked.
Two realities this documentary painted scare the fuck out of me more than anything else when it comes to social media and technology. It already did before watching it. I talked about it in a previous column.
The first is my children.
In the early opening of the documentary, a young teen, maybe pre-teen, girl posted a picture to her IG. She stared blankly at the screen because it only had 2 likes. She then deleted the post and took a series of pictures. She spent time on a filter app making herself look done up with makeup. She posted that picture and instantly got flooded compliments until someone said she had big ears jokingly and used an elephant emoji erasing the few seconds of a better self esteem. Just in those few minutes, she had extreme emotional highs and lows. They go on to talk about the trend in teen suicide since 2008 when social media began booming.
I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am free of these emotions when it comes to my personal social media. As I have gotten older, I do find that I care less and less when things don’t boom like I want them to for my blog or whatever it is I may be promoting. I’d also be lying if I said when things do boom that I don’t want that to happen again. It does fuck with my emotions some days more than others. That is 100% by design. Those highs and lows are far and few between these days. I like to think I am fairly secure and confident individual who can handle it most days.
What happens when that starts happening to my children? By the time my children reach those very important emotional teen years, what state are we going to be in with social media? I had a friend tell me who has teen daughters that it is “hell on Earth.” I believe every single word of that.
Most children grow up and they want to be liked. No one wants to be shut out or made fun of. We want acceptance. Social media doesn’t always give us that. When it does, will it last? Are those friendships cultivated in honesty and acceptance or artificial behavior? Now we are talking about toying with the emotions of already emotional kids.
Unlike the person who I was talking to who had to fight this in real time, I am hoping that we have some real trial and error by the time my children reach that age. Then maybe, just maybe my wife and I can get out ahead.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about impressionable and emotionally unstable human beings. I had groups of friends in high school who vandalized shit, did drugs, slit their wrists to numb their pain and some talked about suicide entirely. When I was in high school, we had myspace and the early stages of FB. These weren’t sources of information. They were mainly a place to share mirror selfies and drunken/embarrassing pictures of you and your friends and take stupid surveys about your favorite colors. The most drama occurred when someone got dropped to 5th on your top 8 friends. That was easy. It’s a different ball game now. It is going to continue to evolve in either a more negative or more positive direction.
Like I said, that scares the shit out of me.
The second part the documentary touches on is cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. The young impressionable boy who I alluded to earlier is joining the next social movement. He is sucked down the rabbit hole of YouTube only watching one person’s thoughts and then slowly jumps on the thoughts of others who share the same beliefs.
We all know people like this. They constantly share videos of the same prominent talking heads because it feeds into their own beliefs. That is what social does. The algorithm shows you what you want to see. Cue conspiracies and free flow of false information the last few months.
I talked about this on episode 29 of the Hotard Huddle Podcast. One political pundit I have enjoyed listening to despite not sharing many similar beliefs is Ben Shapiro. When Shapiro gets in a room with intelligent people, good conversations tend to happen. Some of his “bEn ShApIrO OwNs…” videos can be funny and I enjoy them sometimes. I was watching many of his videos on YouTube about 1.5 – 2 years ago.
Because of that, I began seeing ads for Daily Wire saying subscribe and get your free leftist tears mug. I began seeing more posts for Daily Wire. That meant I am seeing Michael Knowles (ehhhh, depends on what he is talking about) and Matt Walsh (I’d rather have hydrofluoric acid poured in my ears). I stopped watching regularly and no more Shapiro shit popping up.
Even when I was engaging with Shapiro’s content, I knew what I was getting into. When I read anything from FOX, Huff Post, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, Wall Street Journal or any other fucking entity or talking head, I know what I am getting into. If I find a source I am unfamiliar with, I am looking up the source or the person.
That is a distinction most people don’t have. Scroll through your friend’s timelines and it is very clear for some of them who have fallen victim to the algorithm.
I blocked someone a few months back after I got tired of seeing his stupidity paired with his arrogance of superiority. He has very strong political opinions. He had very strong opinions about Covid. He liked to engage in name calling and shit on those who had different beliefs. If someone is engaging in willful ignorance or begins name calling, who cares? Have fun. It is ok to have different political opinions and lean in different corners. That is not where I have a problem. I have a problem when people aren’t willing to engage in honest open dialogue.
Meanwhile scroll through said person’s timeline and you would find Tucker Carlson, Daily Wire, The Blaze, FOX and all right wing sourcing. The people who operate under “oh I like that, share!” are the ones who typically have the strongest opinions about the other side. Of course you do and no shit you like that. That is how social media works. You consume your information like an asshole.
That is the scary part. People aren’t smart enough nor care enough to dig just a little deeper and find the truth. They want it spoon fed. The problem is the spoon feeding them is tapping into emotions and not facts. Politics are so damn polarizing now. That is why we need to be aware of how social media can manipulate us.
That being said, social media is a great tool that can be used for many wonderful things. What is the payoff if the ugliest it has to offer shines brightest though? That is essentially what the documentary shines a giant light on. It is a fair question.
Yes, we are in the infancy stage. Yes, throughout history, technology is faulty before evolving into something better thus reaching it’s potential.
I watched it a couple of nights ago. It was late and “underwear hours.” The natural feeling you get after watching it is to delete your account, put away your phone forever and never look back. After the documentary, you are left feeling helpless…at least I was. After being able to breathe a couple of days after the fact, here are my overall takeaways…
Is civilization being destroyed? No. Is this the fucking matrix? No. Despite the hyperbolic references made in the documentary and the lack of solutions presented, humanity will likely figure it out. Let’s not pretend big tech companies aren’t under a microscope right now.
We need to be smarter consumers to ensure we are obtaining the right information. We need to better understand that the dopamine of likes isn’t fixing our insecurities, but rather playing into them.
Be smarter in what you consume. Cultivate meaningful relationships outside of your followers and “friends.” Live your life through your eyes and not your screen. If you have children, do your best to teach them these things through your actions. That is advice I, myself, need to follow as well. You are not alone. We are not alone.
Don’t panic. Be more media literate.