The Social Dilemma (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): We’re already in a Brave New World now

You may think twice about using the digital applications in your smartphone after watching Netflix documentary film “The Social Dilemma”, which was released in last week. Although I was not particularly surprised by what is presented in the documentary, I was still alarmed a lot by its urgent message on the ongoing social ramifications resulted from the rapid development of digital technology in our time, and it surely made me muse a lot on how much of my daily life has been spent on those social media tools.

Director/co-writer Jeff Orlowski, who is mainly known for “Chasing Ice” (2012) and “Chasing Coral” (2017), approached to a bunch of various experts and technicians for his documentary, and what they respectively tell us is pretty unnerving to say the least. Having failed to control and regulate that amazingly exponential growth and development in digital technology during last several decades, we and our society have been seriously exposed to the dark sides of the resulting Brave New World, and, as many of you know, we are paying a huge price for that at present.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist of Google who is currently representing Center for Humane Society, and a number of executives and technicians who once worked in major digital technology corporations such as Google and Facebook, give us detailed accounts on how those major digital technology corporations have manipulated us and our society as amorally maximizing their profits. On the surface, they simply provide us useful communication services without demanding too much from us, but they also gather lots of personal data on us as we casually use their digital applications everyday, and they use those heaps of personal data for holding more attention from us by any means necessary. For example, if you seem to be more interested in a certain subject, they will detect that and then lead you to more stuffs associated with that subject in question, and this is basically how you get daily recommendation on many different digital applications including YouTube.

You may feel fine with that, but there are serious dangers in these seemingly harmless digital algorithms behind YouTube and other numerous digital applications. From the beginning, they are designed to hold your attention as much as possible, and it is pretty easy for you to become addictive to them. Although I managed to avoid Facebook, I have used Twitter for more than 10 years, and I must confess that I used it more than 10 times everyday just for checking any latest news or corresponding with several online friends I came to befriend and trust as we shared our common passion and interest on books and movies. Although I usually do not give a damn about my twits getting ‘Liked’ or ‘Retweeted’, I will not deny that I automatically feel excited and delighted whenever I get recognized by my online friends or some prominent users who will spread my words and opinions to more users out there.

It is certainly awesome to feel like being connected with more people out there, but you must keep in mind that being ‘liked’ on the Internet does not mean much in the end considering how fragile and meaningless that digital status really is. Sadly, we have not educated our younger generation enough on social media tools, and one of the most disturbing moments in the documentary is the one which presents a strong correlation between the rise of social media tools and the increasing number of self-inflicted harm and suicide cases among the minors in US during recent years. Usually craving for recognition and affection, many of young boys and girls are quite susceptible to the negative psychological effects from social media tools, and several psychological experts in the documentary explain to us on how social media tools have been the major source of self-hate and low self-esteem among young boys and girls.

And this is just a tip of the growing negative effects from social media tools and digital technologies behind them. Relentlessly processing and analyzing heaps of personal data they have gathered without any control or regulation, those digital technology companies can actually affect our minds and behaviors, and that is definitely something to be exploited in many ways. For example, that vast amount of personal data will provide their advertisers a sure-fire way to find and then attract numerous potential customers out there, and we have already been going thorough that significant business change at present. When I searched for the certain products of one prominent pharmaceutical company a few weeks ago, Google soon showed the online advertisements of that company to me, and I was amused a little while also chilled by how constantly my online activities are monitored and analyzed everyday.

Above all, social media tools can be used for spreading misinformation to cause more social instability and polarization. As attested by one statistical report, fake news can be spread far faster than real news on the Internet because social media tools are inherently designed to go for more attention and sensation, but those digital technology corporations running them have done almost nothing about that as single-mindedly focusing on more profit and influence. As a result, more and more people are pushed toward the opposite ends on the Internet while also becoming quite disconnected from each other, and that is the main cause behind the fearful rise of right-wing political groups around world including those deplorable folks supporting Donald J. Trump, who has surely benefited a lot from that as shown from his shocking victory in the 2016 US Presidential Election.

Soberingly recognizing how much our civilization has been threatened by the ongoing digital technology development, the documentary suggests that there is still some hope for us. Yes, we will not be totally free from digital technology at all as having already passed the point of no return, but we still can do lots of things about the growing problems with social media tools, and the documentary strongly argues for how necessary legal regulations on social media tools are, though I am still skeptical about whether our society will get that necessary change within this decade.

I must point out that it feels rather heavy-handed especially in case of a fictional narrative featuring a bunch of performers including Kara Hayward, Skyler Gisondo, and Vincent Kartheiser, but “The Social Dilemma” did its job as well as intended, and it will linger on your mind for a while after you watch it. Yes, I will post this review on my personal blog and then notify it to my many Twitter followers, but I have already promised to myself that I am going to try to minimize the amount of time I spend on social media tools, and you will soon see my following efforts – for a while at least.

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