New to Netflix: ‘The Social Dilemma’ Review
Netflix’s latest documentary that has everyone talking, ‘The Social Dilemma‘ was recently released in early September, and honestly I have been avoiding it like the plague.
While I find the subject of social media and the effects it has on everything from how people today communicate to politics to be such a fascinating topic, it can also have a tendency to be a depressing one. It’s like a Black Mirror episode come to life – it forces us to think critically about where we are heading as a society, and better yet, demands a level of self reflection to truly understand what that means.
So it sat on my list of things to watch next for quite some time, until the other night when my wife and I finally decided to dive in head first… but not before getting Snoop Dogg level baked.
Is Social Media Evil?
I have what I can only describe as a love/hate relationship with social media – while I think it has absolutely revolutionized society and communication in so many ways, I can’t help despise the way it seems to arguably be de-evolving us at the same time.
For most of my adult life I’ve done the ‘on and off social media’ dance, sometimes going months or years without being on Facebook, and I even once broke my cell phone and spent a year without bothering to replace it. The feeling of redemption, having been released from that digital leash, is almost like some sort of religious experience. You begin to take the time to notice beauty in life that you take for granted as you would usually spend it with your face buried in your phone. You begin to take strides to actually engage and talk to people, and you realize how hard it is. And one of the most depressing things is being in a room full of your friends, and you’re the only one not staring at a screen, and everyone is silent. It’s like being the only sober person in a room full of piss drunk assholes, and realizing that weed is much better than alcohol.
Reclaiming Your Humanity
But as you spend more and more time trying to reclaim your humanity and self-esteem, you start to realize that it is becoming more and more difficult to navigate through this world without social media. For me, it was the act of being an artist – as someone who writes and makes music, the vast majority of interactions with other artists and opportunity for artists are found on the internet. While it’s not impossible to function without social media, the alienation that ensues sure as hell makes it feel like it.
So this all begs the question – is social media evil? ‘The Social Dilemma’, while being very critical of social media and it’s role in everyday life and culture for so many people, doesn’t seem to think so. Upon their inception, companies like Facebook and Google began with the greatest of intentions. But as they grow to almost astronomical levels, how much direct influence these companies have in our day to day lives and beyond and what they choose to do with such power is something that must be debated.
The Power of Data and Influence
This is what makes ‘The Social Dilemma’ not just incredibly interesting, but downright scary. Director Jeff Orlowski does a great job of interviewing former media employees and researchers on the subject, while at the same time giving the viewer a narrative.
Within the documentary is a story of a teenage boy who wrestles with his social life in a digital world, alongside his family. We see the ill effects it has on his younger sister as she tries to fit in and find her sense of beauty and purpose online. We watch his parents wrestle with the fact that their hands are tied when it comes to their 2 youngest children and their phones. And we see the eldest sibling, who probably came from a generation a bit closer to mine, watch it all consume her family like a supermassive black hole.
The film shows us how our data is collected in real time, as we swipe through photos, respond in comment sections, look at ads, and etc. That data is then used, through algorithms, to adjust the social media experience specifically for that user. This creates a heavy amount of influence on users, especially younger ones, opening the floodgates for such things as misinformation and conspiracy theories. They go on to cover everything from Pizza gate and the flat Earth theory to the rising suicide rates of teens in America since social media’s humble beginnings. While the how and why these issues exist is up for discussion, social media’s role and perpetuation is practically indisputable. And even if companies like Instagram and TikTok never intended for these issues to come about, they absolutely have to take responsibility in figuring out how to quell them.
This film is an absolute MUST SEE. As a new father and someone who has always struggled with my relationship to technology and social media, it forced me to think about a lot of things. And while that level of thinking and self reflection is difficult, it is absolutely necessary.
But be warned – don’t get too baked while watching. Although the film doesn’t go out of its way to be conspiratorial or paint a nefarious depiction of people like Mark Zuckerberg, it sure as hell gives you enough to consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, social media and this digital leash we are all on is actually bad for you.