a wake up call (for us all)
In the past 10 years, every parent has probably had to say it to their kid at least once: “Put your phone away, we’re having dinner.” Nowadays, many people are consumed by social media and their phones and it seems like it’s only getting worse.
In the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, co-founders and previous designers of companies such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Pinterest explain the side of social media that not everyone sees. Mixed with a relatable, daily life dialogue, the makers confront you with the behind-the-scenes of everything on your mobile device.
The docu-drama explains how social media is way more than we think it is. There’s no such thing as privacy.
Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist, stressed that social media might be “free” but in the end it’s being paid for by advertisers. Social media platforms are fighting for your time and attention to be able to sell this and make as much money off of you as possible—the more ads you look at, the more money they make. The term “lab rats” is used when talking about users, and this is definitely the feel the documentary gives off.
The interviewees make clear that human psychology is a big part of design these days. Social media is no longer a tool; it has its own goals and pursues these by using your psychology against you. Our natural feeling of wanting to feel connected is being optimized by the social platforms. It’s a shot of dopamine being triggered by a system that is designed to do exactly just that. It makes you keep picking up your phone, one notification after another. And guess what? It’s working!
By tracking your actions, the algorithm creates models that predict what you’re going to do next. It knows how long you look at something, what you enjoy looking at, and calculates what your next actions will be. Realizing all of this is going on can make this a hard documentary to watch. At the same time, it’s a great wake up call. It teaches us that our brains are being manipulated and rewired at the same time.
An algorithm is designed for business success, but this does not take into account the effect of being connected with everyone all the time. The documentary shows statistics like a large increase in self harm among young girls. It shows very well that many people feel the need to seek approval from others all the time because there is a feeling of having to meet certain standards that are being portrayed online.
“If you want to control the people in your country, Facebook is the best tool,” said one of the interviewees. The documentary makes it very apparent that all of our information is in the hands of CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg.
The conclusion of the documentary is clear: the law is way behind and there needs to be regulation on what major companies like Facebook can do. Social media might not have been created with bad intentions, but the business model is problematic. Technology will only integrate itself more into our society—it is indispensable.