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The Social Dilemma

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Enlightening, thought-provoking, disturbing and ultimately, a call to action," The Social Dilemma" from Jeff Orlowski, will, hopefully, prove to be a turning point in our interaction with technology and technology's interaction with us.

The more we learn about the insidiousness that underlies social media the more it seems like the film is bringing a slingshot to a nuclear war. What we learn in this movie is that our brains are being manipulated and even rewired by algorithms that are designed to get our attention and make us buy things, including buying into distorted ideas about the world, ourselves, and each other. There have been other documentaries raising concerns about the impact of social media on our privacy but this documentary has a significant advantage. While all of the films have impressive experts to explain how we got here and why here is not a place anyone should be, in this movie many of the experts are the same people who got us here, top executives from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and other sites that seduce us into spending time and sharing information so they can sell both. As the film opens, we can see that the people who will be telling us their stories are uncomfortable and embarrassed. It turns out, they will be confessing and apologizing. The experts assure us their intentions were good, even the one whose job title at Facebook as head of "monetization." Another one confesses that he worked on making his site irresistibly seductive at work all day and then found himself unable to resist the very algorithmic tricks he helped to create when he went home at night.

The film's biggest mistake is a poorly-conceived dramatic re-enactment of some of the perils of social media.

We may question whether audiences are able to absorb any old media narrative requiring sustained attention without the "positive intermittent reinforcement" of a "like" button to click. The most important lesson from "The Social Dilemma" is that we should question everything we read online, especially if it is presented to us in a way that reflects a detailed understanding of our inclinations and preferences. And we should resist the "attention extraction model" that makes social media seem friendly and reinforcing. Now, you'll have to excuse me- I have to go uninstall Twitter from my phone!

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