"Social Dilemma" Gives Cause for Pause

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Over the holiday break, I got to spend a little time with my family in person, had a few Zooms with extended family, and as if I hadn’t had enough time in 2020 for watching movies and shows, I made sure that my Netflix subscription was worth the monthly charge. Seemingly accidentally, I stumbled upon a documentary called “The Social Dilemma,” which captured my curiosity and sucked me in for the couple hours that it played. It was both entertaining and educational, what’s more is that it was downright terrifying. Frightening, not because of the cinematography and wild scenes, but because of the observations shared by software developers from the world of social media who warn that your Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts may be doing you as much harm as they are doing you good.

Everyone loves to feel the connection on social media, it is exhilarating. As a relatively early adopter, I remember the virtual class reunion that was happening in the fall of 2008. I graduated high school in 1989, so the big 20 year reunion was looming, and quickly friends had taken the email addresses of friends they knew and corralled other friends to join. The experience was euphoric and fun, all of a sudden I had connected with 100 classmates in the same amount of time that it took me to drink 2 glasses of wine. Seeing all of their faces and family pictures made me nostalgic and blew my mind at once. I was hooked. Instantly, I started inviting others to join and I collected several hundred friends. I loved it at first, and truly viewed Facebook as a wonderful tool, and I still see that it can be that.

Over the next 12 years, I would use Facebook to market my business, share jokes, continue to find friends, and pass time. As I posted and friends liked, loved, laughed and lamented, I became addicted, just the way I was supposed to. You see, the designers knew that I like that feeling, described in the film, as the virtual handle in my hand. “Who is going to give me a like today?” It fed my ego and preyed on my insecurities simultaneously, and I didn’t even feel the manipulation. What is so dangerous is that kids have far greater insecurities, and are more easily manipulated. There is a scene in the film where a young girl - she looks to be ten or eleven, is making grown up faces, applying filters to look older and then posting her pics on the equivalent of Instagram to get gushing comments, “So beautiful!”, “Gorgeous!” and “Cute!”, but she also gets the comment “Could you make your ears any bigger?” Which sent her into tears, looking in the mirror for the imperfections that were not there. Suddenly, I thought of my own kids being called names, being made fun of, made to question their worth... I thought “What have I done? All of my kids have phones and have accounts on these platforms! Yikes!”

I think the most disturbing takeaway from watching is that all of the people being interviewed are experts from within the industry, and unanimously, they are saying things like “Facebook is addictive and we knew it was when we built it and it is built that way so that ads get served to you as efficiently as possible.”

Depression and suicide rates are on the climb among young people, and there is a pretty clear link to every kid having a smartphone in their pocket and caring so much about likes, loves and the comments that either build someone up or tear them down, it is the absolute worst part of middle school being infinitely multiplied.

So what are we to do? I have have made an immediate plan for myself, and it included deleting Facebook from my phone. I still have my account, and I will still continue to post my daily joke, but I am going to be taking a break to re-wire my brain so that I don’t go looking every time a notification pops up like one of Pavlov’s dogs, it is a waste of my time and I am having a serious discussion with my kids about how they use their phones. I want to get back to the thing being a tool, not a dopamine dispenser. It’s time for us to use our phones, not the other way around.

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