While the world is on the precipice of blowing up and going down in a fiery ball of “we hate you because you hate us”, I watched a bit of programming on Netflix which ran across my view. Now I had heard about it before I even watched it. And I even think I read a review or two about the piece. Unfortunately, as with all reviews right now, even they tend to fall along political lines. One complaining about the views being too left, and the other too right. Regardless of the views of the participants of the piece it got me to think about the world I inhabit and how that impacts both me and my family. The Social Dilemma really expresses a deep-seated problem with the world we inhabit.
Have We Won The Battle But Lost The War? A Social Dilemma Review
If you know anything about the Social Dilemma, it’s a documentary on Netflix which talks about the new universe of Social Media which we inhabit. And not just us, but our children. With its outsized influence in our daily lives, the Social Dilemma does make one stand up and take notice. Is social media and smartphone technology a good or a bad thing? Is it something we must accept? Will it cause damage to ourselves and our children in the process? Or can we find new tools or wean ourselves off it entirely and find a new way of inhabiting and connecting within our world?
I believe the Social Dilemma answers all those questions with a resounding yes. How did I feel about it? Well, I will have to get into the weeds here for a bit, so excuse me if I go on a tangent or twenty. I feel like there is so much to unpack here when it comes to my thoughts and feelings about the piece. There is so much to social media, and the technological world that we inhabit. But to really discuss this idea of social media and its possible negative consequences I must go back to where I think things really begin. Two separate issues came into the world simultaneously. People as products, and the ability to manipulate people.
People Are Products We Manipulate
I realize the second of those issues really is nothing new. People have been trying to manipulate people since the beginning of time. For the longest time that was based upon power. If I have the power, I can “manipulate” or coerce you into doing what I want. But as laws, standards, and civil society grew, we recognized the right of the individual to make their own decisions without being coerced to do so was outlawed. This was a good thing.
So, we moved to a society that outlawed coercion by force. But as a business, I still want you to purchase what I want to sell. Hence, I need to be able to either inform you of what I have, in case you already want what I sell or manipulate you into desiring what I want to sell. All those lovely commercials you saw as a kid during your TV shows were to convince you to tell your parents about these products. You may not need them, but commercials play on primal instincts like envy and lust to make you feel like you need these products, even when you do not.
The Rise of the Marketers, The Beginnings Of A Social Dilemma
As radio and television became mainstays in modern life, marketing teams grew to be able to reach a wider audience with products you didn’t necessarily need. The whole point of these teams was to make you feel like you needed a product, even if you did not need it. In a strange way, these modern marketing teams became Snake Oil Salesman, selling their wares for you. Making you feel like you needed a product when you didn’t. And working on your baser insecurities to get you to buy. Little did they know that eventually, the cell phone would revolutionize their industry, as these firms now had access to you 24/7.
But let’s get back to the second issue which arose simultaneously. This gets to the nature of people as products. And it all begins with money. This is not a criticism. Everyone on the planet should have the right to make money. And if you create a business you should be able to attempt to make money with it. That’s the way capitalism and economies work. I have something you want. I sell it to you and make some amount of profit from it. Whether I am selling you goods and services, or merely selling myself as labor for a company to make other products, that’s the nature of economies throughout time. I could spend time criticizing it, but I do not. People make money. But people selling people is another story.
People Selling People
On a literal level, that’s slavery. But this new slavery is a bit more complex than that. Because it comes down to selling your time, and your information as opposed to your body and the sweat of your brow. Nevertheless, we have been selling human’s time and information for ages. I know you don’t think of it, especially now that newspapers are almost obsolete. But newspapers back in the day would make money off selling add space in the product it made.
Mostly, they didn’t make a dime off selling the individual papers which would be split by the distribution wing, including newspaper boys back in the day. Yes, every paper had a subscription amount. But they made the real bucks off advertising they could sell within its pages. If you had a million readers who you could guarantee would view your paper to a company, that meant they could get a million different opportunities to manipulate you in the paper with splashy pictures and captivating headlines. Your time in front of the paper was sold to communities.
And as things moved to radio and television, it turned into literal time as they held you captive as they put ads running across your screen as often as possible without driving users to craziness. And if you can imagine two and a half-hour long films becoming four-hour long films, with every ad buy they sold, you can get the picture about how much of your time these companies were selling away. Your time literally became a product that companies were giving away to the highest bidder.
As the internet took center stage, and we stopped spending as much time in front of TV screens in favor of computer screens, the value of that TV ad buy to these companies became less and less. And because the Internet at the time looked more like the Wild West and less like an organized superhighway, marketers had no clue where to get the most bang for their buck. They didn’t know which companies would succeed, and which ones would fail. Eventually, a few companies would rise to the top of the food chain and be places where people could pay for ads. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube became the new landscape of selling off human’s time for a buck.
This situation is where the Social Dilemma starts. I realize I mentioned Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as being primary instigators of this madness, along with Google. And they are. They are where the advertising dollar has gone as consumers of media purchased means of avoiding commercials with DVR technology or streaming services on their Television sets. The computer quickly became the last medium of places with which to manipulate people. But it didn’t really take off until Apple came along to give them the biggest framework with which to manipulate people, the iPhone.
The iPhone, The True Origin Of The Social Dilemma
Instantly these pocket devices gave you access to your attention 24/7. Once upon a time, when you left your computer or your television set, these companies could no longer pay for your attention. You were free to have your own pursuits. You could find the things which you enjoyed for you and pursue them fully. But adding all these social media apps to this iPhone or Smartphone device would allow them to access you 24/7. And it was all under the guise of helping you. But the Social Dilemma poses the question. Help you to what?
That’s the ringer. As these companies were created, they seemed like wonderful free services where you can keep up with friends, get to know people from across the world, and so much more. But as the people in the Social Dilemma posited, when people give you something for “free,” it’s not really free. Because when they aren’t charging you for a service, you become the service they are selling. And they rob you of the one thing you have and can never get back once it’s robbed: time.
But the Social Dilemma shows you that this world they created, while it may give you a few nice benefits, is darker and more nefarious than it would otherwise seem. Because the true aim of these companies is not just to rob you of your time, but to rob you of your very soul. The essence of you. Because when someone has you locked in chains 24/7 and you are never free, how are you not a slave? Even if you don’t have any lashes with which to complain about.
Let Me Rob You Of Your Precious Time
Think of it this way. They have created a minicomputer which for them is an extreme profit generator. To get the most profit, these companies need you to spend as much time on their devices as humanly possible. The more views they can get from you, the better their profit margin as companies are willing to pay more for the views you give them.
With these smartphones and their app technology, they get you hooked by giving you notifications every time they want your attention. Sometimes they become frequent. Other times they become less regular. But they are fully aware that the infrequent nature of these notifications will addict you to their service much more. Because you get addicted to the notifications. And this doesn’t even go into the likes, Retweets, loves, or whatever other affirming messages which come your way.
There’s a psychological nature to all of this. Because these companies are aware that intermittent positive feedback produces a euphoric response in the brain which causes the very addiction they want you to have. And once you become an addict, they’ve got you. Hence, they can maximize their profits by selling the vast amounts of screen time you will be giving them. It’s a brutal scheme, and they know what they are doing.
They Know Who You Are And Where You Have Been, A True Social Dilemma
What’s worse? These technology companies work together to get a better profile of who you are with the more information you give them. Consider a simple google search. You start typing in parenting. Google starts to populate the rest of your query with guesses about what you might be searching for. For me, I typed in parenting and it finished with terms like positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, styles, classes, etc. Given I have taken parenting classes, and I just looked up reinforcement on Google. So it based it upon my history. History it’s been keeping.
And it’s not just history. It can include places I’ve visited which maybe restaurants, beaches, friends’ houses, etc. It’s keeping a daily inventory of my locations and purchases to best “suit my needs.” At the same time, it’s working up a psychological profile about the best ways to manipulate me and manipulate my behavior so they can better sell me to their customers because that profile is that much more accurate. How much information would you want to give people if you knew they were doing it to manipulate your behavior, make you an addict, and rob you of whatever time and money they can get away with? How much would the phone in your pocket be worth it to you then?
I could go on and on and discuss all the various ways they keep you coming back to your phone, robbing you of your time, and making so that 30 minutes of screen time on your phone you think you are spending actually becomes something more like 8 hours of time they take from you. But there is a second thing to consider in all of this, and something as a parent that troubles me even more. Because consider what this does to our children.
iPhones, The Drug Choice Of Children
There’s a reason we have adult and children’s size doses of drugs for almost any child. Whatever we give to a child will be much more overwhelming. We have to be cautious about those things. And screen time has become a drug for many kids 12 and older as they become attached to these devices we thought were going to make our lives safer and more convenient. But, in reality, it makes our children’s lives much more dangerous.
The problem is these devices cause high levels of dopamine to be injected into a child’s body at an early age. Their body can’t even really process it fully. And so, it throws them into emotional upheaval in a way they can’t even control. This means higher highs and lower lows. And is it any wonder that the depression rate of children has skyrocketed over the past several years? This doesn’t even take into account bullying, likes becoming a substitute for self-worth, and so much more. These devices almost become death traps to our kids if we do not monitor them safely.
They Did It On Purpose
And what the Social Dilemma showed was that these people who created these devices fully understand how damaging it is to kids. Because most of their kids, if not all of them, are not allowed to have any one of these devices. They realize that giving them to their kids at this stage of development would be tantamount to some form of child abuse. This fact alone should give all of us who are parents pause.
Remember the list of questions I posed at the very beginning. “Is social media and smartphone technology a good or a bad thing? Is it something we must accept? Will it cause damage to ourselves and our children in the process?” The answer that the Social Dilemma posited to the “is it something we must accept” worried me the most. Because as I said earlier, their answer was yes.
How To Fix The Social Dilemma
Certainly, they had a list of suggestions one could discuss using to help us when using our devices. In fact, I applied one of those things right away and I turned off all the notifications on my phone so that it couldn’t disturb me as easily as it is wont to do. Although I found the newsfeed didn’t just turn off and with this election going it is has disturbed me way more than I would like to admit. At the very least, this makes me very intentional with the time I spend on my phone. I have to actually choose to go on to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. It doesn’t just exert some siren pull on my attention until it dashes me into the rocks of 8-hour screen times.
But there is something disturbing about these tech people basically saying they have given themselves over to the service which they created and which they know is highly addictive. I’m not saying I declare these things to be universally bad. Obviously, I blog. So, I am involved on social media with promotions of my materials. I would understand the hypocrisy involved with me telling you to give up using these services.
At the same time, to blithely go along with this dystopian world they created where our phones become permanent fixtures of our hands sounds like it leads to a bad world indeed. They suggested the way it leads to polarization. And that’s true. But it leads to both polarization and manipulation on a level we have not seen before. With the tension level ratcheted to eleven, and only one little push over the edge causing a catastrophic world, saying we must live with the consequences and can only fix around the edges sounds like a bad idea. If nothing else, we should think about what we should do for our kids.
Wrapping Up Have We Won The Battle But Lost The War – A Social Dilemma Review
It’s one thing to diagnose a problem. On the other hand, coming up with a solution to a problem becomes much more complex. Think about many of the medications you have taken. Each of them come with their own sets of problems. Some of them just put a Band-Aid over the problem while your body heals itself. Some of them strictly deal with the symptoms of the problem and not the root problem you have. And some of them can actually help deal with an actual problem you have, but the solution isn’t necessarily perfect. Maybe it’s a vaccine that only works for a certain amount of time before its effects wear off. In other words, finding a solution isn’t necessarily easy, and the results may be mixed or complicated.
I’m still standing here with my cell phone in my pocket today. I’m trying to remind myself of what life was like before the advent of the cell phone. Because there were days I drove a car without panicking about whether or not I had something to call the police with. We had those call boxes on the side of the roads. But now those things are long gone. And if my car breaks down in traffic, I can’t find a payphone with which to call someone to help. I’m kind of left out in the cold. Nevertheless, those days did exist. They were the days I knew people’s cell phone numbers and went everywhere without fear.
It’s like the cell phone has just installed a new level of fear which I cannot get over. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate some of the aspects of this. Like being able to monitor our children’s whereabouts or getting a hold of them at any time. At the same time, it’s also another way to prove I distrust my child. Or at the very least feel the need to monitor them. How is this better then? If parenting is raising your children so that you trust them to do the right things, how does that trust work on a leash?
But do I throw my cell phone away and live in the dark ages of a landline? Probably not. On the other hand, I can do whatever I can in my life to make sure I live intentionally. This definitely means taking off all of the notifications on my phone I feel comfortable with. Given I don’t have a landline, I probably not shutting off my ringer or my text messaging app (which some suggest that would be good as well).
At the same time, I don’t need the news feed, the email notifications, the social media notifications, or any other notification on my phone. At the same time, it does mean I need to be intentional with these as well. I need to spend a bit of time each day making sure I look at them in order to keep up with people and maintain the connections I do have. Will they be able to suck me in from that moment on? I hope not. But watching the Social Dilemma does make me wonder.
Everything they do in technology and social media these days is to maintain a good experience and ensure you keep coming back for more. When it’s taking into consideration every little thing you see and do, thinking of escape from it becomes worrisome. Nevertheless, I feel like we need to do it. I’m not giving up just because they told me I should. I just can’t. And neither should you.
Taking On Have We Won The Battle But Lost The War
After reading this, what would be your biggest concern about social media? What do you think might be overblown? Would you do anything at all to change your social media habits? What would that be? And if you haven’t watched the Social Dilemma on Netflix just yet, why haven’t you?
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
The Single Dad’s Guide To Life