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“The Social Dilemma” Dissects the morality of social media with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel

September 2nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Social Dilemma” Dissects the morality of social media with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel”

Rarely do you come across a narrative film or documentary that screams from the mountain tops of how important and timely it is to see. “The Social Dilemma” is this film and it is one that cannot and should not be missed by anyone. Strongly stated, I admit, but it’s necessary.

The opening scene is a quote by Sophocles. “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse” and this describes the beginnings of technology what it has become. This film, while admitting to the greater good these advances in technology has brought us, it focuses upon how we, as a community, a country, and a world have been unwittingly duped into becoming fodder for sale. Our time, our eyes, our future desires and thoughts are all for sale. But the fallout is far greater as the curtain has been pulled back to reveal what’s really happening. And the social ramifications of programmers and their algorithms have reached catastrophic proportions. “The Social Dilemma” not only connects all the dots, it explains them.

The film is filled with interviews with the founders, innovators, and developers of the biggest social media platforms and companies in the world, such as Tim Kendall, Former Director of Monetization of Facebook, Justin Resenstein, Former Google Engineer, and others who created Facebook Pages and the “like” button, Twitter’s Head of Consumer Product, and others. We meet the lead in the film, Tristan Harris, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Humane Technology and former Design Ethicist at Google. He takes us back to that point of no return; when algorithms began to not only monetize attention to ads and particular information, but predicted it and changed who saw what. He cautioned, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” With billions of users, this meant that each one of us, our anticipated wants and needs, were for sale and that we could be cultivated to desire things and have our own sense of individualized reality. One expert likened it to “The Truman Show” as we accept the reality that we are presented with. We cannot be objective if we are all getting different news.

The rapid fire growth in tech, sales of intangible items (aka our attention), is just the beginning of how our world has changed in “gradual and imperceptible ways” resulting in changing how we think and what we think. On the surface, it’s obvious that this is not for the better; just read the headlines every day for proof. Additionally, our emotional health and well-being has been jeopardized by the silly little thumbs up sign that was, according to its developer, intended to make people feel good, not compete and influence a youngster’s self-worth and identity.

This isn’t the first film to pinpoint how social media has had a negative impact on our lives, but it is the first to explain the issue from the developers point of view. As they divulge that they could no longer ignore their own moral compass for the sake of the almighty dollar, these tech geniuses resigned.

The entire film is mind-blowing as we see the correlating statistics about young girls’ suicides and social media’s presence. We see how false news become someone’s reality, and we watch from the catbird seat how the divisiveness created by these technologies are eroding our society. As each of the experts explained their former positions and how they helped develop a “digital pacifier” and “sell certainty” to advertisers as Shoshana Zuboff, PhD and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School stated, the writing team of the film interjects dramatic short episodes of a story to represent the complexities of what they have developed and how it impacts you and your family.

The fictional story line stars Skyler Gisondo as Ben, the teen who is attached and addicted to his phone. The algorithm “team” or A.I. played by Vincent Kartheiser in three roles, manipulates Ben as he begins to question his addiction and need for connection via the phone. This narrative exemplifies what the Silicon Valley tech and business gurus have explained making it all disturbingly crystal clear.

“The Social Dilemma” accentuates that we, as individuals, are not equipped to battle the algorithms within our phones and social media. In fact, they point out that these algorithms continually morph to become more expeditious and efficient, and programmers are now behind the eight ball as they watch their creations become more independent. Is it Frankenstein gone wrong? The film does, although not to a deep enough level, touch upon possible solutions to give us hope. Perhaps the sequel to this film will be “The Social Solution.”

“The Social Dilemma” expertly tells a complicated story while using an entertaining fictional narrative to exemplify their findings. To watch a documentary about technology could easily be profoundly dull, but thanks to the writing team of Jeff Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis, it’s incredibly engaging and quite riveting as we see ourselves in this film. Integrating graphic art and the short fictional episodes is a brilliant way to augment the interviews with the experts. And it is with this innovative style that elevates not only the story, but the film overall.

We are all a part of the tech system, both for the good and the bad, and while this seems horrifying, it gives us knowledge and with that comes power. Perhaps we can also gain compassion and empathy as we look in the mirror before we accuse or judge others for their “wrong point of view.”

Available on Netflix beginning Sept. 9, 2020

4 Stars

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