• Julia Adrien

Film Review - 'The Social Dilemma'

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'Spoilers' ahead, although I don't really know if you can really 'spoil' a documentary!

Everywhere you look, you'll find throngs of people insisting that 'The Social Dilemma' is an absolute must-watch. Hey, that's why I checked it out; if this many people are saying it's so earth-shattering, it has to be great, right? Well...I have mixed feelings.

I do appreciate the fact that people are out there working to make all forms of technology more ethical. It's uplifting seeing that there are Tristan Harrises out there fighting to protect our privacy.

However--and there are some major 'howevers'--

Society was more chaotic in the past, not now. I'm sure people do use social media to spread the word about nonsense...and you know what? We can also use it to get thousands of people to come to meaningful protests and to spread truth. Just like we would be using the town bulletin board for it in the past. There has always been chaos (as I said, more so in the past than now). Yes, social media promotes diversity of thought--that's why they banned Facebook in China; because their government controls and censors all of the news and the flow of information. When you ban diversity of thought, you get the government controlling the entire flow of information. When you allow diversity of thought and for average individuals to have their own platform to speak their minds, yes, you will get some conspiracy theories and other nonsense. It's a tradeoff. But over all, I think we're all better off being able to speak our minds.

And if you guys are all seeing only people who agree with you on your NewsFeed (as they claim we all are in the film), then you have a very different NewsFeed than I do! I see plenty of people who disagree with me on NewsFeed. I think that if people do mainly see people who agree with them, it's probably because they made irl friends who are similar to them to begin with. People who agree with each other have always tended to group together; that's nothing new.

And of course we're 'addicted' to social media...we're 'addicted' to socializing in real life too, just like we're 'addicted' to food and sex. Socializing is an evolutionary need, and social media is just another (more efficient) platform for that. We're also addicted to the grocery store! Look at us, just constantly shuttling back and forth to the grocery store every week! The horror! I mean... But at the same time, of course I do see the difference between social media and the grocery store scenario I'm presenting here as a comparison. Going to the grocery store isn't bad for you in any way that I can think of. I'm not an expert, but I assume sitting in front of a screen for a large part of the day isn't the healthiest thing in the world. I do feel pretty dependent on social media, and clearly I'm far from alone in that, and maybe it does need to be addressed somehow. What annoyed me the most was that they pointed out that people are so dependent on it, but didn't offer up any potential solutions. Then, later on in the film, they have the audacity to say that critics are the real optimists because they incite change. Usually, you've got to have ideas for potential solutions to incite change.

As for the personalized ads and video recommendations, that's nothing groundbreaking. They act as if no one is aware of that when really, everyone is. It's definitely overboard how your phone can listen to you and stuff; they should regulate that more, of course, and put in place more privacy laws, because that's just too far. But I'm fine with them keeping track of what I click on their platform that I'm consensually using. *Shrug.* But I suppose, yes, you should be able to opt out. To me, it's not a huge deal though.

Also, I strongly, strongly disagree with their claim that corporations are the only ones who are empowered by social media. Individuals are VASTLY empowered by social media. Anyone can be anything now. Anyone can be a hotel, or a car rental business. In fact, the big hotel businesses are, by their own admission, threatened by AirBnb. People are making their own television and movies with nothing but their phones (YouTube). In fact, if you can't afford music lessons or cooking classes, you can learn any trade on YouTube. And dovetailing on that, if you don't want to work a conventional job, you can start an entire career on YouTube or Etsy and make a great living. A size 16 girl can be an Instagram model (and, in fact, the entire body positivity movement took place on social media). In the past, giant clothing brands decided on all the fashion trends. Now, trends spread on social media, started by average people. Not only that, but anyone can start a store (Etsy, Depop). Without social media, how many of us small writers, artists and musicians would be able to get the word out about our creations? And where would so many people in need be without GoFundMe? I have to say, if anything, things have gotten far MORE grassroots because of social media. But alas, we're all just zombies mindlessly addicted to our personalized ads (none of which I've ever even clicked on, btw), so screw all the ways social media empowers us, right?

Then they end the movie by saying that society will collapse within 20 years because of this (yeah, sure...), that social media should be outlawed (outlawing it is far more corrupt than having it but okay), and that things need to change, with zero explanation of their plans for change. Nice.

And what was the point of the Lifetime movie-esque, badly acted dramatization family that took up half the film's run time? They were so boring, with no personality, and wholly pointless in the movie. However, I do have to give them major credit for featuring what was clearly either a blended family or an adoptive family.

Finally, the way they went about claiming that teen suicide is linked to social media use made me uneasy. If teen suicide really is linked to social media use, they did not adequately prove this in the film; in fact, this topic was skimmed over for about 30 seconds (if I'm remembering correctly). If they are going to make such a claim, they should treat it delicately and seriously, along with backing it up thoroughly. That being said, if social media is truly affecting teens this way, then of course this information needs to come to light and something has to be done about it.

So really, it was a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions for me. Whether you generally agree with what they're saying or not, it is a good conversation starter. However, I wouldn't call it a 'must-watch.'

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