After watching The Social Dilemma, I was inspired a few months back to write a blog post What is Your Social Dilemma: Symptoms and Insights for an Internet Culture. In the post, I discussed different “symptoms” of our sometimes dysfunctional relationship to social media and the internet. I don’t usually dwell on documentaries and it is the very rare book or movie that stays with me these days — I’m a bit picky. So this week, I’m sharing an informal review of the film. (Disclaimer: I’m not a professional critic, but like everyone else, I do have opinions).
Frankenstein and Facebook
The Social Dilemma directed by Jeff Orlowski, features various former executives of Big Tech including Google, Facebook, and Instagram. At first they appear a bit nervous about the interviews to follow, even though their attorneys have assured them they are ok to “talk”. And really, what they say in no way defames any of their former employers. There is a feeling of wonderment from these people that reminds me of the classic horror flick, Frankenstein featuring Boris Korloff as the “monster”. The mad scientist is overcome by an obsession to prove his point by bringing a creature to life, only to find that he’s made a terrible mistake. I guess it’s just collateral damage of progress.
Teen Addiction to Social Media
The most interesting part of the film is the scripted narrative of a “basic” family with kids who are connected by their phones to the cyberworld. The son, Ben, who appears to be in his early teens is particularly attached to his device. Behind the curtain of this story is a trio of “masterminds” who come up with ways to keep Ben engaged. These three, like the witches of Macbeth are sinister and diabolical. They devise all kinds of ways to keep alerts popping up on Ben’s phone. There is one bit where they manipulate him with a girl he “likes” by artificially creating notifications. For marketers, this might remind you of multi-channel marketing. This example is like when a store automatically sends a text about a sale when a customer enters its doors.
Ben’s health deteriorates as a result of his addiction. Although his family tries to put him on a “diet”, challenging him to put his phone away, he barely lasts a day. Waking up the next morning he is almost hung over from the experience of staring at the small screen. Ben’s dazed and confused state grows and I won’t give away what happens to him. There are two roads to travel, either destroy Ben completely or find a solution to his problem. Watch the film and find out.
Recommended for Parents
In my view, what I learned in The Social Dilemma didn’t surprise me. But I highly recommend it, especially for parents. We need to face the reality of what our kids are up against. The family narrative definitely mirrored my own. My teenagers who are glued to their phones. When it’s clear that whatever is happening on screen is agitating them, I ask “Why don’t you put it away for awhile?” Their answer: “We don’t want to miss anything.”
For other commentaries from reliable sources, check out:
Psychology Today: The Social Dilemma: A Horror Film in Documentary Clothing;
Wired Magazine: Hate Social Media? You’ll Love this Documentary
Fielding: The Social Dilemma: Fact or Manipulation?