The Social Dilemma review: Taking the (click)bait
September 15, 2020 10:35:46 am
Social Dilemma Director: Jeff orlowski
Social Dilemma Rating: Three and a half stars
There are two things you will complete once you see the social dilemma, a documentary that is currently streaming on Netflix. One, you want to hit your phone on the wall, and second, you will shake your head in a helpless state that transcends every sense of your being. Trust us, you are not alone in these reactions. The documentary, which fell a bit quietly on the streaming service last week, is described as “This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with technical experts ringing an alarm over their own creations.” It has been described by Netflix as ‘provocative’ and ‘investigative’. Both are true on counts, but what the social dilemma really does is isolate you from a false sense of decency and well-being, and throw you straight into the stuff that sci-fi nightmares are made of.
We all know that most social media giants give data, and they monitor what we do, and are therefore able to predict our next move – thanks to artificial intelligence (AI). We have made our peace with this, because we think we are making a choice, whether to click that button or not, we think they are able to enable our data as we allow them. But it is the illusion that the social dilemma breaks down so amazingly, and we are finally able to see the man in the mirror, look at us, and control everything, rather than our own reflection. Data is blah, whatever, we – and by proxy, our focus is the product, being sold to the highest bidder.
The documentary describes in detail how technology and algorithms are put in place to predict and influence human behavior. It is no longer limited to you to buy a pair of shoes that you do not need, but it is going to affect you to vote a certain way, or even to participate in a violent mob for. There are many people in the documentary ropes who have helped create this anthem of a Frankensteinian monster. Tristan Harris, currently president and co-founder of the Center for Human Technology – a former design ethicist at Google – is featured prominently in the documentary. Several ‘formers’, including Tim Kendall, former VP Pintrest, made their appearance in the film; Justin Rosenstian, former engineer at Google and Facebook, Sandy Perkilla, former operations manager, Facebook and Jeroen Lannier, author of Ten Arguments for their social media accounts Right Now, among others. These are the people who have collectively changed the way we live our digital lives. They all say the same thing, “It didn’t start that way.” And yet here we are, where the very makers of this system are now downplaying it, and ringing the alarm bell. I really want to know how these experts manage their Ironclad NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement).
Dramatic bits of the documentary show how each and every click, or an extra second spent on a picture, every single post that comes in our newsfeed, and we click on the ads and buy the things that we later In ‘states impassive’. ‘To confess our crime – well no one is doing our job. We are the only small cog who bids the algorithm. Our free will has been successfully stripped from us, and most of us seem okay with it. This is the plot of every sci-fi horror flick, where the system, fed up with our own behavior, not robots, has managed it. Steven Spielberg could have copyrighted this script.
It is interesting that the documentary has come at a time when Facebook has been in the news for turning a blind eye to hate posts in India. The documentary makes a parallel example of the Rohingya massacre in neighboring Myanmar, where social media assisted in the fulfillment of the state-sponsored pogrom. This is not the first time that people have fallen prey to publicity – TV until the nineties had a similar stranglehold on public consciousness – but yes, this medium does it very efficiently. It also touches on aspects of mental health and social media use.
But The Social Dilemma is silent on a very important aspect of this situation. They do not adequately address the ‘human angle’. True, the big bad tech giants do their bit and bombard humans with the things and posts that connect us with them, resulting in us spending hours glued to the screen with our eyes closed. But they fail to mention why humans are susceptible to this suggestion? We, as a species, always wanted recognition. Popularity and social status over time are remembered by humans from time to time. It is just the end of this time that is not justifying the means. It mentions how the evolution of the human brain has not kept up with the development of technology, but we cannot ignore the contribution of humans that gave rise to this mess.
After the death that experts sound with such authority, they offer some solutions. Turn off your notifications; Doesn’t matter if you don’t click the ‘recommended button for you’, and have non-negotiable screen time curfews with your children, and don’t take your cellphone to the bedroom. These steps may seem small and insignificant, but they can go a long way in the David vs. Goliath situation.
Sufficiently dangerous, the social dilemma is the fast food nation equivalent of this generation. In the early 2000s this book highlighted the impact of American fast food on a global scale. The social dilemma takes it up several notches. The irony on us is not that we heard about this film on social media platforms. In all likelihood, you will be reading it from one too. Until then, keep scrolling. or not.
4 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines.
For all the latest entertainment news, download the Indian Express app.