The Social Dilemma Is Real

I’ve been a critic of the Internet, bloggers, and social media since shortly after I started blogging and using social media almost a dozen years ago. Apparently, I’m not the only one. A recent Netflix documentary called, The Social Dilemma, shares my concerns.

The documentary isn’t just a bunch of educators and psychologists warning us about the dangers of social media. It’s the people who helped to create social media warning us.

5 Ways Social Media Hurts Us

Social media isn’t all bad. As with anything, it can be used for good. But it has many harmful properties, more than five, but these are the big ones:

  1. Turns us into products: We mine coal for power. We cut down trees for lumber. We kill cows for meat. Social media mines the human psyche to sell us shit. The entire premise of social media is not to give us a tool, but to manipulate us to do what they want us to do, what the algorithms have been programmed to convince us to do. We are the product.
  2. Creates anxiety and depression: Levels of depression and anxiety among our kids have practically tripled in the last 20 years. What’s different? These kids were raised on social media. They are constantly concerned about shares and likes and fitting in. So much that they spend up to 50 hours a week on their phones.
  3. Becomes an addiction: 50 hours of Internet a week is an addiction. And social media works like a drug, or gambling. The entire industry has been created to keep you using. The makers of these programs strategize ways to make you want more, not for your best interest, but for their financial interests.
  4. Spreads fake news: Social media creates echo chambers. Many of those echo chambers are based on bullshit. But the algorithms push the bullshit because it keeps people engaged, and gets more ad impressions.
  5. Divides us: That fake news divides us. We are becoming more and more polarized on a variety of topics, including climate change and politics. Instead of looking for solutions, we just fight.

What’s the Answer to the Social Dilemma?

I have no definitive answer for you. I think the only way the industry will change is if the users demand change based on our actions. Think about how you use social media. Ask yourself a few questions.

  • How many hours a week am I on social media?
  • Do I crave “likes” or approval?
  • What kinds of information do I share?
  • Have I created an echo chamber?
  • Am I learning and growing in other areas of my life?

If I’m honest with myself, I don’t like the answers to some of these questions. I’m on Facebook entirely too often. My friends are predominately of the same political persuasion as me. I don’t read or hike half as much as I used to.

It can be hard to admit, but if we’re truly honest with ourselves, most of us are part of the social dilemma. Just as the people who originally created the programs and algorithms didn’t have nefarious intentions, most of us believe we are using social media for good purposes. We’re not addicted. We could quit tomorrow. So, then why the fuck don’t we? Because we are addicted!

Watch, Think, Change…

I don’t often recommend books or movies here, but I am recommending, The Social Dilemma. I don’t suggest watching it because I think social media is all evil and we have to give it up now. I suggest you watch it to become a little more educated about how and why social media work. As you learn, think about how it works in your own lives.

Perhaps, in time, we can change. Shit, I often dream about moving to Bumfuck Nowhere, where I can’t even get WiFi. Why? Because I know that the Internet and social media have changed me. The changes aren’t all bad, but I’m a different person than I was 20 years ago, and not all for the better.

Obviously, cutting oneself off from the Internet cold turkey won’t work. But setting limits and removing temptations is a start. I encourage you to watch The Social Dilemma and be self-critical about your own usage. What do you have to lose but 90 minutes of your time?