The best part about a horror flick is the realization at the end of the movie that none of the story is real and none of the villains in the movie could harm you, like waking up from a nightmare and realizing it’s just a dream. The same cannot be said about Netflix’s latest documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” which warns viewers about social media and technology’s dangerous impact on humanity. This film is one nightmare you will not be able to wake up from.
Have you ever had a conversation about buying something online and coincidentally see an ad of that very same thing the next time you scroll through your Instagram feed? That is no accident. In fact, it’s the very thing that the developers of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seek to accomplish.
The documentary itself was narrated by the original developers of these corporations, all of whom have left their respective companies for ethical reasons. This was my first red flag. I’m being told that some of the founders of Google, Facebook and YouTube, multi-billion dollar companies, left their jobs and the salary that comes with them because they believed what they were doing was unethical.
As members of Generation Z, born after 1996, we are all well aware of the addictive nature of social media and the prevalence of technology in our lives. If there’s an awkward moment in the day or a weird social interaction you don’t know how to sit through, let’s just pull out our phones to avoid that uncomfortable feeling. You look up one video or see one post and then it’s over, you’re sucked into a rabbit hole that takes two-and-a-half hours to get out of.
This is the goal of sites like Facebook and YouTube. The companies want you to waste hours of your life on their apps because it means more money for them. They tailor your feed to keep your interest and keep you invested for as long as possible. Every topic you’ve ever Googled, every profile you’ve ever viewed, every song you’ve ever streamed is all catalogued and programmed into their algorithms. The more videos you watch, the more pictures you like, the more ads you view all mean more money in the pockets of people like Mark Zuckerberg.
What I appreciated the most about this film was director Jeff Orlowski’s decision to not only sit down with experts of the field, but explain the documentary’s points through dramatization. A typical suburban family’s lives are significantly altered by the technology they are addicted to. Their young daughter struggles with self-image issues while their teenage son is radicalized by the endless stream of fake news that his social media promotes. Their parents are unable to help them because they don’t understand technology themselves. Sound familiar?
This documentary was a tough pill to swallow, as I myself am guilty of many of the transgressions they warned of, especially in the recent months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it seems like technology is the one place to turn to for human interaction. That being said, I am thoroughly glad I saw this film as it makes you acutely aware of how much time is actually given to these companies. My advice to anyone who owns a cell phone would be to take the time to watch this documentary and seriously consider how much of your lives has already been spent looking at a screen. There is a beautiful world out there and we shouldn’t waste our chance to see it.