Small Screen Quarantine – The Social Dilemma (2020)

I wanted to put a placeholder up first. The new Netflix “documentary,” The Social Dilemma, seems a rousing success in their goals on some levels, but completely misses out on others. I’m more than familiar with the faces of ethical programming, Tristan Harris, Jaron Lanier, etc., and find no disagreement with them in the existential threat behind how information is propagated on the internet. My question is more about who the film is being addressed to.

They could probably do another film on the addiction aspect that they continually mention, because that’s where they completely miss the boat. They fail to make any meaningful argument about the addictive aspects of social media use. They explain that the systems are designed to hack the brain and make them as addictive as possible, but say very little about how the addiction manifests in individuals. What are the symptoms that a viewer might recognize in their own self? What are the deleterious aspects? How might it degrade one’s quality of life? They throw out a few statistics and then move on to the broader socio-political impact. I would think that if they want to start something, they should start from the ground up, addressing the smaller, individual, recognizable scale, whereby a viewer would get a foothold into the larger picture. They most likely don’t know enough about addiction to speak on it in a meaningful way, but throwing it out as a “bad word” to catch notice isn’t enough. I think someone should be able to explain addiction and its impact before throwing the word out. Then consider how disruptive a single addict is in a family and then multiply the number of of people who currently have a substance use disorder tenfold and put at least one addict in every single household… several in every workplace… etc. The butterfly effect.

Again, these are initial notes. Tristan Harris, whom I admire tremendously, seems off the mark in some senses. He asks the question, “How do you escape The Matrix if you don’t realize you’re in it?” I am going to push back on this. I believe at this point that many people know full well that they’re in The Matrix, but don’t want to escape. What they gain by being integrated into it is a replacement for what they lost with the failure of God & State and the unwavering faith in the larger institutions of authority. They are like Cypher in the film. They have seen the real world and prefer the comfort of belief, even if the belief defies rational thought and alienates them from the other tribes. We’ve always had other tribes… the Russians, the Chinese, Muslims etc… They will take The Matrix over any doubt that we live in a Good vs. Evil, black and white world.

They are really addressing several related but different issues. There is the addiction and addictive behaviors. Then there is the fact that it is all designed to create addiction so you have the ethical issues there. Then there is the point at which the subjugation and manipulation become a bigger force than the creators are able to control. It’s absolutely as chaotic and dangerous as the film states. It could be, like global warming, bigger than the tech companies can contain. Both require reprogramming the billions of end users whose entire lives are structured around the technology. Yet Silicon Valley is vain enough to believe that if they created the problem, they can solve it.

That’s hubris, by definition.

Anyway… initial thoughts.

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