Camera ObscuraSocietySpiegeloog 407: Motivation

Camera Obscura: The Social Dilemma

By September 28, 2020 No Comments

The two-time award-winning documentary The Social Dilemma investigates the dangerous impact of social networks – such as Twitter, Youtube or Facebook – on society, civilization and humanity. It is a mixture of an informative documentary and drama, to visualize the statements and facts that are declared by psychologists, sociologists and experienced business people. Moreover, none other than the ex-employees (and technological experts) of the previously mentioned internet companies share their point of view and moreover raise the alarm for the monstrous impact social media has on society due to companies they have worked for themselves.

‘What I want people to know is that everything they are doing online is being watched, is being tracked. Every single action you take is carefully monitored. They have more information about us than you can ever imagine’ says Jeff Seibert, Twitter’s former executive. This documentary has its goal clear from the beginning: informing every viewer – and warning them – about the downside and danger of social media. After briefly affirming the positive sides of social networks, the documentary emphasizes social isolation, psychological problems, the addiction risks, and lastly the undeniably large the control those companies have over us.

This effect social media has is illustrated by a modern family that comes up occasionally during the documentary. They struggle with excessive use and addiction to mobile devices and social media. Although the scenes where the characters get aggressive and show withdrawal symptoms right after their smartphones are taken away seem somewhat dramatic to me, it does visualize the statements of the documentary in a daily-life setting. The technical algorithms that try to keep us online as much as possible, are visualized by three men who are supposedly ‘behind your screen’ and control you. Again, this seems overly dramatized – however, I cannot deny that after a little while it induces a screaming voice in your head that asks: ‘What in God’s name are we doing?’ At the end of that scene, you hear ‘I put a spell on you, because you’re mine..’ playing in the background and suddenly, the song gets a whole different meaning.

The Social Dilemma is quite moving, for instance when social psychologist Jonathan Haidt affirms that there has been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety among American Teenagers around the time social media was rising. Tim Kendall goes a step further and does not mince his words when stating that these services are ‘killing people and causing people to kill themselves.’ The documentary is direct, harsh and clear. Whether you like the style or not, it is definitely an eye-opener to the horrifying impact social networks can have on our psychological health.

By combining visions of social psychologists, leaders of huge corporations and former employees – and technical experts – of the internet companies, the viewer is given the same warning, from different perspectives, experiences and expertise.  What I appreciated in this documentary is the vulnerable and sincere attitude of the former employees. Tim Kendall is the former president of Pinterest and former executive of Facebook. About his phone addiction, he admitted: ‘Knowing what goes on behind the curtain, I was still not able to control my usage. That is scary’. And Azra Raskin, a former employee of Firefox and inventor of infinite scroll*, confessed to needing to write himself software to break his addiction of reading Reddit**.

Lastly, the speakers in the documentary do not hold back on informing the viewer about the control those companies have on you which leaves the viewer with a significant spine-chilling awareness. They explain how your psychology is used against you: our subconscious is being programmed and we don’t even realize it. Companies make sure that scrolling through your feed is positive intermittent reinforcement: when you refresh, something new comes up. Also, you don’t even choose what you see, what you search and who you befriend, they do that. That makes the fight between artificial intelligence knowing everything about you, and you knowing nothing about it, unfair.

Despite some very dramatic and extreme, polarized negative sides and the main focus on American society, The Social Dilemma is a wake-up call to the damaging and radical effects that social media contain. I recommend this documentary because I believe that nowadays people are not only extremely attached to their phones and social networks, it seems the most normal thing in the world that people cannot live without it anymore. That is something that – in my humble opinion – drastically needs to change, and this documentary might just be a start. Despite that I have always been aware of the addictive factor social media contains, I will never look at Youtube, Facebook or any other medium in the same way again. And I believe that that wake-up call might be good for everyone.

* Infinite Scroll is a function whereas the user scrolls, more content is loaded on the media he or she is using.

** Reddit is an American social news website.

Directed by: Jeff Orlowski

This docufilm is available on Netflix.

The two-time award-winning documentary The Social Dilemma investigates the dangerous impact of social networks – such as Twitter, Youtube or Facebook – on society, civilization and humanity. It is a mixture of an informative documentary and drama, to visualize the statements and facts that are declared by psychologists, sociologists and experienced business people. Moreover, none other than the ex-employees (and technological experts) of the previously mentioned internet companies share their point of view and moreover raise the alarm for the monstrous impact social media has on society due to companies they have worked for themselves.

‘What I want people to know is that everything they are doing online is being watched, is being tracked. Every single action you take is carefully monitored. They have more information about us than you can ever imagine’ says Jeff Seibert, Twitter’s former executive. This documentary has its goal clear from the beginning: informing every viewer – and warning them – about the downside and danger of social media. After briefly affirming the positive sides of social networks, the documentary emphasizes social isolation, psychological problems, the addiction risks, and lastly the undeniably large the control those companies have over us.

This effect social media has is illustrated by a modern family that comes up occasionally during the documentary. They struggle with excessive use and addiction to mobile devices and social media. Although the scenes where the characters get aggressive and show withdrawal symptoms right after their smartphones are taken away seem somewhat dramatic to me, it does visualize the statements of the documentary in a daily-life setting. The technical algorithms that try to keep us online as much as possible, are visualized by three men who are supposedly ‘behind your screen’ and control you. Again, this seems overly dramatized – however, I cannot deny that after a little while it induces a screaming voice in your head that asks: ‘What in God’s name are we doing?’ At the end of that scene, you hear ‘I put a spell on you, because you’re mine..’ playing in the background and suddenly, the song gets a whole different meaning.

The Social Dilemma is quite moving, for instance when social psychologist Jonathan Haidt affirms that there has been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety among American Teenagers around the time social media was rising. Tim Kendall goes a step further and does not mince his words when stating that these services are ‘killing people and causing people to kill themselves.’ The documentary is direct, harsh and clear. Whether you like the style or not, it is definitely an eye-opener to the horrifying impact social networks can have on our psychological health.

By combining visions of social psychologists, leaders of huge corporations and former employees – and technical experts – of the internet companies, the viewer is given the same warning, from different perspectives, experiences and expertise.  What I appreciated in this documentary is the vulnerable and sincere attitude of the former employees. Tim Kendall is the former president of Pinterest and former executive of Facebook. About his phone addiction, he admitted: ‘Knowing what goes on behind the curtain, I was still not able to control my usage. That is scary’. And Azra Raskin, a former employee of Firefox and inventor of infinite scroll*, confessed to needing to write himself software to break his addiction of reading Reddit**.

Lastly, the speakers in the documentary do not hold back on informing the viewer about the control those companies have on you which leaves the viewer with a significant spine-chilling awareness. They explain how your psychology is used against you: our subconscious is being programmed and we don’t even realize it. Companies make sure that scrolling through your feed is positive intermittent reinforcement: when you refresh, something new comes up. Also, you don’t even choose what you see, what you search and who you befriend, they do that. That makes the fight between artificial intelligence knowing everything about you, and you knowing nothing about it, unfair.

Despite some very dramatic and extreme, polarized negative sides and the main focus on American society, The Social Dilemma is a wake-up call to the damaging and radical effects that social media contain. I recommend this documentary because I believe that nowadays people are not only extremely attached to their phones and social networks, it seems the most normal thing in the world that people cannot live without it anymore. That is something that – in my humble opinion – drastically needs to change, and this documentary might just be a start. Despite that I have always been aware of the addictive factor social media contains, I will never look at Youtube, Facebook or any other medium in the same way again. And I believe that that wake-up call might be good for everyone.

* Infinite Scroll is a function whereas the user scrolls, more content is loaded on the media he or she is using.

** Reddit is an American social news website.

Directed by: Jeff Orlowski

This docufilm is available on Netflix.

Elise van Graven

Author Elise van Graven

More posts by Elise van Graven