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Do You Know Of The Social Dilemma We’re In?

Are you one of those who can’t take a day off from social media? Has it ever occurred to you that social media plays a big part in our lives? How did that happen and what is this Social Dilemma?

Be warned! Big Brother is watching!

Though it is not the Big Brother as in the leader of Oceania totalitarian state in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, it smacks of semblance of being under watchful eyes; akin to the fiction of 1949 becoming a reality in our 21st Century!

Before this is dismissed as fertile imagination and overdramatising of a populace being watched, monitored and manipulated, just figure this: You click on a dress that caught your attention online, and the very next moment, dresses of similar cuts but different designs by other suppliers pops up on your feed on social media.

You don’t give much thought to this coincidence. But doesn’t it seem like there can be forces unseen watching our action and speedily respond to pander to our likes and inclinations.

Or you’re just like me, you applaud this as awesome smart leaps that technology has enabled.

Yes, we revel in such technological breakthroughs. We’re amazed, but not in disbelief. How can we be when we have seen how Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, the telephone, has evolved into the palm-size smartphone that combines cellular and mobile computing. When literally, a supercomputer that used to be the size of a room can now fit into a pocket, we don’t quickly disbelieve what technology enables for us!

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Well, not until Social Dilemma and its brutal truth shook me out of the bliss of ignorance. Shocked, it knocked sense into me that if the comic-strip depiction of Dick Tracy communicating via his wrist watch could be true today, 1984’s fictional Big Brother watching as a means to control the will of the populace too could be a reality!

Social Dilemma, a docudrama which I got to watch of Netflix, strikes home the inconvenient truth of social media. In it, tech experts sound the alarm of dangers and the impact of social media in ruling our lives.

The docu-drama plainly puts across to us plainly that social media is highly addictive and manipulatively designed to influence and dictate our actions via the “attention extraction model” that keeps us scrolling and wanting more. And from that, social media collect users’ personal data to develop personalised advertisements.

The Social Dilemma reveals how top tech companies and social media platforms manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction to their platforms. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al are free to use, but that does not mean there is no price to pay for that.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

But, what is algorithms? It can be easily understood with this illustration: A social media post by your friends appears on your social media feed soon after. You also get a recommendation of videos to watch upon showing interest in videos of a certain genre. That’s how algorithms work – sort out things from our online behaviour and likes, and based on relevancy, direct them for our attention.

Creepy that everything we are doing online is being watched and tracked; every single action is monitored and recorded; and even used to predict our resultant actions. As a docu-drama, there’s the wee bit of overdramatisation of the addiction, manipulation, and the use in politics etc. However, the underlying that it is happening cannot be taken lightly. It, admittedly, is good to be aware, be wary and not let our guards down and expose ourselves to even mental health threats.

It is like how former Google Design Ethicist, Tristan Harris, puts it clearly in the film: “It’s not about the technology being the existential threat, it’s the technology’s ability to bring out the worst in society. And the worst in society being the existential threat.”

Sit up and be concerned, we should. Statistics tell us that. On the average, adults across the world spend at least two hours a day on social media. Teens, on the other hand, spend up to an average of 10 hours a day.

From analysis of statistics, it is determined that social media addiction is now affecting half of the population globally. As a result of this, social media platforms and tech companies are making billions out of our mining online habits and online activities to increase engagement, growth and advertising revenue.

Social media is teetering on becoming a destructive element in our lives, if it has not yet to.

But, what it can be safety said with some certainty is that it has disrupted our lives in varying degrees.

Personally, I think this docu-drama has done a great job. It not only awaken us to the imminent social crisis, it did well in distilling the dangers for non-tech savvy people like me and showing how the ‘attraction models’ and profiling work. Over and above that, it brings to fore – at least for me -- how much data we could have unknowingly given out on our own and importantly, but now you can change it.

Social Dilemma, however, does not tell us the how-to,to fight. What then do you, as the viewers or social media users, think we should do?

My take on this is:

1. Changing our social media privacy settings to private. That restricts the data collection from our accounts. This might sound technical and troublesome to some, but, trust me, it is not!

One need just to go to Settings on social media accounts that one has, restrict both the audience and content shared on feeds. For some platforms like Facebook, data can still be collected and used even if when privacy settings are restricted. This includes how much time one hovers on a post, the content one reads but never shares. To counter this, one may want to opt to shorten the time spent on social media.

2. Exerting more self-control than the most people in the use of social media. I have had times when I did not use social media wisely. But now, I have worked out a self-discipline system that works for me and gives my life more meaning. This involves turning off notifications for Likes on Facebook and Instagram on my phones, and Unfollow a bunch of people who post absurd contents. Now I just use social media to keep up with my friends, like seeing photos from their vacations, messaging friends, posting things about my life or funny memes.

It boils down to Taking Control and not allowing it Taking Control over us. Fight addiction by going cold turkey. For social media, I would reckon it is easier. Take a break from social media. Break the habit pattern.

Work on ourselves. Otherwise, it can just get worse if we give it a free rein to take control of us.

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