by Venky
The Social Dilemma, Director Jeff Orlowski | Film School Radio hosted by  Mike Kaspar

If you are wondering how to keep yourself occupied over the coming weekend, fret no more! Netflix might be the solution. Before you exasperatingly throw your hands up and resentfully complain that there is no series or movie remaining to be viewed, and moreover you are experiencing “streaming fatigue”, let me assure you that we are talking about a potential transformation here. A potential personal transformation. The documentary “Social Dilemma” by Director Jeff Orlowski, is arguably one of the best ever offerings of its oeuvre. Lasting just over an hour and a half, the documentary highlights in chilling detail, the unintended consequences of an addiction to social media, on the common individual. An addiction, which unlike say that relating to opioid, pornography, or other hard narcotics, is not self-inflicted. The social media addiction is an ‘induced’ obsession that has at the centre of its philosophy, the very machinery of greed and avarice. The grease that lubricates this perpetual motion machine is the human populace. Me and you, and the dog named Boo. The new Emperors of capitalism, the Big Tech are doing everything to get into our hearts, heads and minds, from where they can wreak havoc and bring about wanton damage.

Ingenuously framed against the backdrop of a fictional family that has two smart phone addicts, the documentary takes its viewer along a journey of techno-psychological deceit that has the whole world eating out from the hands of a few oligarchs. We are all puppets on a string manipulated every second, minute and hour, to dance to preset tunes and lend our voices to prerecorded music. A macabre dance of deceit and doubt. Taking us all through this journey are some of the greatest ever minds in the world of Information Technology and Advanced Computing. Hell! Some of these chaps, in a phase, that is now representative of their past lives, were also the progenitors behind our addiction. Yes, we are taking about some of the biggest names from the domain of Big Tech, who now are serving as the closest thing Silicon Valley can come to a conscience.

As Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google and founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, says there are three kinds of drivers/goals which an organisation like Facebook thirsts for: “engagement, growth and advertisement”. These goals fueled by complicated algorithms ensure to keep the user hooked perpetually to his “timeline”, “feeds”, and “likes.” As Harris illustrates there is also a growing scientific concept imaginatively titled” Growth hacking.” This is a method by which organisations keep ‘hacking’ away at the psychology of the user in search of more engagement.

Guillaume Chaslot was a former engineer at You Tube,  before being the CEO of Intuitive AI and founder of Algotransparency. Reminiscing on his experience of working at Google, Chaslot, chillingly explains, “An algorithm that I worked on increased polarization in society. But from the view of watch time, this polarization is extremely efficient at keeping people online.”

A polarization that was unearthed in all its ghastly detail when a team of researchers at Northeastern University, the University of Southern California, and the progressive nonprofit Upturn released a study. Moonlighting as political advertisers, they discovered that Facebook’s algorithms make it tougher and more expensive for a campaign to get its message to users who disagree with them even if they’re trying to.

As the great recluse of the tech world and the father of Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier, gravely emphasizes in the documentary, “It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.” Adds, Aza Raskin, former employee at Firefox and Mozilla, inventor of the infinite scroll and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technology “Advertisers are the customers. Users are the things being sold.” In fact, even a person of the enviable capabilities of Raskin had to struggle to overcome social media addiction. In a startling confession, he admits to having had to write a software to break his addiction to Reddit!

It is this very addiction that has birthed a quandary to many a plastic surgeon across the world. “Snapchat Dysmorphia” is a deadly affliction where young patients desire surgery so that they can look more like they do in those filtered selfies. According to 2017 data from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55 percent of fascial plastic surgeons said that patients requested cosmetic procedures to look better on social media — an increase of 13 percent from the year before.

American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author, Jonathan Haidt, informs us that social media has been the cause of an increasing tendency among teens to harm themselves. This is on account of a dopamine release in the reward pathway of the brain. This consistent, continuous and catastrophic craving for rewards further pushes users towards and into rabbit holes which would have amazed even Lewis Carroll!

The documentary is embellished by the powerful presence of a league of extraordinary gentlemen who are striving to bring hapless and helpless human beings out of the vice like grip of social media addiction. Hoping to hell that they achieve in their bold and ambitious endeavour, else the world is toast!

(Cast of Primary Characters in the Documentary):

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