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The Social Dilemma (Documentary)

Watch date: 25/7/21


How I came across it:

I first heard about The Social Dilemma through YouTuber Zach Highley’s newsletter. Since then, I’ve seen lots of people talk about it on social media so I finally got to watching it.


Who will I recommend this to?

Anyone and everyone. If you use social media and technology in any way, you should watch The Social Dilemma and become aware of the significant detriments social media and tech can bring.


My thoughts:

I was left feeling very shocked after watching The Social Dilemma. I knew that there were clear harms with social media use and have been cutting down for a while now, but seeing this reinforced my determination to reduce the power social media and technology have over me. Technology is so pervasive in our lives and although they have definitely brought about benefits, there is a need to develop a more balanced view of its use. The books mentioned in the documentary (see below) sound very interesting and I will definitely be reading them - I recommend that you do, too.


I have linked the website for The Social Dilemma which contains information on how you can take action, including a petition you can sign.


How it has changed me/how I do things:

  1. I go offline at least half an hour before going to bed (usually earlier than that) and avoid looking at my phone right after I wake up in the morning. The Sleep Mode function on the iPhone really helps with this.

  2. I’ve turned off the majority of notifications for most apps except the ones I might need to get to urgently e.g. email and messages. For those, I only allow notifications in my phone’s Notification Centre and Lock Screen. I turn off notifications that come in the form of banners, meaning that I won’t get notifications popping up while I’m doing something on a different app, preventing distractions.

  3. For most apps, I’ve turned off badges meaning I won’t see the number indicating the number of notifications I have for an app. I often feel the urge to open an app when I see I have X amount of unopened notifications to get rid of them, so turning off badges prevents this from happening.

  4. I will avoid using my devices to watch something during mealtimes - it has become a habit while living alone at university and I will be cutting down on this when I go back in September.

  5. I use a Forest-style app called Flora to keep track of the time I stay off my phone. I initially downloaded it to keep myself motivated while doing work but it has also helped a lot with reducing the reliance on my phone. Any timer app that tracks the amount of time you spend on tasks should be sufficient.

My notes:

  1. Social media and technology are free to use because we as consumers are the product, and advertisers are the customer. What is being sold is the gradual, imperceptible change of your behaviour and perception.

  2. What you do online is being tracked - all of that information is being used to develop models that predict your actions.

  3. All social media platforms and technology are designed to keep you on them and maximise engagement, this is how companies earn from advertisers.

  4. Things like getting notifications when you get tagged in pictures and how pictures you receive cannot be seen until you open the app: they all make you go on the app, and stay there.

  5. Where we direct our attention and our sense of self-worth is controlled by this technology.

  6. Wanting to be liked by others is a human instinct: this provides a survival benefit since you’d be more likely to find a mate and reproduce if you’re liked. The digital extension of this instinct is for example when likes on posts and pictures correlate with a fleeting sense of being popular. → think mental health issues!

  7. We can’t “adapt” to this because technology is evolving at exponential rates, whereas we humans take millions of years to evolve - we can’t catch up.

  8. Algorithms are designed so that everything you see on social media fits your views: this makes it easier to manipulate you, leading to polarisation e.g. in terms of political views.

  9. Examples of effects of this manipulation include the dissemination of propaganda, fake news, and political destabilisation.

  10. The issue is that the way technology is currently designed has the potential to bring out the worst in society.

  11. There is a financial benefit for tech companies to do what they do, as regulation is lax. This has to change.

  12. In terms of what we can do on an individual scale, we need to:

    1. Become aware of the detriments and our own tech use

    2. Turn off notifications on our devices

    3. Fact check what we come across online

    4. Don’t follow clickbait

    5. Have a variety of discourse on your timeline: follow people that you don’t agree with

    6. Limit social media use

Books mentioned:

Jaron Lanier has also done a few TED talks on the topic, you can find one of them here.

As per the message of The Social Dilemma, always fact-check what you see on the internet! I try to find the most accurate links but things might go out of date :)


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