It’s Frightening How Quickly We Forgot About “The Social Dilemma”

The Social Dilemma

Since the rise of smartphones in 2009, suicide rates of girls between 10 and 14 years increased by 151%.

Horrifying facts like this one made the Netflix-documentary “The Social Dilemma” go viral in September 2020. It was a wake-up call for modern society, highlighting the detrimental effects of social media.

The main points of the documentary can be quickly summarized:

  • Social media isn’t a tool, but an ever-adapting AI which is designed by teams of software engineers to exploit your psychology and make you addicted.
  • Social media massively pushes fake news, which spread 6 times faster than real news. This leads to a fragmented society and ultimately to social and political unrest.
  • Social media has led to an increase in mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Even me, who is highly skeptical by nature, was tempted to believe that social media would eventually get exposed by this documentary.

But I’ve been wrong.

In December 2020, only 3 months after its release, it suddenly got quiet around “The Social Dilemma”. It seems as if our short-term memory has been erased.

To validate my assumption, I googled “The Social Dilemma”. And indeed, the first 20 search results have been articles from September and October -not a single article from November or December. The same applies to YouTube videos.

What on earth is happening? Why is humanity suffering from amnesia?

Being Addicted

The hardest part of addiction recovery is admitting the problem. Unfortunately, society hasn’t even begun to think of social media as an addiction. We’re living in a state of denial.

Dr. Gabor Maté, one of the world’s leading addiction experts, defines addiction as the following:

“Addiction is any behavior that a person enjoys, finds relief in, and therefore craves in the short term. (S)he suffers negative consequences in the long-term, but is not able to give it up ”- Dr. Gabor Maté

Notice that Dr. Maté isn’t talking specifically about substances, but about any behavior. This includes work, technology, pornography, and also social media.

There’s even a scene in the documentary where the constant stream of new app notifications is compared to the psychological effects of a slot machine.

So, how do we combat a massive addiction problem that has almost no acceptance in society?
Yup, we don’t. We pretend it doesn’t exist and keep on going with our lives.

“We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals - hearts, likes, thumbs up - and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more - admit it - vacant and empty before you did it” - Chamath Palihapitiya

No Solution in Sight

Can you remember the last scene of the documentary?

Producer Tristan Harris demands that the fundamental system of social media needs to change. The interviewer then asks him: “Do you think we’re gonna get there?”

Tristan’s sobering answer: “We have to.”

“The Social Dilemma” has raised awareness of the harmful effects of social media, but offers few solution approaches:

“Never accept a video recommended to you on YouTube”- Jaron Lainer

“I’ve uninstalled a ton of apps from my phone that I felt were wasting my time”- Justin Rosenstein

“Before you share, fact check. Consider the source. Do that extra Google”- Renée Diresta

These tips are meant nicely but are missing the point. It’s the same as telling an alcoholic to stop drinking beer.

So far, modern society is powerless against the effects of social media. It’s indeed a social dilemma.

We’re Living In a Reinforcing Matrix

Here are some online reactions to the documentary:

psychologytoday.com calls it “a horror film in documentary clothing”.

techradar.com says “The Social Dilemma is essential and terrifying viewing”

scarymommy.com titles “The Social Dilemma is freaking everyone the hell out”

Can you spot the common theme?

Let’s face it, the “Social Dilemma” is primarily entertainment and secondary education. It exploits primal human instincts like fear and sensationalism. The spooky piano music throughout the documentary wasn’t a coincidence.

For most people, “The Social Dilemma” was just another dopamine hit in their personalized media stream. The documentary is part of the problem, not of the solution - and that’s why it’s going to be forgotten.

There’s a great quote from the Black Mirror-episode “Five Million Merits”:

Everyone hates the system until they’re on top of it.

It’s easy to criticize the most powerful in society. At the same time, most of us fight desperately to get to the top of the social pyramid.

Honest Last Words

The detrimental effects of social media leave many questions in the blur:

Why are we obsessed with displaying status on social media?

Why are human beings terrified to face their emptiness?

Why has real human interaction become so boring?

Why do we need social media to feel complete?

Why do we hide from the reality of life?

All of these questions need answers.

But maybe I’m not interested in answers.

In the end, I want clicks, just like everyone else.