Former big tech experts come together to reflect on the consequences of their creations.

When I check screen time on my iPhone, it notes I spend roughly six to seven hours each day cumulatively using my phone. Most of that time is spent on social media apps like Twitter mostly due to the fact that I use these apps to acquire all of my news. It’s right there in my pocket and I can pull it out at any time.

However, what makes these apps so addicting? This question is what plague’s the movie “The Social Dilemma,” the gloomy exploration of how social media is changing our lives. 

This film is mainly a documentary featuring interviews of real-life industry experts that have worked at Google, Instagram and Twitter along with other big tech companies. These experts reflect on their creations as they come to the conclusion that the technology they helped develop is now headed in what they believe to be a socially damaging direction. 

These interviews are also accompanied by a fictional story that stars Skylar Gisando — playing a teenager named Ben — who falls down a rabbit hole into online conspiracy theories that lead him to eventually abandon his real-life obligations. 

The most prominent figure in this documentary is Tristan Harris who is an ex-ethics employee that worked at Google. He details his career through going against the grain along with his co-workers by pointing out the ways in which social media has become so addictive to the point where people feel the need to look at their phones from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep. 

He provides examples from his own experience and offers substantial points as to why we should work towards creating social media as a beneficial tool rather than one that consumes our lives. Other important interviewees include Shoshana Zuboff, an award winning author, and Jaron Lanier, which according to the documentary, invented virtual reality. These experts expand on Harris’s points while also reflecting on their own work to use as an example. 

The information presented in the film begins with seemingly common knowledge before eventually delving into the darker corners of the internet — such as conspiracy theories like ‘PizzaGate’ and ‘QAnon.’ These are problems that many may still be unaware of but are important to shed light on. This is a testament of how well researched this documentary is. 

However, this is where some of the problems of the documentary start to arise. While the film highlights the ways that social media is bad, it doesn’t offer anything new outside of what you can already research yourself online. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of uncovering the secret underbellies of big tech companies, even with the expert interviewees. 

It also fails to outline a call to action. Nor does it present an approach for ways in which we can change in order to fix the problems that are presented in this film other than beyond stating ‘social media is bad.’ 

As for the fictional story that accompanies the documentary element, it is lackluster. The writing was cheesy and out of touch which leaves the story feeling as though it was an afterthought as it plays out like a hollow episode of “Black Mirror.”  

The film certainly pushes you to reflect on your own usage of social media and what kinds of media you choose to consume. It also makes a valiant effort to point out that a lot of what you see on the internet is fueled by biases and other false narratives that make you question if you can really trust anyone online. All in all, it made me want to take a break and put the phone to rest for a day. 

If you are concerned about your screen time and would like to learn more about the dangers of excessive screen time as well as social media use from industry experts, then this is a great film for that. However, if you feel as though you already know the consequences of social media and/or are already working on ways to limit your usage, then this film might not be of use to you. 

Title: The Social Dilemma 

Star Rating: Three Stars out of Five

Good:

  • Great casting for expert interviewees
  • Includes very relevant and important points 
  • Makes you want to put the phone down for a day 

Bad:

  • Doesn’t reveal anything new
  • Fictional story scenes are poorly written
  • No clear call to action
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