The Social Dilemma

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Have you watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix? I watched it over the weekend. It was very similar to a podcast I had listened to “Rabbit Hole” by The New York Times.

There has been much commentary over the last few weeks on this documentary, with commentator’s rhetoric “have you pulled back from social media after watching the gripping findings?” But is it really anything we did not already know, or perhaps more that we have not stopped to think about the consequences, and both the doco and the podcast make us do this?

There is such a paradox with social media. Having teenage girls, who have grown up in a generation of not knowing any different and instantaneous gratification, I wonder how they see the world as it existed prior to 2007 when the iPhone was invented?

 The concerns raised in the documentary have concerned me as a parent for many years. However, the paradox being that on the flip side, there is good that social media has created and let’s not forget that.

 I was reluctant to partake in social media, preferring to be hidden behind closed doors without the world knowing of my every move nor every thought – or now, with the advance of Artificial Intelligence (AI), anticipate and predict my every move or every thought before I do. However, when my children started on social media, I knew I had to also follow suit so I could gain an understanding of how this new world operated. The children’s primary school was fully embracing Apple devices – I knew that this was not going away. I had to learn and adapt with them for fear of being left behind and not having some ability to protect my children from the online world – or at least attempt to protect them, if I had no idea how it functioned.

How has the world changed so dramatically in such a short space of time? To be fair, it has moved at such an exponential rate that I have had to put some effort into understanding how to use this medium and try to keep up, at least to some low degree of functionality and abilities of this new world – often, I must admit, with my daughters assistance and guidance (well let’s face it, they get frustrated at my slow uptake so often just take over and get the job done!).

But the concerns raised in both the doco and the podcast are valid and real. The concerns we should have for our children, the lonliness and isolation, human contact decreasing, designing our lives around the perceived sense of perfection and comparing themselves. Which ultimately leaves us even more lonely and empty than before – and the gigantic increase in suicide, lonliness, depression, eating disorders, anxiousness and more fragile – not only in teenagers but our tweens. All from tech designers manipulating our children by unrealistic perceptions of beauty.

 Social media is a drug. We have a basic biological imperative to connect with other people – it is like being on a jackpot machine scrolling up with the excitement increasing and dopamine produced in anticipation of what may appear, or how many likes we have, thumbs up or followers, or comments to validate us.

 Our jobs as parents are to protect and nurture our children – but with algorithms that are designed to make us look better with filters, or what the 10,000 followers we have think of us, it becomes a confrontational, unnerving and unrealistic world – living in a world where we are driven by thumbs up and numbers of followers.

This is a total new level of power – never experience before in history.

Should we be scared of AI? Algorithms have a mind of their own. Data Scientist don’t always understand how these algorithms work and the information we see.

 Social media is taking us down the rabbit hole – sending us fake news and conspiracy theories. Propaganda is manipulating our thoughts – as shown in the last US election. There is also a global assault on democracy as we know it- destabilising countries, imploding against one another. Corporations use AI to manipulate us, so we see what they want us to see – not our fairly representing our goals, our values or our morals.

As I said previously, when my children were at primary school, the reality is this isn’t going away. We do need to embrace it, but to do so and feel at ease, there needs to be reform, so the exponential growth and change does not destroy the world as we know it.

What does that reform look like? Well for a start – turn off your notifications, never accept the video recommended to you on You Tube and before you share, fact check.

Have you watched it yet?

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