By: Mackenzie Wilson
In this day and age, kids are being introduced to social media earlier and earlier in their lives. With this social media access comes the risk of many problems: addiction, bullying, and a decline in mental health. This impact of technology on society and young kids is still being researched and in the grand scheme of things, social media and technology are still relatively new and constantly changing.
“The Social Dilemma”, directed by Jeff Orlowski, is an eye-opening and thought-provoking documentary on how multifaceted the impact of today’s technology is on society and the impact it has on the young minds of the new generation. The documentary features a blend of interviews with tech industry insiders, ethicists, and scholars, offering viewers an inside look at how algorithms, data mining, and psychological manipulation are used to capture and hold the attention of users. The producers partnered with the Humane Technology Foundation, an organization dedicated to advocating for ethical and humane technology design, to shed light on this reality. Some main themes explored are algorithm manipulation, addiction and mental health, polarization and disinformation, surveillance capitalism, and ethical design.
1. Algorithmic Manipulation: The documentary emphasizes how algorithms drive content recommendations on social media platforms, often leading users down rabbit holes of extreme content. This can contribute to the spread of misinformation, radicalization, and the reinforcement of existing biases.
2. Addiction and Mental Health: Through interviews with former employees of tech giants, "The Social Dilemma" reveals how apps and platforms are designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities, leading to addictive behaviors and negatively impacting mental health, especially among teenagers. Edward Tufte is quoted saying, “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software”(The Social Dilemma).
3. Polarization and Disinformation: The film underscores how social media algorithms encourage the creation of echo chambers, isolating individuals within their ideological bubbles and fueling societal polarization. This division is exploited by malicious actors who spread disinformation for personal or political gain.
4. Surveillance Capitalism: The documentary raises concerns about the pervasive collection of personal data by tech companies, which is then monetized through targeted advertising. This data-driven business model compromises user privacy and autonomy.
5. Ethical Design: "The Social Dilemma" advocates for the reformation of technology design to prioritize ethical considerations and user well-being. Experts interviewed in the documentary call for the implementation of design principles that minimize addictive features and enhance transparency.
This is where the partnership with the Human Technology Foundation comes into play. The foundation comprises tech industry veterans, psychologists, designers, and activists dedicated to changing the narrative around technology design. They were established to respond to and raise awareness of the ethical concerns of technology's pervasive influence. They want to amplify the message of the documentary and drive awareness. The foundation promotes ethical tech design by advocating for attention preservation, transparency and privacy, accountability algorithms, digital well-being, and education and advocacy.
1. Attention Preservation: Encouraging technology creators to design products that value users' time and attention, rather than exploiting them for profit through incessant notifications and addictive features.
2. Transparency and Privacy: Calling for improved transparency in data collection and usage, giving users greater control over their personal information.
3. Accountable Algorithms: Advocating for algorithms that prioritize accurate information and diverse viewpoints, rather than perpetuating misinformation and reinforcing biases.
4. Digital Well-being: Promoting the integration of features that enhance users' mental and emotional well-being, such as digital detox tools and usage tracking.
5. Education and Advocacy: The foundation seeks to educate the public, policymakers, and technology companies about the importance of ethical tech design and its potential to create a more harmonious relationship between humans and technology.
"The Social Dilemma" offers a critical examination of the impact of technology on society, highlighting its potential to both connect and harm individuals. The partnership between the documentary and the Humane Technology Foundation shows the urgency of needed to combat the ethical challenges posed by current technology practices. By advocating for humane tech design, transparency, and digital well-being, the foundation strives to foster a more balanced and mindful relationship between humans and technology, ensuring that our technological advancements align with our collective well-being.