I watched The Social Dilemma last night.
I didn’t like the dramatized story of the family and their trials and tribulations with their kids mesmerized by the universe found online. I didn’t like the cute nod to Minority Report, or some similar sci-fi movie, starring one of the actors from Mad Men.
I found them both distracting from the message.
But, I did like the people they rounded up for interviews about the inner sanctum of social media. They were social media insiders who, now that many of them were no longer on the inside, wanted to sound the alarm and they came forward at the behest of Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology.
“If you are not paying for it, you are the product.”
This was lesson Numero Uno. Most of us shrug it off. I know I feel like a needle in an entire barn of hay when I am online. Who cares what information they have gleaned about me? All they have to do is read my column to know that I am a Marxist commie slug who loves dogs, drinks way too much coffee, stupidly bought something from WayFair once and repeats himself. A lot.
Everyone dies and pays taxes. Everyone has opinions. Everyone likes ‘free’.
And, if you are like me, you get extremely agitated about getting nickeled and dimed every time you turn around. I think - like our interstates (never mind the toll roads) - our access to the internet ought to be ‘free’. In other words, paid for with our collective taxes. But that would not resolve the issue of companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok, etc making us their product.
I mused the other day about how a random columnist 180 degrees opposed to me doesn’t see the world like I see the world. This documentary helps explain how this happens. That columnist is not seeing the same world. In fact, they are living in upside down world from me because of our inherent differences (conservative mind versus liberal mind) which is then enhanced by our online habits.
Have you seen the protesters with the Save The Children signs? They are not concerned about the immigrant kids at the border and in the ICE camps spread around the country. They are concerned about child sex trafficking which - let me make clear - IS a concern.
The trouble is they believe the hundreds of thousands of kids who go missing each year ALL fall under ‘sex trafficking’ AND that Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, are somehow intimately involved in the abductions. I have not researched how they could come to that conclusion other than the piece of excrement who holds the highest office in our land tends to like to encourage his followers to chant, “Lock her up!” at every rally he holds.
But I did check out the numbers these people are working with and - as it turns out - children abducted by strangers is very rare, many children runaway of their own volition and some are counted multiple times and, of the reports about missing children (presumably everyone under the age of 18) a fraction, about 16%, might have been related to sex trafficking. The National Council for Missing and Exploited Children sees many of them as ‘unsubstantiated’.
Definitely less than the number of people who have already died due to COVID. Far less and the year is not yet over. Both issues are serious but it should not be necessary to add hyperbole to ghoulish conspiracy theories to get attention for an issue like child sex trafficking.
But that is how the mavens of social media operate. As the experts divulge in The Social Dilemma, your behaviors online are the ‘product’ that generates their enormous profits. They have no incentive to change anything they are doing.
If you are a person concerned about child sex trafficking, they will take you deeper and deeper down rabbit holes you never intended to explore.
“Only two things have users - social media and drugs.”
At the film’s conclusion, most of the experts gave suggestions about what you - personally - could do short of hocking your cell phone into the closest body of water.
Turn off notifications.
Don’t take your electronic devices into your bedroom.
Limit your screen time.
Reduce the number of apps.
They also admit there is a desperate need for government regulation. One of them admits the law is decades behind the technology. Nothing is going to happen any time soon.
But, for those of you who are reading this, I have an alarmingly positive outlook about this and not because I am an egregious abuser of screen time when I can’t go float a river for as long as possible. I think well-adjusted humans who have solid friends, families and communities, and other outlets for their time, are not nearly as impacted by the siren song of the internet and the social media influencers. I am not saying we’re immune to its affects and I am not saying we’re not products ourselves.
I am saying I think our sturdy social underpinnings make us less susceptible to becoming lemmings. Or sheeple. Or fanatics. Or QAnon believers.
It does not mean we should not be concerned for those who are much more susceptible - your kids, other isolated family members - but it may point to the antidote for the time being.
Keep real social interactions real. Take time to do what you love. Talk, listen and play with friends and loved ones.
If you do those things, the social media stuff will take care of itself.