Updated on 10.4.2020 to include information on Prop 24 in California.
I watched The Social Dilemma this weekend and you should, too. Basically, the film is a documentary in which tech industry whistleblowers reveal to us just how much tech companies are manipulating us, with a weird scripted narrative interwoven throughout, in which Vincent Kartheiser is creepy as ever. In general, we are all probably aware that our every move on social media and the internet is being watched, because we'll talk about something and suddenly get blasted with ads for that thing. The other day, I was literally watching a video in a copywriting course I'm taking, and an hour or so later during my next IG pop-in, I was seeing an ad for the company that was mentioned in the course. I had never even heard of this company or product until the course used one of their ads as an example. But I don't think any of us are surprised anymore to be "mysteriously" targeted with ads related to some obscure or random thing we may have just talked about with someone. So, here are 3 big takeaways I got from this film.
1. We are the Product.
I don't think this documentary reveals anything new to us, but instead confirms what we may have at least speculated, if not were already aware of on some level. What it does though, is it tells and explains to us just how calculated and intentional the manipulation of our very behavior and psychology goes. Most interestingly, is the new perspective I gained from this. Up until now, I'm not sure I had thought of it this way, that we are the product. It’s scary. I feel violated. We're all just pawns and products being sold to advertising companies. That's the business model of all these platforms--Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it. They're free to us to use, but that's because we're not the customer. We're the product.
2. We're already living in an AI world.
We oft talk about or hear discussions about robots eventually replacing all of us. I forget who in the doc makes this reference, but he said that we oft think of AI taking over looking like Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger saying "I'll be back." But the tech running behind all these platforms are already operating beyond human control. That is also scary. In the doc, they talk about the ability of any country deciding it wants to disrupt other countries, and being able to go about it simply using the technology as it's meant to be used and as it's designed to be used. So, correct me if I'm wrong, but what I understood was that our elections weren't "hacked" per say, but they were manipulated by using the technology as it is designed to work. This made me think about the divide in our country and all the vitriol I see on my Facebook and Twitter feeds from both sides of the political divide. We shouldn't be mad at each other. We should be mad at the tech companies.
3. There's hope.
As I was in the middle of watching this, I kept thinking, they better tell us how to resolve this, otherwise I just may lose my Cadberries. Maybe this is just the eternal optimist in me always looking for the silver lining, but thankfully, I found there is hope. No one in the doc lays out a clear or detailed resolution; however, what I gathered is that we can set regulations on tech companies, just like there are regulations in other industries. We should set regulations on tech companies, and we need to set regulations on tech companies. If you're in California, Prop 24 on our ballots addresses this issue. As of the time of writing this, I have not studied the Proposition in detail, but on its face the Proposition suggests great privacy protection, making it more difficult to sell our data. So, I urge you to study this prop and vote accordingly. Our democracy, here in the U.S. and in other democratic countries, is literally at stake. Our planet is literally at stake. And it's not about liberals vs. conservatives. We've all got to wake up and make this issue a priority for the sake of our children. This should be a top priority because it is intertwined with all the other major issues we face. So, vote. Make your voices heard. Let your leaders know what matters to you.
Sadly, I've questioned in the past whether it was even right to bring a child into the world right now, and this documentary raised that question again. But I have a son now, who is the absolute light and joy of my life, and I or anyone else shouldn't have to question or feel guilt about wanting to have a family. So, I don't know what all the answers are here, but I urge us all to better educate ourselves on what we can do to get some regulations in place so that we can't all just be endlessly manipulated for capital gain, to the point that it is actually affecting our psychology and well-being. Teenage girl suicides have gone up as the use of social media platforms has gone up, and that is not okay. We have to demand our leaders take some serious actions on this matter.
Other things we all can do is to start regulating our own use of social media. We need to set boundaries and rules on ourselves. Social media is a drug. We need to break the addiction. I think of the parents who actually work at tech companies, and don't allow their children on social media or set very strict rules about social media usage, because they know how we're all being manipulated. Even the creators of this manipulation game fall prey to the manipulation themselves. So for starters, I’ve changed all of my notifications and ads settings. I generally tend to monitor what I say and do on social already. I never share my actual location, definitely not while I’m at the location, and if I do share a location it’s because I’m purposefully utilizing the feature. And now I'm glad I was never in the habit of tagging friends and family in photos after learning how that feature is used by the tech companies.
None of this is to say that technology is bad and that these platforms are all bad. But it's like the elixir of life falling into the wrong hands. And when "the very meaning of culture is manipulation," we've got to change that culture. I wish tech companies could instead manipulate us into more good and being more unified. Wouldn't that be something?
Have you watched The Social Dilemma? What are your thoughts?