Director: Jeff Orlowski

Starring: Tristan Harris, Tim Kendall, Justin Rosenstein

Year: 2020

I already knew the internet was a problem, but I’ve never seen it put quite so bluntly and collectively as in The Social Dilemma, a documentary that everyone should see but that no one should be surprised by.  To tell my own story, my wife is a therapist who very often works with teenagers who have encountered extremely serious problems with the internet and social media: online addiction, video game addiction, cyber-bullying, virtual sexual assault, and more and worse.  I already know how mind-altering computers and phones can be, that’s why my kids have limited screen time and aren’t getting personal devices any time soon.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone knows the data that I do, or that we all can’t learn from people who actually built the system and designed it purposefully to take over our brains.

The Social Dilemma is a documentary with the purpose of exposing the secrets behind Silicon Valley’s real scheme; to addict us, to use us, and to make money off us.  We are the users, like we are taking a drug, we are the product, like we are being sold to companies, and we give this of ourselves willingly, often not understanding the consequences of our online actions.  Many experts come together here, many former high-up employees from companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. to help us understand the truth; that our addiction to our phones was planned, and that the computers that run the systems are smarter than we are, which makes it unlikely that we will ever find a way to escape.  It’s a sobering look at things we take for granted each day, and a bold proposal that we start limiting the entities that market our minds, before it’s too late.

Again, I already knew this.  I know about the effect that screens have on our brains, how we’re drawn in, how A.I. is developed to keep us there, and to keep us coming back when anything in our real lives takes us away.  I know how bad this is for kids, how it’s not much better for adults, and how we’re growing so that we can’t live without it, even though we really should.  The quest for artificial intelligence used to be a quest for the improvement of humanity, a smart machine that would help us because it was better than us.  That adventure is only science fiction now though, because companies (which is where the money for research comes from) have found a better use for computers that can think for themselves; taking advantage of humans in order to turn them into profit.  But, even knowing all this, even if I feel like I have a pulse on it, it’s still helpful to see it condensed and brought together, to feel like we’re not along in the struggle to be modern but also sane.  The film does a nice job of letting experts tell the story, although it does muddle its message by adding in a “dramatic enactment” element that I didn’t find necessary.  Then again, people don’t watch documentaries, so maybe the filmmakers were smart to give us a little hook so a larger audience would tune in.  The Social Dilemma is a message we all need to hear, if not brand new information; at least it’s taking a stance and saying something, giving options about what we can do next, instead of simply accepting things how they are.  Technology can be a blessing, but we can’t let it take us where it wants to go, and we can’t let a few spurred by greed dominate the path of our collective existence.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆


By ochippie

Writer, Critic, Dad Columbus, Ohio, USA Denver Broncos, St. Louis Cardinals Colorado Avalanche, Duke Blue Devils