My Experiments With The Social Dilemma
Netflix’s latest docu-drama, The Social Dilemma, barring from its unusual narrative, has only one ironic flaw. It exists in the same system that it despises. So is this article.
It was a cloudy Sunday. I was working on a long-pending script all day long. The screen time; mobile and laptop, had just increased exponentially over the past few weeks. I don’t know if that was a pandemic thing, or work-load, or just the enticing nature of screens. Not that I was scrolling mindlessly on Instagram or revolting against the establishment over Twitter. I had already uninstalled most of the social media apps from my phone before lockdown. But still, my eyes felt the heat of constantly being on the screen and my mind averred that something is going insanely wrong. It was time for one of many experiments I have had with the use of technology; especially the socials. So, I decided not to use any form of technology for the next four hours. I sat down on the sofa with my legs crossed and started looking at the movement of cars on the road, with a small but plush garden in the front. The movement was less, the horns were slow and the breeze was immense, as we were in the early phases of the unlock process. It is not too hard for me to sit in silence; contrary to the usual millennial narrative. I’ve had friends who used to tell me about how much they love the buzz of a city — the cars, the noise and the human ambience. Thoughts, in all their streams, were flowing as I started to observe from a distance. The stream got a little distracted because of a doorbell. My younger brother’s friend had arrived to meet him. He greeted me and noticed that I didn’t have any gadget in my hands nor do I have my laptop lying around. He paused for a while and asked me a relevant question — is everything okay? I guess we have normalised being constantly engaged with some sort of gratification. The zen is lost on the tracks.
Netflix’s latest docu-drama, The Social Dilemma, barring from the unusual narrative, has only one flaw. It exists in the same system that it despises. It deals with the same dilemma which the world, including me, have faced at some point in their lives. But, it suffers from the same dilemma as well.
I first discovered the trailer of this documentary on YouTube. I have subscribed to Netflix’s YouTube account (being part of the same system) to be constantly updated with the new content that the company offers almost every day. Although, Netflix has a distinctive issue with a barrage of content which in-turn subsides quality over quantity. But, well, another column for another day. The issue in hand is the way I discovered that a documentary called The Social Dilemma, which prides itself with interviews of various employees who works/worked at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. diss what they had invented. I was watching a trailer on YouTube, in which an ex-developer of the YouTube team was criticising the way YouTube and other giants have disturbed the social fabric of the society. It seemed like a Black Mirror episode, but real.
Generation Z was born out of technological womb. The post 96' kids learnt to tag their friends on random images on Facebook before they could learn how to create meaningful relationships with their friends. The like button served as a way to get instant gratification. The more Facebook friends they had, the more they felt the sense of heroism. The Social Dilemma delves into that aspect very well. The interviewees; people who are partly responsible for this chaos, punch the viewers on the face with bitter truths. They talk about how algorithms are used to provide you with the stuff you like and propel you to buy things which you don’t need. Netflix, the producer and distributor of the documentary, uses the same algorithms to give out curated content to its viewers. Results — an entire generation growing up on binge-watching and popcorn entertainment culture. The same dilemma I felt while watching a documentary on Steve Jobs. I was learning about the life of the eccentric business magnate through a product created by his very own company — Macbook. After a point, you will realise how intense the problem is. You have to watch a documentary on the ill-effects of technology on technological innovation. A good analogy would be, how we are unable to fathom the imagination of an equal society because capitalism has its reach everywhere now. The spiral is so long now, that it becomes difficult to think about a world where billionaires are non-existent and that 99% of the wealth isn’t owned by 1% of the world population.
To even write this article and to promote/spread it, I need Medium, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. That is the gravity of this problem and we are part of the same system. We are part of a bigger and literal George Orwell novel.
Some of my earlier experiments were fruitful. Back in 2018, I had uninstalled all the apps from my phone for a month; even WhatsApp. It was surreal. I could keep track of my thoughts rather than checking what my friends had for dinner. Friends who are close to me, know about my love-hate relationship with technology. That one month gave me space to think, create and innovate. It took me a while to figure out a balance between the social and the real. The problem was not as grave as the fictional narrative of the family dealing with the technological overdose that intercuts The Social Dilemma. It was more about the fear of reaching that stage. Thankfully, that stage never came. But I have seen young kids, my younger cousins and other people, getting sucked in by the beautiful, yet a cathartic world of screens. I do not care if Garyvee tells you to put out content every day, we were simply not designed this way. I would like people to aspire for a balance. There is a noisy world in that 5'4 inch screen. Everything is on your fingertips. It has become a replacement to avoid awkward and difficult situations. The dopamine hit that these apps provide will only hamper your brain functioning. We are already seeing the results. We have an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem, higher rates of suicide and increased usage of drugs.
There is another narrative about how pre-technology generation was addicted to books, the same way we are addicted to smartphones. A well-thinking person would immediately counter-argue this bland similarity. Books talk about one subject, so your mind can focus on one thing. Your Instagram feed gives you 100 different pieces of information which are overwhelming to maintain good mental health.
If you are at the dinner table with your friends/family, and you are texting a person sitting miles away from you (unless it’s necessary or urgent), then that’s a problem. If you put your phone on the table while the other person is talking, it just signals subconsciously that the other person is not that important. Our lives are nothing less than a Black Mirror episode. The like button was created to spread more positivity, but look what the world has done with it. The social media apps advertise themselves as the bridge between people, but actually, they have broken the nearer, non-virtual bridges and have constructed walls in between. That’s what this documentary is all about — balance it now or else the consequences would be irrevocable.
So, my brother’s friend asked if everything was okay. I paused for a moment and realised where he is coming from (figuratively). I told him, “No. Everything is not okay. The world has become a tech-mess and the present moment is all that there is”. He laughed a bit, nodded at my existential comment and went upstairs. He didn’t have a clue what I uttered to him. It was bizarre, I admit; but so was his question. And in between the questions and answers, we’re leading our lives to find a tree of purpose. As Orwell said, and I quote “Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me. There lie they, and here lie we. Under the spreading chestnut tree”.