The sugar-fueled holiday week sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s seemed quieter than usual.
Normally packed with family get-togethers, restaurant visits, athletic events, cultural outings (like the Guthrie Theater’s “A Christmas Carol” or a special staging of “The Nutcracker”) and speedy shopping expeditions, those festive days were marked somewhat differently by many due to the still-raging pandemic.
For our part, occasional walks plus evenings on the couch with Scrabble (both the game and the snack) and movies-on-demand provided peak excitement. Oh, there might have been at least one batch of Ina Garten’s pomegranate Cosmopolitans mixed in there as well.
On one such long winter’s night, we opted to view the short 2020 docu-drama from Jeff Orlowski titled “The Social Dilemma.” Several friends and acquaintances had recommended it to us while simultaneously warning it might change how we think about …. everything.
They weren’t too wrong.
In a series of interviews with Silicon Valley tech wizards and social media creators, interspersed with a fictionalized but oh-so-believable account of a social media-addicted teen, Orlowski hits home the point that technology and social media are driving us arguably more than they are serving us.
Worse, they are manipulating and using us, most often without our knowledge or, at the very least, without our full consent.
We’re seduced by the simplicity of it all; the ability to carry a small cell phone — or wear an even tinier Apple watch — that tracks our daily steps, inputs emails and text messages and lets us conduct Zoom meetings on the move.
It’s easy to see how such a huge majority of the population have come to view these devices as not just conveniences but as necessities. Their genius-minded designers engineered them to render irrelevant numerous items we used to rely on and use separately, such as calculators, Rolodexes, watches, alarm clocks, dictionaries, encyclopedia, newspapers, grocery ads and coupons, calendars, cameras, radios, notepads, compasses and even flashlights.
Whew, that’s quite a list.
But in “The Social Dilemma,” those same tech trailblazers deliver stern warnings about the dangers of our reliance on these devices, on the addictive properties of social media and about the price we are paying for the conveniences to which we have so rapidly adapted.
It’s stunning to hear directly from the same people who invented Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook what exactly is done with the data they’re collecting from us — and how we’ve essentially voluntarily traded our time and attention for their companies’ financial gain.
The essence of our country’s current polarization lies in the algorithms employed to hold our gaze and cater to each individual’s belief system and biases. Whatever world view your clicks and likes indicate will be reinforced. Every minute you can’t quit scrolling through your Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook feed is a victory for them and, really, a possible loss for you.
It helps explain why, even though you might have personally known Bob, Colleen, Anne or Camilo — to name only four recent Nobles County COVID-19 victims — some willingly overlook or ignore public health recommendations and attend ill-advised large social gatherings in the name of “personal freedom.” You might even have clicked on more “sad faces” following the death of, say, Dawn Wells than for any of those people you knew in real life.
In other words, we are all being played.
The very inventors of social platforms and tech systems that well over 70% of us use daily warn us to wake up to how our time, attention and data are employed. They urge us to look behind the curtain and think for ourselves.
Arm yourself for 2021; watch “The Social Dilemma” and draw your own conclusions. Whether or not it changes your life is up to you.
Check out Time for Moore, Jane Turpin Moore’s blog, at https://timeformoore566445504.wordpress.com.