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innerdrive reviews

The Social Dilemma

Overall
Usability
Usefulness
Financial cost
Evidence base
The Social Dilemma

What is the film about?

This eye-opening documentary delivers a lesson on the deep harms of social media and technology, from the creators of technology platforms themselves, including: Jeff Seibert, former executive at Twitter; Tim Kendall, former executive at Facebook; Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology; and others working at Instagram, Google, Youtube, and Apple.

The programme explains how technology lost its way, and how we can bring it back to its initial humane and ethical aspirations and away from the destructive and divisive force they have become. As the programme quotes so aptly from Yale professor Edward Tufte: “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software”.

Why watch this film?

This programme clarifies all our dreads and fears about technology. Why should you watch it? Because we are facing another global pandemic besides Covid-19: inhumane technology. And everyone is affected by it.

Technology disrupts our sleep patterns, affects our social relationships, sucks us away from real life, leads to mental health problems, and divides groups in society. Everyone needs to be aware of the part they can play in stopping this. The Social Dilemma educates us on the true dangers of technology, as well as how society can overcome them.

Who is this film for?

Anyone who has a phone, has a social media account, or uses any kind of modern technology (which, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone).

You may fall into the trap of thinking “I hardly use social media” or “my screen time is so low compared to everyone else” and think this doesn’t apply to you. But the deeper issues that this programme explores involve more than just social media — they’re part of technology we use all the time, such as simple Google searches, just as much as Instagram or Facebook algorithms. Even if you have managed to resist the social media movement (and given that you probably know many who haven’t), you will still find this programme eye-opening.

Evidence base

Real-life testimony from those working at the forefront of technology is woven throughout the documentary. If the people who created the technology themselves are warning us of the harm it causes, this has to be a pretty powerful message. Several of the professionals featured in the programme explain that they don’t even let their own kids access social media or have much screen time at all.

The programme also includes informative statistics from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention about the concurrent rise in social media usage, mental health problems and suicide rates, providing another dimension of evidence.

Usability

The Social Dilemma is easily accessible — all you need is a Netflix subscription and an hour and a half to watch TV. And despite including narrative from technology experts and high-profile academics, the points made are clear to follow and the messages easy to understand.

The documentary also uses a clever simulation to demonstrate how artificial intelligence works, and the way technology predicts, manipulates and exploits our behaviour. It makes an extremely complex process easy for viewers to comprehend. An accompanying fictional story helps to illustrate points further and really bring the dangers to life for viewers.

What’s more, the documentary has an accompanying website offering more information on the subject should you wish to delve deeper.

Usefulness

We’ve all heard of the dangers and problems of phones, social media and other technology – so what sets this documentary apart? It provides a course of action, a way out. And the action it suggests isn’t just a way to reduce the harms, like telling you to put your phone down every so often, but a solution to this global problem.

The Social Dilemma is not a simple scaremonger, it actually explains what we can do about the problem of technology, and how we can move towards humane technology. It discusses what we can do as individuals (how we can be aware, make changes to our usage, and raise awareness), but also what we can move towards as a society, and how we can use our voices to promote larger change from technology companies and the government.

Importantly, the programme points out that technology is not all bad — it does have some serious problems that would largely benefit from better regulations.

Value for money

Anyone with a Netflix subscription (pricing from £5.99) has access to this thought-provoking documentary along many other programmes.

Why we loved this film

  • The honesty shown by those who actually produced the technology
  • Clever explanation of artificial intelligence
  • Fictional (yet very real) dramatisation that helps illustrate the messages
  • Eye-opening testimony
  • The positive stance that we can overcome this
  • Proactive messages

Final thoughts

The Social Dilemma is a must-watch. The power that modern technology has over us is scary, and the solution us to educate ourselves on the topic and figure out what to do about it. This entertaining documentary, combining personal evidence with clever simulations, graphics and a bit of drama, provides the perfect opportunity to do just this.

At InnerDrive, we are grateful to the tech workers and academics who have chosen to share their thoughts in this powerful documentary. To anyone reading this review, we hope you find the documentary as fascinating as we did.

You might also be interested in…

If you want to learn more, or find some ways to manage your own technology usage, you might find these resources and tools useful:

Related resources

We also have many research-based blogs on the topic of mobile phone management and the effects of screen time and social media, particularly on students. Here are some you might find interesting:

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