The Social Dilemma, a documentary about the impact of social media on society, has made waves since it premiered this year. The film has caused people to think through their online actions and has even influenced people to delete their social media accounts altogether. It exposes some of the challenges that have emerged with the development of Web 2.0.
The Dilemma of Web 2.0
Daniel Nations says that Web 2.0 “marked an era where we weren’t just using the internet as a tool anymore—we were becoming a part of it.” This is something that was reiterated in The Social Dilemma. Everything we do online is an extension of ourselves. The digital world affects our day to day life, especially with the use of social media.
The movie sheds light on several issues that can arise from social media, such as mental health struggles, lack of productivity, and the spreading of false information. However, the topic that seemed most alarming was the privacy and security issues that arise with Web 2.0. In the film, they say that “every single action you take (online) is monitored and recorded.” The interesting part about that is, it is not monitored by people but rather powered by algorithms. These algorithms are used to predict the functions of the user for 3 main goals:
Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, says that the companies who rely on these algorithms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are fighting for your attention because “their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen.” This might seem like a harmless idea… but when tech companies are in “the business of selling their users,” then it’s our security, privacy, and data at stake. The documentary brings up the interesting point that:
“…if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
Is Social Media All Bad?
If our privacy is at risk and social media causes a long list of problems, should you get rid of it for good? I would argue no.
In The Social Dilemma, Tim Kendall talks about the initial reasons for creating social media and how it has positively impacted the world. He says:
“It’s easy today to lose sight of the fact that these tools actually have created some wonderful things in the world. They’ve reunited lost family members. They’ve found organ donors. There were meaningful, systemic changes happening around the world because of these platforms… I think we were naive about the flip side of that coin.”
Kendall reminds us of the value that social media can bring to our world. It allows us to connect with others in an instant and gives us opportunities that would otherwise not be possible. However, it’s critical that we do understand “the flip side of that coin.” If we engage in the online world. then we need to be equipped.
Instead of deleting all your social media apps right now, do some research about how you can better protect your online privacy and data. Instead of telling your kids that Tik Tok or Instagram is bad for you, have an open dialogue with them about the benefits, but also bring awareness to what they need to be careful of. Rather than getting scared about using the internet, learn the importance of digital citizenship, and read up on the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship. It’s important that we look at both sides of the coin.
At the end of The Social Dilemma, Jonathan Haidt suggests 3 tips for helping your kids with social media balance.
- All devices out of the bedroom at a fixed time every night.
- No social media until high school.
- Work out a “time budget” with your kids. Talk to them and ask how many hours a day they want to spend on their device. Have an open conversation about it.
When I heard the rules that Jonathon Haidt suggested for social media use, it reminded me of a book I read this summer.
Should I Break Up With My Phone?
Over the summer, I started reading a book called “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” I thought it was the perfect time to take a break from social media and work on my “digital well-being.” The first half of the book is all about the impacts of social media on our bodies, brain, and our society as a whole. Again, it was another one-sided perspective with similar information to The Social Dilemma. What makes this book unique though, is that it gives a 30 Day Challenge in order to have a better relationship with your phone. It does not suggest giving up your phone altogether because it would not be sustainable or effective. Instead, Catherine Price says in the book, the goal “isn’t abstinence, it’s consciousness.”
I attempted the 30 Day Challenge in the summer, and during the first week, I was asked to respond to some prompts so that I could determine my purpose for the challenge. Here are some of my responses:
What do you love about your phone?
-connection to others
-stay “in the know”
-“information + accessibility
What don’t you love?
-waste of time
-too much noise/ overstimulated
These responses show that there are both good and bad characteristics of our phones. I wanted to complete the challenge so that I could balance out the good and bad. The funny thing about this challenge is that I didn’t actually complete it. I gave up after week 1 because I fell into old patterns and habits.
After reading Catherine’s post this week, she inspired others to join her in a phone challenge. I reached out to her and asked if she wanted to try the 30 Day Challenge from “How to Break Up With Your Phone” so that we could do it together and keep each other accountable. The book actually suggests inviting friends or family to join so that you have someone to keep you on track. We are now taking part in the challenge and I’m glad that I can finally have a do-over! If you’re like me and want a better relationship with your phone, but don’t want to give it up altogether, join us in our phone challenge!
Instead of breaking up with my phone, I’m going to declare it a “break.” I want to have a healthy relationship and balance with social media and my device, but I also value the important role technology has in my life. I’m ready for a challenge, but not a breakup. Besides, I don’t know what my life would be like without memes or cooking videos.