Five hours and 48 minutes of glorious screen time. It’s official: my brain has been tethered to all my social media accounts. And I wouldn’t be surprised if my fingerprint has been too. But now it’s time to face the truth—we have quickly met the age of a haunting and inexorable reality dominated by the power of social media.
The 2020 documentary The Social Dilemma, directed by Jeff Orlowski, vilifies social media for this domination that draws our society closer to dystopia. And to top it all off, its vilification and proximity to dystopia are affirmed by its some of social media’s own creators. Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google, compares social media to Frankenstein’s monster—
And for that reason, Harris and his colleagues apologize profusely throughout the documentary to the point that every apology, marked by swift and unnatural motions, almost seems ingenuous. (Post your apology videos on YouTube instead, please).
However, only calling this a documentary might be a misstep. The Social Dilemma intersperses dramatic vignettes of a fictional family’s encounters with social media. Watching these vignettes, I was embarrassed to see how closely every encounter mirrored some of the experiences I have with social media personally. In moments like these slight dramatizations of social media obsessions, the line between fiction and reality seems hazy, achieving the film’s objective of warning us that social media might be the path to dystopia.
So what can be taken away from this quasi-documentary, quasi-drama? Perhaps we should limit social media engagement or, as those interviewed propose, insist that companies be taxed for utilizing data for personal recommendations. Unfortunately, I doubt anything will spare us from these pesky recommendations, as I ironically received one for another movie the second The Social Dilemma ended.