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Our social dilemma

| Monday, October 12, 2020

Liya Blitzer | The Observer

After hearing from my mother and a few friends that I have to watch the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” it did not take me too long to plan a movie night over the weekend, and the fact I’m increasingly bothered by my phone only accelerated my growing interest in this film. I am probably not the first person to ask you to think about how much time you spend on your phone — I bet your parents have already asked. But think about how much of your time is productive, and by productive, I do not mean spent exclusively on studying. It could be anything that is fulfilling for you. It’s easy to say that you don’t have enough time for reading or any other activity that you could enjoy but didn’t, but I know I could write a long list of all the things I missed out on just because I opened Instagram “for just five minutes” and spent a good 40 minutes on it instead. If you can relate, you should find “The Social Dilemma” a film worth watching, and even if you can’t relate, the documentary is still an interesting look at the dangers of social media.

“The Social Dilemma” was released on Netflix in September and is a popular film among the platform’s viewers. The documentary-drama explores the adverse effects of social media that have become normalized in modern society, such as its addictive qualities, impact on mental and physical health, polarization of society, use in politics and role in spreading conspiracy theories.

The documentary combines the viewpoints of people who directly supervised social media’s development with the dramatic telling of a story about teenagers’ addiction to social media. Some of the notable interview subjects include former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, his fellow Center for Humane Technology co-founder Aza Raskin, Facebook “like” button co-creator Justin Rosenstein, Stanford University Addiction Medicine Fellowship program director Anna Lembke and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier. The interviews are mixed with the art scenes starring Skyler Gisondo as Ben, Kara Hayward as Cassandra and Sophia Hammons as Isla.

The film’s dramatic story focuses on three siblings, Ben, Cassandra and Isla, who represent three different types of teenagers. Ben is a high school student who cannot imagine his life without a phone. When he makes a deal with his mother to not use his phone for a week, he finds himself in a state of boredom that he cannot control. As sad as it sounds, he is desperate as he does not know what else to do besides surf the internet. His state resembles that of a drug addict who is ready to do anything to get the next dose. An irresistible impulse leads him to break his deal and “overdose” with social media content until the following day.

Ben’s older sister Сassandra represents the type of teenager who is lucky enough to maintain her mindfulness and not fall into the social media trap. When comparing her to other people her age, she might come off as an odd sheep, which is precisely how the other two siblings see her. However, in this story it will play in her favor in the long run. In contrast to Cassandra, Isla, the youngest of three, portrays the generation of young girls who are incredibly concerned about their looks — constantly asking herself if she she’s skinny, tall, tan, beautiful, etc., enough. All these concerns are influenced by social media, which can lead to anxiety, depression and sometimes even suicide.

“The Social Dilemma” addresses one of the biggest problems of our century. “If we go down the current status quo for, let’s say, another 20 years, we probably don’t survive,” says Lanier, the founding father of virtual reality. It may come across as an overreaction, but would you want to risk your future in favor of the Instagram and Facebook likes? If not, watch “The Social Dilemma.”

Title: The Social Dilemma

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Genre: Documentary, drama

Where to watch: Netflix

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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