STORY: This documentary is a tell-tale on everything that’s dark and gloomy about social media. And, turns out, we are all doomed!
REVIEW: Jeff Orlowski’s (of the award-winning ‘Chasing Ice’ and ‘Chasing Coral’ fame) keeps the mood of this hard-hitting docudrama light and easy-breezy – with former employees from the Silicon Valley joking about their failed attempts at introducing themselves. And one of them even goes on to admit that he ‘went back and forth with his lawyers for six-eight months’ before featuring in this exposé. Well, the sensitivity of the topic is such that extra caution seems like the most logical step to take: it’s the social media, after all!
Yes, at some point of time, all of us have read it in the papers, watched videos online and have gotten yelled at by folks over this new-age frenzy. But what sets ‘The Social Dilemma’ apart is how in such simple, coherent language the makers have managed to explain the complex science of algorithms – ‘magic’ and manipulation included – behind the world of tagged photos, suggestions and the need to scroll up and down at all times. Another aspect of the documentary that makes an impact on its audience is the sheer honesty of the interviewees. Believe it or not, some of the original creators of various social media platforms (and their popular features) and search engines have confessed to being addicted to the products and services they had once created. ‘Humans created the Artificial Intelligence (AI), but it is not controlled by us,’ shares one, while another – utterly embarrassed – tells the viewers how he stayed in his car to reply to emails and even took his phone to the bedroom while his kids pined for his attention.
At the heart of it – perhaps in an attempt to humanise the grave problem at hand – is a dramatised version of events revolving around a family and how the teens and pre-teens are fully consumed by the need to skim through people’s ‘stories’. The urge feels real and relatable (we have all been there, too) and the three versions of a master schemer (aka the AI) shows how, categorically, tech giants have tricked us into staying on the application that we are hooked to for days and days on end. This 89 minutes long film proves beyond doubt that the craze was indeed the brainchild of these tech companies and they knew the repercussions all along, and still chose to plant it in our society anyway… such a trap!
But what we do miss out on is the other side of the story. Except for former Facebook top-level employee Chamath Palihapitiya’s recordings and a two-second clip of Mark Zuckerberg defending social media because ‘there are other forces too’, we do not really get to know why they do what they do. Is it just the business part of it that they are most interested in, is it the ads or is there more to this story? What do they have to say! However, having said that, we live in an era where, unfortunately, people are willing to pick up battles - both online and even off it - over fake WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram forwards. And for that reason alone, we must watch this documentary for its raw, authentic and no-holds-barred depiction of the dark chapter that is the social media circus.
In a nutshell, it is absolutely true that we have always been aware of the adverse effects of the online world but Jeff Orlowski’s ‘The Social Dilemma’ makes this danger all the more palpable. There is no doubt in our minds that most of us are going to go back to being glued to our smartphones. But if we can – like these former innovators repeatedly urge: ‘turn off notifications’, ‘delete as many apps as you can’ – get over that initial impulse to check, scroll and post, then we would be looking at the world through our naked eyes and not the make-believe, filtered world on our phone screens.