During March, seniors in Angie Noble’s AP Language class watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. The documentary includes the perspectives of tech experts, researchers, and activists to reveal “how social media is reprogramming civilization.” Many people, students included, are unaware how much social media influences their lives, and The Social Dilemma shows the audience the technological and social aspects of social media which shape modern society.
One term mentioned throughout the documentary that most students were unfamiliar with was “surveillance capitalism.” According to Shoshana Zuboff, professor at Harvard Business School and interviewee for The Social Dilemma, surveillance capitalism “claims private human experience for the market dynamic, and it repurposes private human experience as a free source of raw material for production and sales.” In simpler terms, it is capitalism that profits off tracking human behavior. Have you ever thought of something completely random and then received an advertisement via social media about the same thing you just thought about? That is no coincidence. Every aspect of social media including advertisements, notifications, and recommendations are carefully designed for each individual in order to keep them engaged, so companies receive more money.
“The striking thing to me was realizing how every single detail of apps and aspects of [social] media are designed to capture attention. Just realizing that accidentally spending hours on your phone isn’t just a mistake–its due to the specific efforts of the software designers to trap you in that cycle,” senior Anna Rahner said.
Several AP Lang students related to the information shared in the documentary. Senior Olivia Rohling said, “[I related to] the overall theme of being addicted to [social media]. I think a lot of people are afraid to admit it, but I think I definitely am, and I hate it. ”
Rahner added, “[The Social Dilemma] definitely made me scared of how social media controlled my daily life from my actual schedule to the way it made me think.”
Students who do not use social media still felt impacted by the documentary. Senior Jakob Tucker said, “I liked… Tristan’s [Harris, co-founder of the Center of Humane Technology] approach to it all and how he has taken action about fixing the problems caused [by social media] that I’ve wanted to address about society [myself] but am not powerful enough to fight as one in a million unassociated with [social media].”
The purpose of The Social Dilemma is to highlight the negative effects of social media on its users and society as a whole. Does this mean everyone should delete their social media accounts immediately? Not necessarily. As senior Anna Eiser said, “With all the bad, there is good that comes from social media [too.]” However, the harmful impacts of social media on modern society and individuals cannot be ignored. While The Social Dilemma is a glimmer of hope, it is also a warning. Awareness of the dilemma is essential in ensuring a safer technological environment that is less addictive and less polarizing.