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By Brianna Wray
The Times 

Tech Talk

The Social Dilemma


October 8, 2020

WORLD WIDE WEB—In the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, director Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice, and Chasing Coral) posits that the massive data mining force that is social media is creating more than a few problems.

The case is presented by some of the very creators of the social mediascape as we know it today who personally attest to using human psychology to imbed addictive qualities right into the industry.

In some instances, the idea of social media’s problematic nature is very confusing to our senses as technology creates a simultaneous utopia and dystopia. You’re connecting in some ways and disconnecting in others.

Some advances are predominantly positive; for example, in the realm of transportation, people have incredible access to maps, public transit, rentals, and taxi service apps today that make getting from Point A to Point B futuristic.

In other instances, bullying, low self-esteem by comparison of others, or lack of Likes are all symptoms of the system’s inherent sickness.

But it’s not tech’s fault. Technology and specifically personal computing were supposed to be the “bicycle” as described by the late Steve Jobs. Everybody loves bicycles, true; however, (classic) bicycles are a conveyance powered by the rider. The user does not power a cell phone, its power comes from batteries made of elements that must be mined from the very planet at our feet.

Likewise, social media platforms are not powered by users, rather by advertisers who pay for access to very specific demographics and behavioral models built from users’ data.

Though no one social media platform is entirely responsible, the film establishes a legitimate threat to democracy and freedom from their business models. We stand to lose elections, and potentially the global economy.

If not the technology itself, who can we blame? (A scapegoat is nice to have.)

Other industries, such as phone companies, with access to sensitive information, are heavily regulated in their use of customer data, and the internet should be no different.

Taxing the collection and processing of data could create an economic incentive for these platforms to realign their business models with the good of users and not just advertisers.

Should you ditch Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Signal, Snapchat, TikTok, Tumblr, and Zoom? The answer is a qualified no. Well, maybe. Okay, yes.

Definitely disengage from an app if and when the connection is causing unhealthy behaviors. If Instagram models send you down a shame spiral, delete it.

Monitor your screen time, bearing in mind total screen time versus leisurely scrolling. You might use a computer or certain social media apps for work and then come home and have personal time on those same apps.

Facebook has a new featured section, Your Time on Facebook, where users can track their time on the app and wind down in the evening with Quiet Mode, effectively limiting the amount of time social media has access to your attention.

If we didn’t have tech, well, there’d be little to talk about around here, so I’ll fall on the social media sword for you. Some ways I’ve managed to avoid the negative aspects of social media by turning off notifications, turning off location sharing and not allowing apps to connect with other apps. I never allow any app to access my address book to invite friends. Regular deep dives through the menus in your devices might reveal all sorts of loose privacy settings that are easily changed to lessen the info stream.

And finally, when you’re reaching for that device, ask yourself, are you reaching for a tool or a pacifier?


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