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The technology that connects us also controls us

One newspaper in the UK has described it as “the most important documentary of our times.”

There’s no doubt – in our minds, at least – that it should be compulsory viewing.

For young people, parents and adults alike.

For social media users and those online, no matter their age. 

For you. For us. For everyone. 

The film in question? It’s called The Social Dilemma. On Netflix.

For some, it’s far from a dilemma, for the film’s findings ought to be obvious, although for many, it’s an eye-opener – an unsettling insight into Silicon Valley, social media and how, to quote the Sundance Institute, “powerful, hidden artificial intelligence tasked with hijacking our attention is tearing apart social norms, jeopardising truth and democracy, and putting civilisation on a programmed path toward self-destruction”.

You might think this all sounds a little melodramatic, but there can be no questioning the impact such things are having on all our lives.

Harmful to our health and mental wellbeing in particular? 

Make no mistake about it. It must not be underestimated.

It’s not our intention to serve as spoilers here for we think this is a film that demands to be seen and open minds are important.

Yet just reading the promotional material and monitoring initial responses online – “Everyone should watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix and then make the necessary changes,” one Twitter user posted; “Tonight I deleted Facebook and turned off notifications from Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn; it’s time to take back control of our minds.” – and it seems rather obvious that something here is amiss.

Here at CPUK, where for a long time we have taken a close interest in such things, the conclusions that the award-winning film-maker Jeff Orlowski has reached come as no great surprise.

“The services Big Tech provides – search engines, networks, instant information et cetera – are merely the candy that lures us to bite,” this again a line taken from the Sundance Institute. “Once we’re hooked and coming back for more, the real commodity they sell is their prowess to influence and manipulate us.”

Herein lies the rub: The point that, both as parents and as professionals, we’ve been making for some time now; that AI and algorithms are not engineered to foster mental health, but to mine data, demand attention and influence behaviour.

Can social media and time spent online lead to anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts? There can be no question. Does the algorithm responsible consider such matters? Not in the slightest. Unless a user stops buying or engaging, all other things are a technological irrelevance. 

For some time now, anxiety, low mood, low self-esteem and numerous identity disorders have been linked to social media use and, whilst the debate continues to rage and sceptics abound, as psychiatrists and professionals, our take on such things is that the correlation is all too accurate.

It also seems rather obvious – not least for those a little cynical about developments in technology, those a little older and those well placed and in a position to witness the change that has altered societies, behaviour and relationships beyond all recognition. 

Don’t agree? Not convinced? Need further persuasion? 

Our advice is to watch The Social Dilemma. Indeed, regardless of your position, you should seek it out. Viewing – in our opinion, at least – ought to be compulsory.

To quote from the Sundance Institute one last time, “The Social Dilemma sounds the alarm on surveillance capitalism in hopes of preserving the very fabric of our society before it’s too late.”

Take our advice: tune in.