Words By Teddy Parkin
Everything is aligned for a productive work session. I’ve chosen my spot at the presuming eds coffee shop on London Road. My flat white with oat milk has been delivered directly to me. Laptop open, my various notebooks and pens are arrayed in organised precision across the surface of the table. With intent to dismantle a chunk of my history reading, I steam on ahead. Motivation on my side, nothing can stop me. 10 minutes in, a niggling thought prompts me to check my phone. I am expecting a reply to a pointless message that I sent to my friend. Nothing. With a cold whiff of disappointment, I assertively click the button on the side of my phone that turns off the screen. I put my phone down on the table next to the notebook and pens. I am slightly jarred as I persist in my attempt to absorb the historical academia that dauntingly occupies the façade of my laptop.
Gmail notification. A welcome distraction. My frail attention becomes consumed by an email my mum has sent me. I pursue. The lead disinterests me within 30 seconds. Bringing my awareness back to my reading, the realisation of how little I have absorbed enters my thoughts. More frustration. I reach for my phone again and fleetingly conclude to take a break. YouTube. Its over.
We are addicted. The vast majority of us are viciously gripped by our phones and the vortex that is social media. The scale of consequence is largely unknown. As well as the dangerous operation of algorithms that have been built by tech corporations in Silicon Valley to sustain our addictions. We are largely unaware as to the ways we are being manipulated and the damage that is being had for society and the individuals within it. This has slipped under our radar and become integrated into our everyday lives. It is now a relationship of reliance and dependency. A threat true as ever hidden under the veil of normality.
Recently I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ after my friend frantically persisted I do so. It was a truly illuminating experience. The documentary comprehensively reveals and explains the sinister world of social media. Furthermore, how this transcends into real world effects. It explains the incentives, the processes and how profit is made from turning our attention into a product to be sold to the highest bidder. Like my friend to me, I strongly recommend you make this documentary the first choice for your next Netflix session.
The documentary combines an enactment that dramatizes the decline of an individual’s life due to social media addiction alongside the input of experts and ex Silicon Valley giants. The result is a presentation of the complexities of social media in a concise and effective way.
The way social media works centres around Algorithms that are programmed by the professionals of these companies. They operate by nudging you in directions online that cater to what is predicted will keep you most engaged. The more you use these platforms the better the algorithm becomes at predicting your desires. It is no mistake how effective they are at doing so. Psychologists are a key part of the design model and have developed the systems to prey on human psychological flaws. As your attention is being captured in this way, adverts are shown to you. This is where they make their money. Essentially your attention becomes a product, that is expertly extracted, and then sold.
The mental effects of being engrossed due to the algorithms are harrowing. Your ability to live a fulfilling life diminishes. The more we are consumed, the less in touch with ourselves and others we become. Exemplified through the enactment in the documentary, the protagonist becomes disillusioned with his family as he is more interested in what he sees on his screen. His addiction plunders his individuality and sense of community only to be replaced with a false sense of meaning and gratification provided by an electronic device.
Individuals suffering from their attention being monopolised and the effects this dependency has on the state of their mental health does not make for a strong cohesive society. Yet further, the echo chambers that are produced by the algorithms serve to destroy our political discourse. We are streamlined into engaging with only one viewpoint and thus deem any other position as invalid and their ideas untrue. We literally have no compass to understand the other side as we take what we see online as truth and anything that contradicts our perspective as false even absurd. In this way we are unable to communicate effectively in our attempts to solve society’s problems and take humanity forward. We see this phenomenon persist with the extremities of pc culture and the rise of far-right groups across the west. People do not feel heard and thus resort to extremes in an attempt to get their point across.
Social media has become interwoven into the fabric of our society, replacing the bindings that are good for us and facilitate humanity to progress. This documentary embodies a movement to challenge the status quo of social media. How do we proceed from here? Jaron Lanier author of ‘10 reasons to delete your social media accounts right now’ advocates complete deletion. Tim Kendall, CEO of moment, pushes for a healthier relationship with your phone through enacting certain restrictions to liberate its grip over you. What seems clear is the need to take back control over the powerful devices that we are dependent on and influence our lives so negatively. How will you do this?