“When you think about technology (and social media) being an existential threat…well, it’s not about the technology being the existential threat. It’s the technology’s ability to bring out the worst in society, and the worst in society being the existential threat. If technology creates mass chaos, outrage, incivility, lack of trust in each other, loneliness, alienation, more polarization, more election hacking, more populism, more distraction and inability to focus on the real issues, that’s just society. And now society is incapable of healing itself and just devolving into chaos.”
Recently, I came across a Netflix Documentary titled, “The Social Dilemma”, which led me have a major social dilemma of my own. The film itself explores the effects of technology, specifically social media, on both individuals and society at large. As you may be able to presume from the quote above, a majority of the film is focused on discussing the many cons, although admittedly there are several pros as well.
It starts off with the premise that social media is so closely intertwined with our minds and our lives that we are entirely unaware of how it may be manipulating us. Various experts go further in-depth explaining how the algorithm is set-up to easily predict what keeps users on social media for longer periods of time, thus creating a potentially harmful cycle and influencing us without our realization.
“How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don’t know you’re in the Matrix?”
An important factor the documentary touches on is the existence of truth, and our ability (or rather, inability) to agree on any, carefully pointing out that it cannot be seen as the user’s fault. We have no way of distinguishing between true or not true because the very search engine that runs the internet, Google, is designed in such a way as to show us what it wants us to see. This is also why an increasing number of people are believing in conspiracy theories rather than understanding the facts when it comes to issues such as vaccinations, climate change and other issues that really do threaten the longevity of human civilization in the long run.
I personally believe that knowledge is power, but the truth is that every consumer, regardless of age or other factors, is comparable to a child who has lost their way and is in search of a leader. And a leader is anyone who has an influence over what people believe. This can be very dangerous when someone who is uneducated, ignorant, or insane develops the ability to influence what people believe, because they then become our “leaders” and lead us astray without our knowing.
The docudrama also talks about the increased rates in mental health disorders in teens and adolescents, suicide due to insecurities that arise after comparison to the seemingly “perfect” lives of others on social media, and our individual inability to handle our emotions because we always have access to a way with which to easily pacify our emotions, global divide and political discourse due to misinformation.
RELATED: The Modern Life Anxiety Epidemic
And in many cases, social media and the internet can be comparable to a drug, one that is legal to use at any age, sometimes on the youngest and most impressionable minds before they are even developed enough to have their own opinions. The current laws are actually behind and are not for the protection of user rights, but for the rights of very large and wealthy companies – our mental health is very clearly not their priority, at least not as much as consumerism and the purpose for which it was originally designed.
But it’s not all bad, right? In fact, most people don’t even see the downside unless they are told or shown or have personally recognized or experienced it. The intention upon creation was not evil; a computer with internet was the greatest invention in the technological age and social media is just a business model that comes with a problem, a very high price.
“It is both a utopia and dystopia simultaneously, a world where reading a book is no longer valued but also where purchasing one can be done in less than 60 seconds.”
So, what’s the solution?
One thing is pretty clear: the solution is NOT to get rid of social media entirely. As an industry, especially when considering profits and shareholder incentives, we as a society are too far into it to undo it completely.
This is why some experts argue that regulation is the only way to bring ethics and morality back into an existing system, in hopes that it will have some positive influence on a larger scale. The example used in the documentary referred to the numerous laws currently in place to regulate phone usage, and very few, if any, in regards to internet privacy; virtually every single thing you do online can be 100% tracked. One may argue that at its very core, this undermines democracy and freedom, and so pushing for these laws is not a radical proposal.
But as you may be able to guess, this is not as easy to do as it seems. It all comes down to the rich and powerful people who have the power to regulate related policies, recognizing that although there are times when there is a national interest, there are times when individual interest must be considered. It is only upon prioritizing the interest and well-being of people over the profits of someone who is already a billionaire, that any real change can be made.
“We live in a world in which a tree is worth more, financially, dead than alive, a whale is worth is more dead than alive. For so long as our economy runs in that way, and corporations go unregulated, they’re going to continue to destroy trees, to kill whales, to mine the earth and continue to pull oil out of the ground, even though we know it is destroying the planet and will leave a worse world for future generations. This is short-term thinking based on the religion of profit at all costs….What’s frightening is that we are now the tree, the whale, our attention can be mined, we are now more profitable to a corporation if we’re spending time staring at a screen, than if we’re spending that time living our life in a rich way.”
Due to the many negatives that the internet and technology inevitably come with, I almost became afraid of social media because I did not want to become addicted or miss out on life because I was too busy on my phone (as I have admittedly gotten very close to in the past, before I became aware of myself and made an active effort to be more present). On the other hand, there have been countless times where I’ve felt so alone, and I remember just watching YouTube and feeling better, like I connected with someone on the other side of the screen who doesn’t even know I exist but is still relatable to a certain extent.
The thing is, I’ve been fortunate to grow up with a loving family, be surrounded by so many genuine friends, and meet the most amazing partner to share my future with. But in the past year, especially during quarantine, I have encountered loneliness that has opened my eyes to the many people for whom this is a long-term reality. And that is what helps me to remember what my brand and my life is all about, and that is balance – balance of spirit with life, and balance within life itself of what really matters most. That balance also applies to relationships, love and – you guessed it – social media!
As long as I maintain my individuality and inner peace, as long as I prioritize the connections I have with family, friends and community in person, then why not embrace the fortunate blessing of additional connection via social media? Not just with my loved ones who can’t be with me in person, and not just for networking, but also for meeting like minded people, having eye-opening discussions, sharing my life, seeing others lives, and truly connecting with so many other amazing humans the way social media intended in the first place?
Discovering the views discussed in this documentary has been eye-opening for me in many ways. Although I understand the importance of self-awareness and being present in each moment over mindless scrolling, I also understand the balance of the positive impact social media can have when used with the right intentions. In my quest to simplify my life and my business, it is true that I may spend a little less time mindlessly browsing social media. But I am also going to make more of an effort to continue to share inspiration and positivity, and interact with my followers to foster genuine relationships. That is precisely why Spirit Life is not just a brand; it’s a community, it’s a home, it’s a family – and that is my vision.
That being said, today I pose these questions to you: what effects do you think social media, the internet and technology have on you as an individual, in your daily life? Does it have a similar impact on society as a whole? And what are some tips to create balance in a world of increasing virtual connections and decreasing genuine relationships? If you haven’t yet watched “The Social Dilemma”, you can check-out the trailer here.