The Social Dilemma: is there something we can do to improve our relationship with social media?

If you haven’t seen ‘The Social Dilemma’ yet, I think you should do it. This new documentary on Netflix explores how social media, particularly Facebook, has an impact in the way we think, act and feel (in another article we can discuss about the irony of a program about social media and how machines predict what we like and what we are going to be shown on a platform which is part of it).

Indeed, if you have some understanding of how social media works or how algorithms behave, what you see on the film is old news, but it is also a reminder of what you know and you can hear points of view of different former employees of companies like Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. If you are on social media and have no idea about the process running behind, maybe this movie will blow your mind.

A few concepts and ideas are recurrent. The first one and perhaps one of the most important to understand the whole thing is that when you use a platform or service for free, it’s actually never free. If you don’t pay for it, you are the product. The second is that we share a lot of data about ourselves and companies like Facebook or Twitter have all this information that they use to make us do things. We think we decide what we do, but according to this documentary, it’s a bit more complicated.

These platforms have a lot of data about us, they know us better than ourselves and they use this incredible advantage – through artificial intelligence and complicated algorithms- to recommend friends, groups, news, and posts to follow. You can think that it’s a good thing, but instead, it might lead to polarisation, misinformation, fake news, and so on.

The next point I will resume here is no less important than the others. It is about privacy. We think we decide what to share about us and that you may not be on Facebook so you have a “private life” but you are on Whatsapp (a company owned by Facebook), so at the end of the day, it’s almost the same. Although you think you can manage this aspect when you set up your preferences, it’s not under your control.

What I like the most of all was the psychological aspect. Some days ago I read (on Instagram,) that humans are like plants but with difficult emotions. And I agree. Emotions are a huge part of us and we don’t usually think about this. It’s something so natural that we forget about this. At the same time, very often we aren’t taught how to deal with emotions, how to name them and how to manage feelings and reactions like sadness, loneliness, anger, and anxiety. Moreover, the way we use our phones and our social media accounts have an enormous effect on how we feel.

Just think about it for a minute: do you know how much time you spend on social media every day? When was the last time you logged into your Facebook account? When was the last time you saw how many “Likes” the photo you posted on Instagram received? How did you feel about having just a few likes and no hundreds of them? When was the last time you felt better when you saw that you have a lot of messages on Whatsapp? Or how did you feel when you woke up today and realized you didn’t have any notifications?

On ‘The Social Dilemma’ they talk about this idea of a pacifier. We use our smartphone to avoid solitude, stress, depression, and try to have rewards, like when you are at the casino. It could be addictive. If we avoid emotions, positive and negative ones, we can’t handle them. I’m convinced we must learn to cope with emotions and understand how they affect us and how we can manage them by ourselves (with psychotherapy if needed, of course) without escape. Mental and emotional health is vital.

In this scenario, the question is: what can we do? What can we do to change the way we use technology (and in consequence, it could change the way technology uses us)? I believe a key point here is also what you can see in the film about the family as an example of all us: we have an excellent opportunity to teach children and teenagers, the first generation of the world to live and go to school with social media and the internet as a massive tool, how (not) to use it.

Bringing up a child in the social media and mobile devices era could be hard, but as adults, we have the duty of taking care of them and showing them how to live better and how to enjoy life without being focused on screens all the time.
Here are some tips to improve how you use it, give an example, and learn all together:

Turn off the phone while you are having dinner with your family and just hang out face to face. Do you remember life before the phone and Twitter? A good way to make it obvious that it is not healthy to be on your phone all the time is not using it!

  • Turn notifications off. You can better focus on something or someone and it would help you not to interrupt your life every 5 minutes to check who wrote to you, scrolling up or down on your newsfeed or seeing some new photo from a celebrity on Instagram or a video on Tiktok.
  • Go out for a walk without your phone. You can’t imagine how magical it is to get on with your partner or children without thinking on your phone, duties, and what your friends are doing. You should definitely try it. The idea is to reduce the time using screens. In fact, if you pass this exam, you can even think about going on vacation and leaving your phone at home.
  • Think about a “tech diet”. Going out with your phone is just the first step. Do you remember the last time you met up with a friend not caring about your intrusive device? A “tech diet” could help you reduce the amount of time you spend on your phone and computer. There is a life out here, believe me!
  • Follow people on social media who you disagree with. It is crucial to be surrounded by all kinds of opinions and points of view and not just to isolate yourself from the real world. Falling out with someone is good and mandatory when you live in society and make it mature and resilient. It is also a way to grow up and admit there are different ways of being and doing.
  • Do not post anything when you are sad. It is a temptation. You are sad or lonely and you want to feel better. What is the first thing you think? “I will post a photo of me on vacation happy on the beach and everyone will conclude I’m happy remembering this trip”. No. You are waiting for positive comments, likes, and positive feedback. To boost happy hormones (oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin) you better go out and exercise, cook/eat something you like, meet a friend, make time for a family, or for yourself. Enjoy spending time on your own. Here you can read more about how social media is affecting us.
  • Don’t let children under 16 use any devices. In order to develop their imagination, self-esteem, and protect them from frustration, online social pressure, and fake news, it is better to keep them away from this universe. Also, it doesn’t matter if they are the only ones in the entire school who live offline.

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