The Social Dilemma : How do we help our kids break out of The Matrix while we are in it?
I watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix over the weekend, and after my own TEDx talk on hyper-stimulating digital media from over 2 years ago, I feel like I finally have the words to describe the risks and hazards of digital mis-use.As parents grapple to find some balance for their kids, in this digital age of devices and screens, we are realising that not all screen time is equal.
This whistle-blower style doccie is an honest and transparent retelling of the reality of mass systemic manipulation of human vulnerability by the biggest tech companies in the world, from the mouths of former employees at Facebook, Google, Instagram and Pinterest who actually were part of the teams that created the most addictive components of social media – the infinite scroll of our social media feed, auto-play, “recommended for you” feed and of course, the ‘like’ button itself.
So, what is the story about, and more importantly, from the Be in Touch perspective, what can we as parents of digital kids DO about it?
The crux of the story is that, as device users, our single most valuable asset that technology companies covet, is our attention. It is our attention that these social media companies want and need in order to sell advertising space. Over the last few years, we have all become victims of a ‘race to the bottom of the brain stem’, manipulated into how we ‘choose’ to spend our time online.
Physiologically, humans are most sensitive to stimulus from our environment which relate to our survival, our social acceptance and our status in a group, and so social media companies capitalise on this to keep our attention on their platform. Let’s look at some examples:
- Photo tagging on Facebook – When we get tagged in a photo, we worry that our social status may be at risk: do I look ok? who am I with? has anyone liked the pic? There is no way we can resist checking it out, and while we are there, maybe like, comment or reshare it. And before we know it, something else has popped into our feed to keep that attention. And just like that your attention has been grabbed, and sold to the highest bidder.
- Snap Chat – Imagine a Facebook feed that is all about images and short videos, highly edited, and only lasts 1 day on your social feed. In Snap Chat, there is a reward aspect called ‘Streaks’ where two users are rewarded for consistently sending photos or videos back and forth to each other. So as soon as you receive a message, pressure is on to send one back, and while I’m sending that, why don’t I just… well, you get the picture. Your attention has been hijacked.
- Social media refresh – As you pull down on your feed, new posts keep popping up, it never stops! This is exactly the kind of technique used in gambling slot machines. The anticipation of ‘what might I get THIS time’ causes the release of feel-good hormones, which keep us glued to our screens. Our attention is all theirs.
Ok, so a few companies use all the data collected when we click on our social media feed, they know about our preferences and beliefs, and they can predict what we want or like. What’s the big deal you may ask?
All of this gets translated into a personally curated feed for YOU that is different to everyone else’s. You are not seeing the normal baseline, but rather what the tech companies want you to see, maximising and slowly changing your views, convictions, beliefs and values. The output from our devices is slowly and systematically reducing our higher order ability to think objectively, to rationalise, make commitments and stick to them. Our biology does not make us human alone, it is our virtues, our beliefs, our actions that are what is best about us, and these higher order choices become less available to us the more we are moulded into puppets on strings which are being pulled, poked and shifted.
The sad truth, as revealed by an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) study, is that fake news spreads 6 times faster than real news, and this fact gives us another angle to understand how the tech companies’ ‘race to the bottom of the brain stem’ is leading us into more anxiety, frustration, escapism and worse. It’s simple – we pay even more attention to our devices when we are anxious, mis-informed, frustrated, emotional or worried, and therefore we are more valuable in this state.
- Be selective about which and how many social media apps you join
- Delay social media for your kids as long as possible – at least until high school
- Be more conscious about how much time you actually spend on social media
- Agree a screen time budget for each family member
- Keep all devices OUT of bedrooms at night
- Turn OFF app notifications
- Turn OFF autoplay settings
- Shift social media app icons off your main screen
- Fact check what you read
- Think of your clicks as votes
- Think twice about checking out “Recommended For You” content
- Follow people whose opinions you disagree with
- Protect your data – check your privacy settings.
For more tips on parenting in the digital age, check out our 8 Steps to Digital Parenting.