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Alex Cann's Weekly Blog - 9th April

This week, I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, and I would highly recommend that you give it a whirl. As one of the quotes at the beginning says: "Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse" (Sophocles), and if you're anything like me, you'll be left questioning how much information you've given away to social media platforms over the years

I was struck whilst watching this film by the alarming thought that a lot of people now have no memory of life before social media. How do you wake up from the matric if you don't know you're in the matrix?

Over the course of 90 minutes, the documentary looks at how addictive smartphones have become for the vast majority of us. When did it stop being rude to sit in a coffee shop with someone and insead of listening to what they are saying to you, you are instead distracted by the 'ping' of a notification on your screen? Checking one alert invariably leads you down a rabbit hole of more browsing, and if you've ever looked in your settings at the amount of screen time you spend on your device each day, it's frankly alarming.

Contributors to the film have worked in the past for the likes of Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest as employees, and I found it interesting that many are super strict with their own kids about time spent on social platforms (many don't permit it at all!).

Whilst the film does acknowledge some good has come of social media, it also looks at how the platforms have arguably influenced world events, and overarchingly not in a positive way. Fake news has proilterated, along with bizarre conspiracy theories and even violence. I've always thought I'm immune to such stuff, but even I got briefly dragged into the gossip over a certain doctored photograph of a member of the Royal Family, before I had a quiet word with myself and regained a sense of proportion.

Another memorable quote in the documentary - "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product". Nothing is truly free, and I do tend to get targeted ads for craft beer and bath products, both of which I like. Not so sure on another that appeared in my feed recently concerning reducing the size of your man boobs, bu you can't win them all I suppose.

A lot of the creators of these products are left wondering about the genie they've unleashed from the bottle. The Facebook 'like' button, for instance, was created with positivity in mind, we are told. These days, it can cause abject misery if posts don't receive a suitable number of 'likes'. Personally, I still occasionally keep the ancient art of 'poking' alive on Facebook, and I'm old enough to remember when every status update had to begin with 'is'.

Elon Musk paid an exorbitant amount to acquire Twitter since this film was made, but the platform's new name 'X' has proved about as widely adopted as 'Daim' to describe Dime bars.

I'd love to switch it all off for a month as an experiment and see what happens. Same for E-mail. It can be relentless, especially as I'm someone who can't leave any E-mails unread. I know some have thousands sitting unread on their phones, and that brings me out in a cold sweat thinking about it. Moreover, newspapers and radio stations have very strict rules on what they can and can't print and broadcast respectively, whereas social media platforms try everything to avoid being described as publishers, it seems to me.

For their part, Facebook responded to the documentary by claiming it "buries the substance in sensationalism". One criticism of the film is that it doesn't really offer much of a solution. Perhaps the law needs to keep up with regulating these giants, but they are constantly evolving. I think this film was first released in 2020, before the exponential rise of TikTok and all the concerns that has caused in terms of its Chinese ownership.

Personally, I've switched notifications off on Twitter (sorry, 'X') and Facebook, and am making a conscious effort to be less of a slave to my phone. Watching The Social Dilemma did make me ask myself a lot of questions, especially how much time I spend scrolling mindlessly through social media feeds that I'm really not that interested in. More real life, less algorithms, please. Maybe pub chain Sam Smiths is onto something banning phones from their outlets after all.

More from Alex Cann's Weekly Blog

  • Alex's Weekly Blog - 19th June

    In two weeks' time, we'll be going to the polls, and I was going to write a column this week about apathy, but I couldn't be bothered.

  • Alex Cann's Weekly Blog - 2nd April

    Not a lot makes the headlines from Belgium, but this week, a collection of cassette tapes was unearthed in the city of Ostend containing unreleased Marvin Gaye songs. The BBC reports it has potentially been there for over 40 years, and there are thought to be 66 demo songs.

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