If your phone was safely sealed inside of a plexiglass box for one hour, could you wait? How about for twenty four hours? Could you manage for seven days?
That’s the scenario you get to watch unfold at a family dinner table in the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. A mother wants eye-to-eye family conversation around the dinner table instead of seeing her kids eyes focused on their screens.
So she invests in a plexiglass box with a timer and, reluctantly, each member drops their phones into the box with a clunk. The family longingly gazes at their devices as if they were trapped in an underground time capsule for the next twenty years instead of a plastic box placed on the kitchen counter for one hour.
Can you predict what happened?
Hint: Mom forgot to silence the phones before sealing the box so the notifications started whirring and drawing attention from the dinner plates to the secure box.
First the kids asked if they could check the notifications. The answer was a sharp, “No.”
Then, the teenage daughter snuck into the kitchen “for another fork” and tried to pry open the box. No luck, so she broke it open instead. She couldn’t handle the tingling hit of a notification without the release. As a result, the son’s screen was cracked. Mom made a deal that if he could put it away for a week she’d buy a new screen. He tried, but eventually the suspense was killing him.
Does that scenario sound familiar? Are you addicted to your devices? Have you observed your kids grow more and more obsessive over their screens?
That the argument that The Social Dilemma presents—and they attempt to tackle a solution by educating the public. Here are memorable quotes from the hour and a half documentary to help you consider if you’re addicted to your devices, who is to blame for that bad habit, and how you can break your dependence on technology.
Who’s in charge?
“Never before in history have fifty designers—25-35 year old white guys in California–made designs that would impact two billion people. Two billion people will have thoughts that they didn’t intend to have because a designer at google says this is how notifications work on that screen you wake up to in the morning.”
What (or who) is the product?
“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”
Where is your attention?
“They are competing for your attention. So Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube—companies like this, their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen. Let’s figure out how to get as much of this person’s attention as we possibly can. How much time can we get you to spend? How much of your life can we get you to give to us?”
Who’s watching you?
“What I want people to know is that everything they’re doing online is being watched, is being tracked, is being measured. Every action you take is being carefully monitored and recorded.”
What do they want?
“At a lot of these technology companies there are three main goals. There’s the engagement goal, to drive up your usage to keep you scrolling. There’s the growth goal, to keep you coming back and inviting more friends and getting them to invite more friends. And then there’s the advertising goal, to make sure that as all of that’s happening we’re making as much money as possible from advertising.”
Do we create our connections?
“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary, especially for younger generations. And yet in that world anytime two people connect, the only time it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who are raised within a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation. We’ve put deceit and sneakiness at the absolute center of everything we do.”
Is it designed to be addictive?
“Everytime you see it there on the counter and just look at it. And you know if you reach over, it just might have something for you. So you play that slot machine to see what you got. That’s not by accident. That’s a design technique.”
Tool or drug?
“If something is a tool, it genuinely is just sitting there waiting patiently. If something is not a tool it’s demanding things from you. It’s seducing you. It’s manipulating you. It wants things from you. And we’ve moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction- and manipulation-based tech environment. Social media isn’t a tool that’s just waiting to be used. It has its own goals and its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you.”
Is it really a drug?
“Social media is a drug. We have a basic biological imperative to connect with other people. That directly affects the release of dopamine and the reward pathway. Millions of years of evolution are behind that system to get us to come together and live in communities, to find mates, to propagate our species. So there’s no doubt that a vehicle like social media, which optimized this connection between people, is going to have the potential for addictions.”
How do we cope?
“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.”
Do I have any control?
“Over time, you have the false sense that everyone agrees with you because everyone in your news feed sounds just like you. And that once you’re in that state it turns out you are easily manipulated, the same way you’d be manipulated by a magician. A magician shows you a card trip and says, ‘Pick a card, any card.’ What you don’t realize was that they’ve done a set up so you pick a card they want you to pick. And that’s how Facebook works. Facebook sits there and says, ‘Hey, you pick your friends, you pick the links you follow.’ And that’s all nonsense. Just like the magician, Facebook is in charge of your newsfeed.”
Tips from the experts
There’s hope! Yes, you do have some control over how technology influences you.
You can’t finish that documentary without a new stream of thoughts running through your mind about how you use technology—or better yet, how it uses you. During the final credits, the experts offer a few basic pieces of action-oriented advice. Here’s what they have to say:
- Uninstall apps that waste your time.
- Turn off all notifications that are not urgent.
- Use a browser that doesn’t save your data, or remove extensions that give suggested recommendations.
- Don’t accept recommended videos on YouTube. (Instead, pick your own.)
- Fact check your sources before you share something on social media. (In particular, avoid content that strikes an emotional response.)
- You vote with your clicks. Only click things you actually care about.
- Read information from different points of view (including the ones you don’t’ agree with).
- Remove all devices from the bedroom every night.
- Don’t allow your kid to get on social media until high school (better yet—until they are sixteen).
- Budget how much time your kids spend in front of screens.
Still struggling with technology?
If you find yourself sucked into the YouTube black hole late at night, or if you endlessly scroll Pinterest instead of playing with your kids, or browsing Facebook is how you pass the time after a stressful day, you’re not alone.
Addiction is real, and it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Call us today. We want to help you experience freedom from your addictions, to see you live life apart from your screens, and to engage in a healthy relationship with technology.
Teen Social Anxiety