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Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma” Exposes Drawbacks of Tech Dependence

September 11, 2020, 06.08 PM

SAN RAMON, - “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix is setting out to expose the corrosive effects of technology during a time when people are becoming increasingly hooked on their gadgets.

The coronavirus pandemic has left people more dependent than ever on tools to keep them connected with friends, colleagues, and family.

When meeting in person is temporarily unviable, technology keeps the string attached. Wednesday’s release of “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix thus may strike some viewers as odd timing.

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But its makers aim to give you a better sense of why the pandemic isn’t the only reason it feels like we’re stuck in a dystopian nightmare.

The film, directed by Jeff Orlowski, aims to explain how Silicon Valley's embrace of smartphones, attention-grabbing algorithms, polarizing echo chambers and pursuit of profit have left users reeling in a way that could pose an existential threat to US democracy.

“It is a self-destructive code that has been planted in our society right now," Orlowski said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The notion of modern social media as a malign force that has hypnotized us into mindlessly scrolling distracting feeds, fostered division and elevated previously marginal groups and ideologies in ways that undermine social cohesion isn't particularly new.

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For the past several years, it's been the subject of Silicon Valley mea culpas (at the individual, if not corporate, level), foreboding news articles and academic studies and books.

Some tech-company engineers and executives have gone so far as to keep their own children off phones and social media.

And a number of engineers have also been quitting high-paying technology jobs rather than continuing to contribute to the problems they believe their employers have caused.

The latest example surfaced Tuesday when The Washington Post disclosed that a Facebook engineer had written a lengthy internal letter explaining why he was leaving the company.

"I can no longer stomach contributing to an organization that is profiting off hate in the US and globally,” wrote Ashok Chandwaney, who worked at Facebook for five and a half years.

“The Social Dilemma” is the culmination of a three-year project aimed at making the severity of an extremely complicated problem easier for non-tech types to grasp — and perhaps motivating people to take action to prevent worse consequences.


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