How to Handle ‘The Social Dilemma’ Dilemma
An opinion piece on the state of modern communication by copywriter Steve Koek
Widespread high-speed wireless internet and the emergence of mobile devices have changed the way people communicate and conduct business. Technology has moved at a frenetic pace, and humans have absorbed it as best we can. These communication methods seemed like magic just a few years ago.
As a professional content writer, it is my job to use technological tools and systems to create content that appeals to consumers. It is the same advertising philosophy of market manipulation that has been used for centuries. The arrival of the internet has intensified these techniques, raising the stakes for consumers — and those that market to them.
We are still in the earliest stages of discovering what this tectonic shift in communication modalities can do for us — and to us.
One thing is clear: People are more reliant and dependent on smartphones and other mobile devices every day, and it is affecting how we interact with others and live our daily lives in both helpful and harmful ways. The full effects on society and our development will not be fully known for years or decades, but the benefits and hazards are beginning to take shape.
An Early Adopter
As a former web administrator, writer, and videographer for the Phoenix Suns basketball team, I was an early adopter of Facebook.
The league was progressive, staying ahead of the technology curve just as social media outlets emerged and expanded. The Suns front office at the time understood the potential of digital marketing and social media and were among the first to take it seriously. I was given my first Blackberry, iPod, laptop, and iPhone while working for the Suns.
I took what I learned about Facebook and applied it to my personal social media activity, helping others get on board and creating groups that have connected new and old friends. Memories now pop up that are over a decade old (with some posts that make me cringe today).
Facing a Social Dilemma
I am a Facebook veteran and smartphone user that is as susceptible as anyone to the potential dangers of excessive or addictive habits. I faced my own social dilemma even before watching the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” I had concerns about the alluring, pervasive, and destructive nature of my smartphone use.
Like so many others, I was “on my phone” all the time, constantly checking my social media timelines, email, and other digital assets.
The security issue is and has always been troubling to me, but privacy concerns were secondary to how my usage affected my life. So, I decided to take some steps to curb the tide. Small things took the obsessive edge off the control my phone and Facebook, in particular, seemed to have over me.
Perhaps the most impactful change I made was when I decided to stop looking at comments sections in the posts from media outlets. This is the cesspool of social media, where the rage builds and friendships are destroyed. While there can be sane, rational discussions, the comment section of major media network postings presents the danger zone for me. I improved my overall well-being when I stopped viewing and interacting.
Wake Up First
I started waiting to look at my phone until after my first cup of hot tea was ready in the morning. This allowed me to define my thoughts to start the day rather than Facebook and other apps telling me where my mind should go.
Plug the Rabbit Hole
I severely cut down on how much I posted, liked, and commented on other Facebook posts. Engaging on Facebook is a habit and becomes a reactionary activity. It is designed to go down rabbit holes and fixate on topics. If I am not posting or commenting, I am not waiting and looking for a reaction. I still post and react, I am just not nearly as active.
Reduce the Noise
When scrolling through my timeline, I began unfollowing dozens of people and groups. I was not unfriending people because I was upset or did not like them; I was simply reducing the noise and draw of the scroll.
The content on my timeline now primarily consists of posts from my closest friends and family, a handful of select media sources, and a few fun and interesting groups. The tension and pull have been significantly reduced, and I do not feel like I am missing out on anything.
Performing these small acts of cell phone and social media defiance is empowering and makes me feel as though I have more control over this addiction. Facebook is less interesting and compelling to me and is no longer a draw on a moment-by-moment basis. As a result, it has freed up time and mental capacity.
My ‘The Social Dilemma’ Dilemma
After watching the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” my concerns have grown about both my personal behavior and the adverse effects mobile technology and social media are having on society. The people interviewed for this movie are not merely experts in the field who have studied the subject. They are the engineers and developers that created it, and they are sounding the alarm that things are out of control.
The documentary makes a compelling case for how Facebook is not just providing users what they want or need; they are manipulating the way users think and behave. While I understand the intrusive and privacy issues associated with the collection of data by social media algorithms, I have been one to dismiss the collecting of my personal information as collateral damage for the conveniences and advancement of the technology.
After all, marketing and advertising are all about manipulation, making consumers think they need a particular product or service, and that yours is the best.
I am a full-time professional content writer. The content I write is designed to reach as many potential customers for my client as possible. My job is to manipulate the system using keyword research and other search engine optimization techniques to get their web pages to show up higher on results pages than their competition and drive more traffic to their websites.
I write content that appeals to the reader and compels them to act. To me, this is a legitimate way to market legitimate, credible companies.
For social media companies, their users are the product. The only way they succeed and grow is to find ways to keep users on their platform. Unfortunately for all of us, they have done a great job of doing just that.
The Thing About Addiction
I am not a doctor or therapist (and I do not play one online). One thing I do know about addiction, however, is that it affects everyone differently. Some people can have one drink, while others cannot even understand the concept. There are gamblers who can go to Las Vegas two or three times a year while others can destroy their lives in one weekend at the tables.
And then, there are some people that can let their cell phones sit for hours without checking it, while others cannot go a couple of minutes without seeing what is new on their timeline.
The qualities that make Facebook addictive are baked into the algorithms, designed to keep users engaged and active. Timelines are customized to user habits, preferences, and needs in ways that leave users wanting more in an endless loop of content and functions.
“The Social Dilemma” came to me at a time when I was already evaluating my cell phone and social media use. In many ways, it confirmed my fears and showed in great detail how it all came to be, how it works today, and the harm it can bring to the future. The film exposes the real dangers of cell phone and social media addiction, and the real-life consequences for far too many, from depression and social anxiety to isolation and suicide.
What I Did After Watching “The Social Dilemma”
Thankfully, I do not suffer any extreme versions of depression or anxiety. I do, however, feel the effects of social media and phone addiction on the way I approach daily life. After viewing the movie, I felt it necessary to take further actions to control my cell phone and Facebook usage. I definitely can feel the positive difference these small changes have made.
What I did after watching the film:
- Focused on using my desktop computer rather than my phone for information and communication outside of phone calls and texts.
- Deleted dozens of apps from my phone, including all social media except for Facebook.
- Streamlined my phone apps onto one screen page, showing only the apps I use most, such as email, podcasts, Pandora, and several work-related apps.
- Placed Facebook, CNN, games, and other apps within folders, so they are less of a draw when I open my phone.
- Turned off phone notifications for all extraneous apps.
- Resisted the urge to destroy my phone and go completely off the grid…so far.
I love Facebook. It has had a positive effect on my life, both personally and professionally. I have also been shown its harmful effects and can see it in myself and those around me.
At this time, I have no plans to leave Facebook or trade in my iPhone for a flip phone, as tempting as both may be. I will continue to monitor my use, pare down activity and access further when appropriate, and try to make good use of the freedom and the added time it affords me. The next logical step would be to delete Facebook from my phone, but I am not there yet.
What Can You Do?
I would never presume to know what is best for you or the best way to manage your phone and social media use. My recent experiences and actions have shown me that when it comes to my phone and Facebook usage, less is more.
The following are five suggestions when the time comes for you to evaluate how technology is impacting your life.
- 30-Day Snooze Feature: The introduction of the 30-day snooze feature on Facebook was the first step to cutting down my social media activity. Instead of angrily replying or stewing about a particular contact, post, or comment thread, putting the person on a 30-day snooze will give you a month without seeing their activity. When you see their posts pop back up after 30 days, you can decide if it is worth keeping them around.
- Manage Notifications: Turning off notifications for Facebook and other apps will stop the constant reminders that you have a phone, and there may be something new you are missing out on. Spoiler alert: chances are good there is not, and you are not.
- Edit Your Home Screen: If every time you turn on your phone, you are not tempted by apps that can take up your time and energy, you will not click on them. Merely organizing your home screen and putting apps in appropriate folders will reduce your phone time.
- Stop Looking at Comment Sections: Social media algorithms encourage dissension and division in the comment sections of postings. It is what keeps people active longer. YouTube comment sections are especially treacherous and filled with nastiness. The best way to disengage from the muck is to avoid them altogether. Facebook will often give you a glimpse into the comments before even clicking through, so beware and resist the temptation.
- Watch “The Social Dilemma”: This documentary breaks down these issues far better than I could ever summarize in this blog. Hear from the former social media professionals who implemented many of the processes and features that are troubling today. Hear them explain how it all happened, how it may be affecting you, and where to go from here.
What Does the Future Hold?
We are in a transitory technological period in history.
In many ways, technology continues to outpace our ability to make the best and safest uses of it. As we work to catch up and minimize potential harm while maximizing its use and power, it is up to each of us to decide how it fits into our individual lives. Look for the signs of excess and addiction, and disconnect when possible. It will enrich your life and make your phone and social media activity more impactful and meaningful.
Meanwhile, I’m going to continue to take advantage of the incredible technology by using my smartphone and Facebook to enrich my life in many personal ways. I will also continue to use the latest technology and processes to produce effective web content that search engines recognize and consumers find engaging, informative, and useful.