“The technology that connects us also: … controls us. … divides us.… monetizes us.… manipulates us.… polarizes us.
This is the fundamental argument of a new Netflix documentary, Social Dilemma, that should be mandatory viewing for all humans. The ideas presented in the film are no doubt shocking if not terrifying.
“The Social Dilemma,” recasts one of the most common themes of the horror genre - Dr. Frankenstein, the scientist who went too far - for the digital age. According to Statista the average person spends roughly 135 minutes on social media each day, following an upward trend of increasing time spent on social media each year.
Certainly the implications as far as contributing to a more sedentary lifestyle, exposure to devices and screens as well as detachment from in-person connections are extremely concerning. But what we learn in this movie is that our brains are being manipulated and even rewired by algorithms that are designed to get our attention and make us buy things…including buying into distorted ideas about the world, ourselves, and each other.
We are the (often unwitting) subjects of a vast, completely unregulated experiment being performed by technology companies that do not have our best interests at heart. We are not their customers - we are their “users” whose attention they sell to the highest bidder. The invasion of our personal information is one thing, but we must stop and consider the intrusion on our minds and our brain health – and this is something that has to be a priority in our conversations now.
Dr. David Perlmutter talks about these very same concepts in his book “Brain Wash.” His book explores and develops the simple premise: our brains are being gravely manipulated, resulting in behaviors that leave even more lonely, anxious, depressed, distrustful, illness-prone, and overweight than ever before. A tremendous body of research has provided additional understanding of this brain hijacking taking place every minute of the day in the world we inhabit.1
There are multiple potential pathways through which the Internet could affect the brain’s structure with emerging evidence that indicates disengaging from the “real world” in favor of virtual settings may induce adverse neurocognitive changes.2While more research is needed to further our understanding of the processes involved, it’s clear that these changes can have lifelong repercussions.
Everything we do online is being carefully monitored and documented. And we are being very naïve to dismiss the effects to our health and wellbeing if we ignore these truths. I hope you and your children, assuming they are old enough to understand, will watch this film together and learn more so you can make the most informed choices that benefit your family. As I have said time and time again, we need to stay curious and question everything. And we really do have the power to choose what’s best for our brains and our own lives, today and tomorrow.
In health and hope,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
References and additional reading:
1 McSweeney, K. This is Your Brain on Instagram: Effects of Social Media on the Brain. (March 2019). Now. The Intersection of technology, innovation & creativity.
2 Firth, J., Torous, J., Stubbs, B., Firth, J. A., Steiner, G. Z., Smith, L., Alvarez-Jimenez, M., Gleeson, J., Vancampfort, D., Armitage, C. J., & Sarris, J. (2019). The "online brain": how the Internet may be changing our cognition. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 18(2), 119–129. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20617
10 Social Media Statistics You Need to Know in 2020 [Infographic]
Hate Social Media? You’ll Love This Documentary. Wired. (2020)