[sea-dp] Reading Response #05 – Thoughts on Social Dilemma (2020) and more

I appreciate the Social Dilemma. I appreciate the associations it made about social media’s impact on political polarization and teenager suicide, and the insight it offered coming from those who designed these platforms. I think it’s going to make some good impact on people if Netlifx algorithm does us right — talk about opening with an irony.

This documentary, just like all journalistic efforts, has its own biases. The film carefully discussed social media’s role in conspiracy theory, terrorism, fake news… things we attribute to extreme nationalism. But then I noticed the only foreign issues that made an appearance were the subtle mention of China  (& Russia) deliberately spreading propagandas in the U.S. and the Hong Kong protest, of which contexts were non-existence — which made me realize how unaware the filmmakers are of their own perspective.  They pointed out how American social media users are being influenced and manipulated by surveillance capitalism that is American tech companies, but I’m more concerned about non-Americans around the world, the 3 billion users of social media that speak different languages and have different cultural identities, being injected with ideas produced by U.S.-centric algorithms. 

The objectification that surveillance capitalism does to us, in my opinion, is much deeper and stranger than what was portrayed and visualized in the film. It wasn’t as if every single one of us were carefully monitored and “controlled” by employers of Facebook — it is very eerie to think that you personally are being watched, which is probably why dystopian science-fiction likes to talk about the people who were literally trapped in technology. But the truth is we don’t matter. We are a collection of 1s and 0s that only exist in relations to other 1s and 0s, and that we’re not humans but a replaceable part of a larger entity. I think of it the same as the workforce, where our individuality doesn’t matter because we’re just a replaceable part of the capitalist machine, and are much more unaware this way. The film’s overly dramatic narratives and sound design might’ve been an attempt to capture and convince their (potentially) younger audiences, yet the way it blatantly attempts to manipulate emotions still was problematic in my point of view.

Lately I had a conversation with a few cohorts about the perception of modern technology being “ubiquitous” is our privilege as urban residents. In Digitized Lives we read a couple weeks ago, I was informed that 22% of Americans (now 10%) and 60% of Chinese (now 35%) were not online as of 2012. It’s also important to think about digital divides when we address this issue – are we really inseparable from technology, and if so, what about the people who are offline? Are they left behind from the internet revolution, or are we building digital walls to divide “us” and “them”? I’d also like to believe that we have some sort of agency against the maelstrom that is technology, that hackers, open-source contributors, educators, as well as our personal choices are actions of resistance. Chloë Bass thinks that for a while “the most politic thing to do was to leave Facebook”, but… why not? 

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