The other evening, I watched The Social Dilemma, a Netflix documentary. Perhaps it was good timing that I watched it during Halloween season, because I walked away very afraid. No haunted house could make me more scared.
It explores how a handful of tech designers have tremendous “control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives”. If you ever use sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram and Pinterest, you are in their cross hairs. There are several more sites, especially aimed at younger folks. Their goal? To keep you on their site, clicking and clicking away.
The documentary focuses primarily on the impact social media has on mental health, democracy, and discrimination; how easily we can be manipulated to think and feel about ourselves and others. Even when we think it’s not us, it is. Every click we make, every site we look at, even the time of day – that’s the data that is collected on each of us. It’s why I see different stories pop up on Facebook than what you see. I’m not talking ads or posts from friends, but stories that computer algorithms have determined I might like based on my past choices. Think of social media as a bad Santa – it knows what you’ve been thinking and doing, and it then it infiltrates your thoughts and feelings.
Most alarming to me was the factual information on the impact social media has to 1) incite civil unrest, and 2) tamper with the mental health of pre-teens and teens. The documentary was truly eye-opening, and this is a global issue. As one presenter said “it can erode the social fabric of how society works”.
Watching this reminded me of something I heard John Tesh talking about on the radio a couple of years ago (pre-pandemic). And yes, that’s the same John Tesh I had a crush on before he married Connie Selleca. And the same John Tesh whose “Live at Red Rocks” album made me forget my troubles 25 years ago. He was a much cooler version of Yanni. Today, he’s a dispenser of relationship and lifestyle advice.
As Tesh spoke, I learned about JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out. It’s the opposite of FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Both are deemed social anxieties. Apparently, many millennials are so stressed and perhaps addicted to electronics, that rather than gather with friends after work on Fridays or over the weekend, they’d rather connect with their phones and iPads.
I’m not sure how parents manage this with their children, and sadly, this is not an issue that goes away with maturity. Adults are just as addicted and I suspect you’ve seen it in your family, or perhaps you’ve also wrestled with it. I know I have. Within two days of this blog post, I will check my data to see how many people have read this. When I first started blogging, I felt joy or dejection based on the response. Today, I’m more curious than anything. (But who am I kidding, comments always inspire me.)
My mother never liked giving a baby a pacifier. She thought there was a better way. When the documentary referred to social media as a digital pacifier, I smiled and thought of her. There has to be a better way for people to form opinions, manage their self-esteem and communicate with others. As we move into the holiday season, consider the gifts you might give your child or grands. Keep the pacifier out of their lives.
Finally, if you or someone you care about struggles with social media addiction, don’t be afraid to seek treatment. It’s no different than any other addiction, and you wouldn’t let a loved one fall to pieces over drugs or alcohol.
Watch The Social Dilemma if it’s available to you. At the very end, you will hear the industry professionals interviewed tell you they don’t allow their own children to have smart phones, or they have strict age and time limits. They know the dangers that lurk within.