That is the name of a new documentary on Netflix. And for me, it confirmed my worst fears about social media, even those that I had held at bay for fear of having to give up my daily dopamine of Facebook. For example, it was my birthday today, and the messages and love notes I got from dear family and friends from around the globe was just wonderful. How could I ever give up this wonderful way of connecting with family and friends? It is so much easier than writing and posting birthday cards and gifts, or calling people and playing phone tag. I tried to keep up feverishly with the acknowledgement of each message, and loved every minute of it.
Going way back, my love affair with technology began a long time ago. In 1974 I was the only woman at Ebasco Services’ Information Sciences Lab, and we were writing a “text editor” (later to be called word processor) for lengthy nuclear power plant documents that our engineers needed for their proposals and documentation. We used cassette tapes for the data and for the programs, and programmed in assembly language. Later on, we began programming in higher level languages, such as Cobol, Algol, etc. And then minicomputers were invented which led to more automation of more tasks, and then the first personal computer arrived on the scene, and pretty much things accelerated at warp speed ever since then.
As one of the engineers on this Netflix documentary explains, technology has accelerated at quantum speed every year. The only problem is that the human brain has not. So now we are faced with the dilemma of a limited human brain on one end and supercomputer with artificial intelligence programs, algorithms and tons of data on each of us on the other end. The AI systems, brilliantly portrayed in this documentary by the actor Vincent Kartheiser, can pretty much play with us like little puppets (again brilliantly portrayed in the documentary) and we are not even aware of this manipulation. On top of it, they continue to reinforce false realities through their selection of what we get to see and what we don’t. Hence the age of alternate realities in our country, and at such a critical time of the US Presidential Elections, when there is no truth binding us together as a society anymore.
What makes this documentary so essential and critical for all of us to view and reflect on is:
- These are all ex-social media executives or engineers
- They know how these systems work
- They don’t even let their kids use these systems
- And they are scared!
It seems that the best invention by humankind- that of social media connecting the globe- has become a tool for individual isolation and lack of self-esteem, to families’ disintegration as conversation almost vanishes, to societal fragmentation and permission to act out on deep-seated anger, resentments and hate. At the end, these executives can only offer some feeble advice and share their own fears of where we are now. While they acknowledge this was never the intention, they don’t seem to offer any solid solution, which worries me even more.