Everyone and their relatives seem to have already watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. That’s quite a feat for a documentary, much like Tiger King, earlier.
The Social Dilemma’s one-line crux is very, very simple – social media is a massive time-suck and it influences you.
If that sounds reductive, it is also unfortunately true. It really doesn’t go beyond that crux, and it also (melo)dramatizes that crux significantly. What it says is true, though – it is happening and it is definitely affecting us all.
Now, let me apply that crux to two other things that are addictive and influence us. They may not be direct equals, of course, since there is a lot of contextual nuance with all of them.
Let me start with something enormously simple – books. At one point, books were the predominant way to gain knowledge and were addictive. Fiction books continue to be called ‘addictive’ by people who like that format.
So, do we binge-read books? Of course, we do. But when life interferes, what do we do? Continue reading without caring for life? Not really. We use a bookmark to mark the spot so that we can deal with life, and get back to the book later.
The pause button on videos on OTT works pretty much the same way, though Netflix makes it very, very hard for us to not binge-watch by dropping all the episodes of a series in one go.
Next, a personal experience: I have never eaten a full bag of potato chips in one go. In all my life. My kids do not either. We always ensure that they take a little, in a bowl, and keep the rest for another day. I know that’s not the way chips makers want their incredibly addictive product to be consumed, but there is a health angle (the equivalent of ‘influence’ on social media) that’s more important than succumbing to advertising narratives.
So what do we do with the remaining pack of chips? We seal it away. The sealing clips are one of the most useful inventions for the kitchen. We use it for many other packaged foods.
In both examples, the items are for personal use. Their consumption does not affect others – only the user. Social media is different, not from the addiction point of view, but from the influence/impact point of view.
But, if something can be done about it—and something definitely needs to be done about it—before the Governments, Courts, or regulators get to it, the responsibility starts with individual users, just like the responsibility of not overdoing a book-reading or overeating potato chips.
I fully realize that it is very easy to say, ‘Be responsible’, while the reality is that people simply can’t adhere to that given the sheer effort it takes to be responsible! But that’s also what it is, unfortunately!
Social media as a time-suck can end if you are conscious about what you want out of it, instead of mindlessly scrolling it endlessly. When you consider your time wasted after having spent a significant chunk of your time on it, that’s a function of not having gained anything meaningful from that time. The solution to that is not to simply switch off everything but to find ways and create processes to make better use of the time you spend online.
You can fight the influence via social media if only you question everything you read from people like you, on your timelines. The best part of social media is that you can find multiple perspectives on every conceivable topic, and the more you read, the better is your sense of perspective and judgement on any topic.
Find your bookmark for social media.
Find your sealing clip for social media.
Your ‘bookmark’ or ‘sealing clip’ may be very different from someone else’s and there are is no one-size-fits-all solutions to this.
Easier said than done, I totally understand, but if we can ace other forms of addiction and influence with simple tools plus our own resolve, we can perhaps make this work too.
So, before we can start blaming the tech. behemoths (which we no doubt should) for unleashing these tools on us and spoiling us, spend at least a minute taking responsibility for your own failings in not making better use of these powerful tools and succumbing to the most basic instincts through those tools’ nudges and people’s provocations.