- Technologist Jaron Lanier clarifies that advertisers aren’t paying to show you ads, but rather for “imperceptible changes in your behavior.” The targeting we hear about is only the precursor to the main event; getting you to think differently and take action.
- Professor Shoshana Zuboff highlights that because these companies are getting paid for results, what they’re really selling is your future behavior. This gives them a stake in both predicting and manipulating that behavior, and the better they get at both the greater the harm they can inflict.
- Investor Roger McNamee points out that we, as humans, are pitted against an algorithm, and that is not a fair fight. They have massive computing power, which has increased a trillion-fold in just a few decades, and machine learning that turns our willpower into a blade of grass hoping to fend off a bulldozer.
- Ex-Googler Tristan Harris laments that while we’ve been worried about when computers will exceed human strengths — and therefore potentially subjugate us — they have in some cases already overtaken human weaknesses, which gives them the power to harm us at will right now.
“The Social Dilemma” is a terrifying documentary about the toxic combination of social media and surveillance capitalism — and how together they’re harming our lives and our society. It’s the story of how the tech giants discovered they could optimize addiction by leveraging techniques of psychological manipulation, in order to earn billions. It’s told by some of the very people who created and scaled these companies — leaders from Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others. None of them set out with bad intentions. They were just trying to build popular products and make money along the way. But as the movie shows, things got out of control, and the unintended consequences have been devastating; in the words of these tech executives themselves: We are heading towards “the destruction of civilization, the end of democracy, and a checkmate on humanity.” Addiction for profit The interviews with these tech execs, as well as social scientists, educators, and others, are set against a fictional story of a family who we see living a screen-time based life that most will find familiar. To them, and even to us watching, the importance and dependence they place on their online interactions seems unfortunate, but certainly not tragic. But the film is incredibly effective in taking us on a tour of the addictive tricks the social media companies use, and the destructive way surveillance capitalism pays for and justifies the resulting carnage. None of this will be new for those who’ve been paying attention, but as big tech’s magic tricks are revealed the filmmakers both zoom in and slow them down in a way that makes it much easier to understand and much more repulsive to contemplate. We all know that these apps get us to login and scroll by exploiting our psychology and that the money is made by selling our eyeballs to advertisers. But the movie drills down effectively on how and why those practices are more advanced and insidious than most understand: