We’re Not Puppets

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             This week for my blog post, I chose to go with the second option and watch Netflix’s, The Social Dilemma. More and more I appreciate that this class is always trying to show both sides to using technology, the positives, and the negatives. This is not what I expected from this class. I assumed that an educational technology class would mostly be preaching only the best of technology. This has not been the case. On day one, we were invited to read Postman’s Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change, in which he states that for every great technology there are some tradeoffs. Many of my colleagues in this class do unreal things with technology in their classrooms. They are using technology as a tool; a tool to find crazy information that without the web just would not be possible, to showcase amazing learnings, and to practice the art of being a respectful, considerate, digital citizen. The students of these teachers will have an advantage as they grow to enter careers and adulthood in which they will continue to access and utilize different forms of technology.

There were many negative tradeoffs to using social media mentioned in the documentary The Social Dilemma; tech addictions, body/self-image dysmorphia, and corporations selling us the product to the highest bidder. For me, the scariest part was the misinformation causing alarming polarization in our world. I think there is too much to discuss in one blog post from this movie so I will focus on this latter point. In the movie, there is a running plot thread of a middle-class suburban family who humanizes and succumb to all these social media problems within the movie. In the end, Ben, the main character in the family montage thread goes to a political rally and gets arrested. The message is that because his social feed was being constantly fed by what kept him engaged vs factual, he succumbed to the misinformation. This is juxtaposed with scary real-life images of violent protests and terrorism. The message is that social media is causing this polarization because rather than presenting the user with well rounded, multi-sided viewpoints, the user is being inundated with content that fits their search history, and will keep them engaged the longest.

 “If something is a tool, it genuinely is just sitting there, waiting patiently. If something is not a tool it’s demanding things from you. It’s seducing you, it’s manipulating you, it wants things from you. We’ve moved away from a tools based technology environment, to an addiction and manipulation used technology environment. Social media isn’t a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

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The movie is engaging, and when it was over, I was worried about the state of the world. I think the movie did what good movies do, it pumped up the emotional reaction. I feel this show took a lot of agency and responsibility away from us, the users of technology. The image of us being puppets controlled by engagement, growth, and monetization is a central theme. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen firsthand how scary that telescope of information can be. I have a friend who is an anti-vaxxer and then went off some crazy deep end similar to the show’s feature about ‘Pizzagate.’ She started spreading misinformation that Wayfair was also involved in child trafficking. During this whole portion of the show, I thought of her and how when one constantly reads only what they want to, it is easy to become defensive and think you are in the right. The best line for me in the show was at the end when Cathie O’Neil says that she purposely follows people she does not agree with. I think this is so important. Tristan Harris, in the movie, reminded us that even if two separate people ‘Google’ something they are likely to get different results! How scary is that?! But by ‘scary’ I mean it shows a need. A need in our society. When I was young, I swear I remember teachers telling me how certain newspapers wrote the news depending on their political slant, which is influenced by who funded the paper. We need to carefully monitor our own intake of information because we know with the invention of Web 2.0 literally anyone can create information. There is less responsibility to ensure some factual integrity remains intact. Absolutely do not give into clicking on Youtube’s up next selection, but also get your information from multiple sources. Watch the news from two different TV news stations, mixed with social media, and try to find some more centrally aligned news websites or better yet read an article on the same topic from two different slants. We must get out of reading what our search/like history suggests rabbit holes and openly seek other opinions. Then we must act in the real world outside of the social media universe. We must be cognizant not to think our social media voice is the same as our real voice. Reposting A Black Lives Matter post for one day is perpetuating an echo chamber of complacent inaction. Instead, we need to actively seek out all kinds of information, we need to fact check, we need to lead by example, we need to ask for opinions and listen, we need to vote, we need to boycott what we don’t believe in, we need to speak out in real-time against what we think is unjust and we need to encourage our friends, children, families, and students to do the same. We are better than the way the documentary The Social Dilemma depicted us. We are intelligent beings who are more than just puppets watching ‘what’s up next’ in our feeds, hoping our likes and shares constitute living.

Alright, I’m off, as the digital citizenship video says, ‘to find the end of a rainbow’ and then later follow some right-winged Ph.D. to round myself out.

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PS- This is a decent site for some things we can do after watching The Social Dilemma (but turn on your ad blocker…sigh)

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-put-your-phone-down-the-social-dilemma-2020-9#deleting-your-social-media-account-can-lead-to-progress-lanier-said-11

6 thoughts on “We’re Not Puppets

  1. Great Post. There is a lot to unpack from this documentary for sure. You hit on many of the same points I got as well. The polarization is real. Don’t get me wrong we have our share here in Canada, but when I look at what is happening in the States; this upcoming week will be a gong show for sure. Your title caught my attention as well. When the algorithm guys were controlling Ben, he sure did look like a puppet getting his strings pulled. It was like he had no choice at all. Scary stuff but stuff we should be talking about together and in the classroom. Thanks.

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  2. Thanks Dean. It was a hard post to write because I am afraid of the polarization happening world wide. It is frightening when people act on their tunnel of misinformation. Its going to be interesting to sit back and watch the US election results, because regardless of the outcome, there are going to be intense emotions from the loosing side. I guess this is why education is so important; to teach critical thinking skills and skills to hunt for the truth. So sad that we have to literally hunt and search for the truth.

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  3. Great post! I hope that in the future all educators in the classroom are as talented as some of the people in our class. I think when that is the case, there will be no Social Dilemma for students as they will have the skills needed to not be “puppets”. Thanks for all your thoughts! The show definitely had way too many points to hit on than we can do in one post!

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  4. Meira,

    Great post! If anything, I think this show highlights the importance of teaching about social media and focusing on media literacy skills in the classroom. With that being said, a lot of the problems that were mentioned were due to people misusing social media platforms. There weren’t many positive examples of how social media should be used. I will say, it did make me feel a little conflicted. I’ve been debating about getting rid of my Facebook account for a few years. However, it is so handy for teacher groups and keeping in touch with relatives that live elsewhere. I still like Twitter and Instagram, but the show did make me think about getting rid of platforms that don’t serve a substantial purpose in my life. However, I don’t think getting completely rid of social media is the answer. I love that you mentioned following a variety of news sources. YES– the point Cathy O’Neil made about following people on social media you don’t agree with is so important when developing well-rounded opinions.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Yes agree, and like Dean said, we should be teaching specific courses on social media safety. Have you thought of just deleting facebook off your phone? A few years ago, when I was done travelling I had way too many ‘friends.’ I didn’t even know them anymore, so I deleted facebook but then like you said, I missed some of the groups and literally the party planning. I then signed up a new account with less friends and I only have it on my computer so I only check it once a week. 🙂 That said, I am way too addicted to Instagram so ya it should probably be deleted off my phone too.

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