So you watched The Social Dilemma… now what?
From a user and designer perspective.
If you’ve watched The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix, you may be feeling what I’m feeling.
Guilty, a victim, a perpetrator, or a mix of all three.
I know that social media is destructive for our ability to focus, be present, quell anxiety and navigate hardships…but to learn how it affects our society as a whole is a wake-up call.
For those who haven’t watched the doc, its thesis is, technology and social media is controlling the way we think, negatively affecting how we operate in the real world. Real-world consequences include the rise in political polarization, mental illnesses in teenagers, hate-crimes and dismantling of democracies all over the world.
A friend noted that the documentary doesn’t include commentators with opposing views, the dramatic music isn’t necessary, and the interview clips remove other insightful comments on the matter. His final thoughts: Yes, this is an issue in Big Tech, but it feels propagandic, for lack of a better word.
I agree that these remarks, but the message itself is heavy especially if you work in Tech.
As a designer, I actively engage on social media to immerse myself in the design community, gain visibility, and establish my brand. I feel that I need to engage to increase my chances of being hired.
As someone who tries to follow Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism school of thought, I often take digital detoxes, notoriously disappearing only to return a few months later…actively posting stories like the detox never happened. The addiction grows until I unplug from the matrix and disappear again.
Why not delete your accounts? I tell myself I have family on there…photos of nieces, nephews and long-distance cousins to keep up with…but the truth is, I pay more attention to the countless interior design and baking accounts than keeping up with loved ones.
My question is, how do I proceed with my life? As a human who uses and designs technology?
I started my career in education where I had to think deeply of how to nurture young minds and build their critical thinking. I majored in Psychology and constantly analyze why we do the things we do. I hesitate to adopt new technologies, strive for minimalism, and often detox to live life offline.
And even then, I know I am a technology addict. Shoot, I was on my phone while watching the documentary!
So now what?
What can I do better to reclaim my attention?
As a user, I can
- Engage less. Remove notifications. Sign out my accounts after usage. Time my usage. Actively create barriers. Dropping old habits is not effective without a new habit to replace it. So how about I…
- Engage more in face-to-face and voice calls. Tell my loved ones that I prefer calls and text messages instead of social media communication. Remind myself that virtual interactions do not replace the real deal.
- Find better truths and regulate them when possible. Maybe visit news outlets directly and discuss the ideas with others. “Truth” is a debatable idea given that news is basically stories told from human experience, which is inherently biased. However, there are better truths — ones that are reviewed by many with a set of regulatory standards. You know, using the checks-and-balance system that we were taught exists in our government. Ha, jokes.
- Spend time building my critical thinking. Think about how products make money. Take time to make my own opinions and reasoning on important issues. Think about who is writing the article and what incentivizes them as I research for information to build my reasoning.
- Hang out with silence more. Maybe dig deeper at what triggers me to reach for my phone, open social media, and try to find an alternative such as…
- Directly reach out to friends when I feel lonely and excited to share. Although being alone isn’t always lonely, it doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. But what’s wrong with that? Loneliness and the need to share is human. Why don’t we do it in a way that fills our soulful voids instead of making them bigger?
As a designer and working professional, I can
- Educate myself in design ethics. Here are a few resources to start:
- Critically think about blind spots and plausible consequences. What am I really designing for? What are some unintended consequences? Let’s get more diverse voices into the design critique. Be brave and remain open to, and even invite, disagreement. Dissenters may see what my biases hide from me.
- Create human connection when “connecting”. Approach people for the humans they are behind the screen, even outside of work like I met them at a grocery store. Maybe “Hi Omar, I love your dog. I strive for his level of carefree-ness. Happy to connect and follow your journey.” instead of that boring jargon I miraculously conjure on LinkedIn. Also, keeping in mind the root definition of “connection”, which mentions nothing about the quantity of summarized, two-dimensional online profiles:
Connection (n): a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.
This piece is my way of making sense of the cognitive dissonance I feel as a designer in tech. Technology is attractive because it can scale positive impact, but it’s easy to forget that it can scale negative effects too.
I believe that people are allowed to make mistakes — that companies and those in the public eye can and should be allowed to change their opinions. However, that is not permission to act irresponsibly.
If you have thoughts on the matter, please share them in the comments.
Product designer exploring life and design questions to better understand humanity. Writing from Oakland, CA.