The Social Dilemma (Jeff Orlowski, 2020, USA)

  Jeff Orlowski’s viral Netflix doc The Social Dilemma is targeted toward the widest audience possible, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The film is something of a beginner’s guide to various phenomena that anyone following big tech for the last few years has been noticing. Orlowski starts from the simple idea that “if the product is free, you are the product”, and builds off from this point, interviewing a number of talking heads from Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all the major tech giants. Orlowski intersperses these interviews with dramatizations centering around a family whose various members are impacted by social media.

The dramatizations are a bit silly, and disruptive to the overall mood of the film. I’m not opposed to dramatizations in documentaries, but the dramatizations here a bit too simplistic to really have an impact. Orlowski is clearly taking inspiration from Fincher’s The Social Network. The soundtrack of the film even echoes the work of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

The educational portion of The Social Dilemma is fairly surface-level. VR founder and philosophizer Jaron Lanier provides some of the more incisive commentary. Also illuminating were the interviews with NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who demonstrates the negative effects social media is having on Generation Z, particularly young women. The film also has an interesting section on how Facebook was used in Myanmar to spark persecution of ethnic minorities.

Overall, The Social Dilemma best serves as an introduction to the dark side of social media, but it never dived as deep as I wanted it to dive. I would hope after this film, someone looks into these issues deeper and comes up with a more profound documentary. Of particular interest would be the behavioral changes in the generation which has grown up with social media from early childhood.



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