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The Social Media Dilemma

Who will control this massive societal force, Big Tech or you?
July 22nd, 2021

by Jim Towey

Imagine if the personal price each of us had to pay every time we flipped on the light switch or opened the refrigerator in our home was an immediate and painful sensation of voltage pulsating through our bodies.  My guess is that the certainty of an electrical shock would drive down our individual use of electricity until such time that we developed a solution that allowed pain-free power.

Perhaps every time we log on to our laptops or pick up our smart phones we should be just as wary about the dangerous trade-offs involved with the use of artificial intelligence and social media.  Last week I finally got around to watching “The Social Dilemma,” the Netflix docudrama I had heard so much about that premiered last year to record audiences. 

Pulling back the curtain

Talk about a shock!  Social Dilemma did to Big Tech what Toto did to the Wizard of Oz – it pulled back the curtain on these behemoths, exposed the damage they are doing to individuals, families and our democratic institutions, and revealed Big Tech’s true motives and methods. These social media and search platforms utilize sophisticated artificial intelligence to “extract attention” from the human accessing their technology and maximize “engagement” with them – all for the cynical purpose of maximizing market share and revenues.  

Who knew that as Americans, primarily younger Americans, became dependent on social media, email, and other internet services, that in reality we were unwitting guinea pigs for their social experiments?  The confessions of some of the actual software developers at Google, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and at other monster companies like Apple and Amazon – made for compelling viewing. 

As Social Dilemma convincingly portrays, the consequences of what the pioneers of social media set into motion can be measured in the damage done to God-given human dignity.  Such technology intentionally nurtures addictions, fans the fires of political polarization, and manipulates the users to buy their advertised products.  The algorithms Big Tech develops to exploit human weakness and generate advertising revenues, create a colossal mismatch with their human users.  Because of the pervasiveness of internet-based communication and technology services, the tentacles of these companies are virtually inescapable.

How did we get here?

How did we go from the utopia of vast knowledge at the swipe of our fingertip to the dystopia of social media monopolies and their iron grip on our channels of information and communication?  Why weren’t ethical behaviors demanded of these companies and baked into their software and services?  Where is the government oversight of these monopolies that now wield nearly tyrannical power?

Older Americans are particularly vulnerable to, and victim of, the scams and schemes of those platforms Social Dilemma spotlighted.  They also pay the steepest price when the attention of others is more focused on screens than people.  That is why Aging with Dignity will try to do whatever it can, as little as we are, to continually monitor the rising social costs – measured by teenage suicide rates, depression among people of all ages, the isolation of the elderly, personal privacy assaults, the enormous increase in addiction and “deaths of despair,” etc. – that modern-day slavery to Big Tech’s commands deliver.

Hands and smartphonesThankfully, we won’t labor alone.  There are other groups – some large and well-funded.  The Center for Humane Technology is one such “watchdog.”  Its co-founders were featured in Social Dilemma.  We have a lot at stake in their success.  Humans and human intelligence can and will prevail, provided that we are the masters of artificial intelligence and not simply its lab rats.

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