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I have never seen such a divided population.
I am not talking about the presidential debate on Tuesday evening this week. There are two different camps when it comes to responding to the Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma. I’ve seen the film twice now and made more notes.
When I first wrote about the film, I asked readers to share their thoughts with me and if they were planning to delete a social media app. I included a call to action to temporarily remove an app you use too often. Mine turned out to be Instagram and I posted it over a week ago. Quite a few people said they would delete Facebook.
Wow just wow. Dozens of emails arrived every day. There are some serious allegations here from both sides. I’m not going to include exact comments from emails to protect reader privacy, but I’ve also scoured comments and posts on the film and summarized what both sides think.
It’s a pretty straightforward division between the two: you either think that the social media companies are responsible for making these apps too addicting and that they have to do something about them, or you argue that the user is taking more responsibility got to. We can delete apps (as I suggested) or limit our screen time. The film shows on a large scale how companies like Facebook provide you with the right data at the right time. They’re all addicting to us like fish.
Now let me give you my position for the record. I’m somewhere in the middle. I recently spoke to productivity expert Nir Eyal (he wrote the book Indistractable) and we tend to agree: There is great value in using these apps. I have a family in Europe and we are constantly chatting on Facebook. I post links to my articles on Twitter. I’m not saying that we should all stop using social media. Even Cal Newport, a computer scientist and book author who is extremely critical of social media abuse, has said we should use the apps more like professional planners and marketers. Which means using them in a predetermined way with set parameters.
So I’m on the side of these people. I patted my own back.
Seriously, I can’t see exactly how to delete them or do a long social media quick. This is where all of those incoming emails really got me thinking. Many of them were from parents. Some were from “ex-addicts” who can be sarcastically said to be offensive to real addicts. There is one issue here to be aware of, however: some dissenters argue that the social dilemma is a propaganda film. I can only guess they have never been to a school cafeteria or bus stop.
There’s just no denying that we use our phones too often. You have to completely isolate yourself from society to ignore this fact. The most used apps? They are all connected to social media. The reason I’m in the middle is because I don’t entirely agree that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have absolutely no responsibility for fighting overuse, at least for kids and young adults. I would love to see more screen time warnings from these companies and better awareness tools.
Look, my entire journalistic career has been built on social media. I run a Facebook group with over 1,000 members and it’s really helpful. I love Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn all the time. I’m just as excited about these apps as anyone.
One side says: car manufacturers are not responsible for car accidents. The other side says: do you even know the history of the tobacco industry?
That is one reason I return to the original plea. Try to delete some apps for at least a while. That’s it. Try not to use them for a while and see what happens. See if you are more concerned with others. See if your quality of life improves.
Mine certainly has. I used to think about what photos I wanted to post to show how my writing process is going and to connect with potential readers. I’ve used Instagram too often and kept thinking about how to make more use of it. I saw some success in building a following. Twitter is more of a utility and a functional asset these days, so it’s not that compelling.
I doubt anyone will win this debate.
I hope that those of you who think the social media giants have no responsibility at all will see how often children and teenagers use these apps. There are a few changes Facebook and others can make.
Children don’t know exactly what is happening to them. We do it.