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02.10.2020

Misconnection and our ‘Social Dilemma’

Who knows you best?
Your family? Your spouse? Your friends?
What if, actually, the truth is that soulless algorithms written by Californian tech gurus know us better than we even know ourselves?

That’s the contention of The Social Dilemma, the latest boat-rocking docu-drama to hit Netflix. It interviews high profile Silicon Valley defectors, and (controversially) intersperses an invented plot about a family ruled by addiction to their devices.

An old cliché states that ‘if you’re not paying for the product, it’s because you are the product’. The film argues that whenever we log on to our social media, or glance at our phone, we add to the pile of data that makes up our online profile. Over time, that profile gets more accurate, more able to predict what we want to see and ‘recommend’ it to us, whether it’s posts designed to persuade us to spend more time online, or adverts urging us to spend more money.

The problem with all this, aside from wasted time and money, is that the algorithms don’t just suck us in. They slowly begin to influence us – we become like what we worship. Higher social media use correlates with declines in mental and physical health. Internal Facebook research shows that 64% of those who join extremist groups do so because they’re driven there by algorithms. Conspiracy theories abound, because in the online world false stories spread, on average, six times faster than the truth.

But we all know excessive time online isn’t good for us – what can we do about it? To ensure that social media remains a tool to serve our purposes, rather than the other way round, we need to think about why we give it our attention in the first place.

We’re drawn into this world because we crave interpersonal connection. And social media can, to an extent, meet that need. But the idea that it does so fully is a lie. It’s just a lie we keep believing.

Is there another way? As Paul wrote in Galatians 4:9, now we know God – ‘or rather are known by’ him – how can we turn back to forces that enslave us? Until we grasp just how completely we’re known, and fulfil our desire and need for relationship supremely through God, we’ll always be vulnerable to searching for connection in the wrong places.

So, let me ask again … who knows you best?

Matt Jolley
Centre for Culture & Discipleship | Research and Development

Comments

  1. Thanks for raising this. It really is a REAL issue. Not just an argument. The social media advertising model is reaping a terrible harvest of division and hate. Extremism is growing, with conspiracy theories being seen by (literally) billions and in taken aboard by thousands. Our God is LOVE. He is also TRUTH. But collectively, we are losing sight of shared truths and reality. And we, God’s people, need to be fully aware of what is happening. We need to encourage people to see the Social Dilemma. The issues are complex. But we have to start getting to grips with this. And quickly.

    By Jon Brewer - 2nd October 2020
    • Hi Jon, thanks for engaging! An interesting point made in the film is that one of the consequences of social media’s rise, and especially its increasing role as a news source, is that we are no longer simply interpreting the facts in a different way to those who would disagree with us (which is, at heart, where good debate can be found). We’re instead being presented with entirely different realities. As a result, there’s less constructive dialogue, but rather simply ‘truth-tellers’ and ‘liars’. Instead, how can we reclaim some shared truth, and prevent our social media feeds from becoming echo chambers? Perhaps following people who disagree with us, listening to their views and understanding the reasoning behind them, could be a good start? As we do this, might we also learn that our so-called ‘enemies’ aren’t as bad as we think… (For more on this, definitely worth checking out Dave’s piece from last week!)

      By Matt Jolley - 2nd October 2020

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