How Technology & Social Media Changed a College Sophomore
Reacting to the realities revealed in “The Social Dilemma”
Back in the mid 2000s, dad introduced me to Club Penguin and made an account for me using his email. A massively multiplayer online game where you get to play as a penguin in a virtual winter world. Whenever I would get bored, I would play with different games available on the platform. However, I could not access premium features as it requires paying for a membership. Nonetheless, I was contented with what I had especially when we never had good internet connection.
My second relevant introduction to the internet, thanks to my bestfriend, was through another role-playing massively multiplayer online game called Adventure Quest Worlds. At the age of 10, I had suffered fracture and dislocation on my right wrist. By this time, it has already been a year since I created my personal email as part of our 3rd grade I.T. class requirements. Using my left hand uncomfortably and with the guide of my father, I was successful in creating my very first online account. During the 2 months with a cast, I would play with my bestfriend during the weekends as we battled through zards, skeletons, and dragons. However, because I did not opt to purchase the game’s monthly membership, I did not enjoy the chat features and other exclusive in-game items which you could call “aesthetically cool and beautiful”. As a 10 year old, it was frustrating.
Finally, the first time where I was, in a sense, truly connected in the internet was when I created my Facebook account back in 2014 after the family’s 5 week trip in America. During this time, my grade school and junior high school batchmates already had Facebook accounts as far back as 4th grade. However, I only made the decision at the start of 8th grade because I wanted to be connected with my cousins in America. With the help of my parents, I was able to crop a photo where I photobombed a recently wedded couple and placed that big smile as my first DP. Apparently, DP means “display picture” compared to “profile picture” which supposedly is the official Facebook term.
When I started using Facebook, it was purely for communication purposes. I would message classmates, my crush (yes), and my parents for any concerns. However, everything changed when I stumbled upon memes. Funny pictures that built a culture around it where people laughed, shared, and created more. In school, me and my friends would exchange memes and talk about it as a way of hanging out and relating with one another. Every time I saw a funny meme, I would immediately share it and when someone reacts to my shared post, I would feel good about myself as if I created the meme.
6 years after creating my first social media account, it was not long after I joined Instagram. When I settled in Manila back in 2017 for my Senior High School and now College education in De La Salle University, I started using SnapChat and Twitter for the sake of connecting with my new classmates and friends. I thought I saw social media as more of a tool rather than a “hobby”. I would observe how the people around me would use their phones for clout or as a distraction rather than to talk and create meaningful connections with people. But when I experienced the downs and pains of life alone in Manila, it became my escape and coping mechanism. Especially today after experiencing a series of failures, rather than being productive and doing my tasks as early as possible, I would escape to the entertainment provided by social media. As I am right now, I am disappointed with the way things are with my life.
After watching “The Social Dilemma”, my eyes were opened to the true nature of social media. No wonder I see it as an escape because the platform’s algorithm is designed to adapt to my growing interests and feed me with the content I like to see. In the documentary, psychologists pointed out how increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide coincided with the rise of social media starting from 2009. Over a decade, we have seen these rates increase by 70%-140% compared from the 2000s. Exposure and usage of social media truly does have an effect to us. In fact, former executives and managers from the tech industry report that the algorithm that manage our engagement and feed us contents is described as a psychologically manipulative algorithm with goals of engaging, growing, and advertising for profit.
Whenever someone asks me for advice whether a particular activity or object is good or bad, I would give them the “gun metaphor”. It’s an original of mine, I hope. The tech industry has given to us a tool that has done wonders to society. Social media radically changed the way we connect and interact with other people. Because of social media, families were reunited, lives were saved, and people no longer had to worry about communicating across distances. However, it has also become the breeding grounds for racism, hate, discrimination, and the rampant spread of fake news. Like a gun, it can be used to protect, to intimidate, or to kill. Soldiers are taught the rules and circumstances when they should shoot or not. They are trained to shoot fatal or non-fatal shots with precision. Tech companies have given the people of the internet guns that they could use for any purpose. These people may choose to spread love and positivity just as how the original creators of gmail and Facebook’s like button envisioned it to be. But there will be untrained soldiers who will use this gun for their own pursuits without accounting for the consequences.
As the way things are today, social media will continue to be exploited by the rich and powerful. Social media today is modeled after the free society that democracy encourages. Where everyone has free speech and may say anything they want even if their wrong opinion is wrong (it’s a joke). Take for example, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Back in 2017, he admitted in paying internet trolls to win the 2016 election. These internet trolls were observed to spread fake news against other presidential candidates and form social media groups where they behave devotedly towards Mr. Duterte. In China today, the socialist government continues to ban western social media networks from their country for reasons concerning protection against terrorism. The gun of social media in the 21st century will continue to be a weapon of control, manipulation, and division for the subjectively evil doers with money and power unless some form of regulation is imposed. But before this becomes a reality, the decision makers of congress must first agree on what is right. In a world without objective standards, this may difficult. Instead, a code of ethics must be established amongst decision makers implicitly or explicitly. Soon, decisions whether data collection must be limited through tax or restrictions may be imposed. Certain behaviors may be criminalized by law or restricted by the platform’s administrators. A more safe and peaceful environment founded in trust may be develop only if decision makers agree on what it right.
As we have identified that the macrolevel problem of technology and social media is psychological manipulation, the microlevel problem is our own tendency of becoming addicted. I would like to encourage you, dear reader, to be aware of the effects of using social media, especially now when it is already a part of every urban dweller’s life. What I would like you to do is know what you find fun and productive, and identify what makes you go to social media. We’re doing this with the goal of using social media less to give more time for the important things in our life. For me, that is my time with my family, my time with my 5 year old sister, my physical fitness, my side line as a real estate salesperson because I want to be financially independent from my parents. The way to break an addiction is to have other alternatives. I know that if I just start exercising, I can continue being consistent. However, that is my weakness. I am either too lazy or tired to merely start. The threats to my goal are different social media networks and cell phone applications. But believe me, after watching the social dilemma, I immediately deleted TikTok and 7 other unnecessary applications in my life. My opportunities to do my best are simply self-imposed deadlines. Enrollment is near, so maybe I should actively message potential clients to increase the chances of someone buying.
I truly believe that starting is the hardest step in any pursuit. But once you start, those pursuits will light the fire in your heart and turn it into a passion. Keep creating meaningful changes starting with yourself!