Social Media is the Matrix and We’re Stuck

How do you wake up in the Matrix if you don’t know you’re even in the Matrix?

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The Social Dilemma, the Netflix documentary-drama hybrid, explores the danger of social media and its technology on us and our reality. After hearing the somber testimonies of several men and women who help build social media and their terrifying thoughts on how it’s affecting the world, it makes you wonder if it’s time to delete and retreat.

Platforms and features, like Facebook’s “like” button, weren’t created with malicious intent. In fact, they were crafted with the hope that they would bring people together. How could it have been predicted that they would be detrimental? Or that they would attribute to the increase in teen and tween suicide rates in the U.S.?

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But social media has become more of our reality than our own reality. Generation Z and other digital natives were raised without any real knowledge of life without the internet. Personally, I’ve never really remembered a time where we didn’t have a family computer in our den. I’ve never not had access to the internet when I needed it. I argue that it’s the hardest for myself and other digital natives because we have nothing to compare it to. Often times I've heard repetitive anecdotes about having to check books out at the library to do book reports for school or waiting desperately for dial-up internet to load. So as a young person, how are you supposed to know something is wrong if you don’t know what “right” is supposed to be?

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With every advancement comes a consequence. While social media has made us the most connected we’ve ever been with each other, it’s also wraped and divided our realities. Algorithms on platforms create echo chambers and help us create our own unreal worlds. We’ve been conditioned and reinforced to post our prettiest pictures and creating something that we might necessarily be. But because others do it, we do it too.

I’ve experienced it firsthand. The sheer pressure of posting a picture on Instagram became so overwhelming that it paralyzed me. I thought too deeply about it that I talked myself into thinking everything I wanted to post wasn’t presentable enough. In the dramatized parts of the documentary, I found parts that were reminiscent of my own social media use. Especially how tied I am to my phone and how many in-person connections I might’ve missed because I’ve been too plugged in. It’s difficult to think that the same platforms that help people locate their families after natural disasters are the same sites that are attributing to such toxic activity.

Although it’s estimated that the average person spends only 2 hours scrolling, I’d argue it’s much higher among younger people. And while we might think we’re in control of our own agendas when we’re on social media, The Social Dilemma showed us that these sites have their own agendas that actively work against us. With AI constantly tracking every digital move we make, they’ve become experts on us and exactly how to deliver us the dopamine hit that’ll keep us logged in. The longer we’re on, the more information they get and the advertisers they can sell us to. Even as a professional in social media marketing, I find myself falling victim to these tactics even when I know they’re in place.

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What I do know is establishing better online habits will give us a healthier relationship with technology and social media. Being aware and even doing small steps like managing your notifications and taking regular breaks from social media can be some of the healthiest things we do for ourselves. Because unfortunate no matter how much we want to sometimes, we can’t throw away our phones (unless you want to be Ron Swanson).