Movie Night for Tech Users

(Dr. Patrick Donovan of The Leadership Institute shares his thoughts on his blog Five Minutes on Monday)

As any long-time reader of this blog knows, we have movie night at the Donovan household. Usually it’s Friday, though during Christmas or in a snowstorm it can be anytime.

This week, on the recommendation of a colleague, we watched The Social Dilemma.

If you have children, you really ought to watch it.

It can be found on Netflix and is a docu-drama exploring the rise of social media and the damage it can cause in society. As parents, it reminded us of the manipulation happening under our noses and for our children, it helped them realize what we could not teach them – they are the product being bought and sold online.

Watch it. Talk about it.

A few things struck me that I would challenge you to think about.

  • The rise is hospitalizations among young females and the increase in self-harm we see in young girls.
  • An increase in suicides among young people.
  • The rise of cyber-bullying.
  • The practice of positive intermittent reinforcement used by app developers to keep you engaged.
  • How algorithms created by tech companies influence everything from how we get our news to where we shop to who is in our social circles.

Remember that line from Mark Twain about how a lie could get halfway around the world before the truth can put its pants on (or something like that). Well, that’s still true. False information on Twitter spreads six times faster than real information. Think about that for a minute.

As the credits roll, those who have been interviewed throughout the show – mostly disillusioned tech workers who helped create these problems, make some recommendations that we’ll be trying to implement in the Donovan household.

  1. Turn off all notifications on your phone. Yes, your fear of missing out will take some time to adjust and you will want to make excuses that your boss might need you or you might miss an important call, but consider this: a group of scientists were able to put a man on the moon without email, texting, or social media. Is your work any more or less important?
  2. Uninstall all social media apps and new apps that waste your time. Deep breath. You can do this. Install an app that helps you read faster or check out an app that encourages you to pray every day. Or just put the dang phone down and play outside.
  3. Use a search engine that does not track your use and search history. For example, Qwant is a good alternative to Google, Bing, and all their siblings.
  4. Never, ever click on a recommended video, story, or post. This information only feeds the algorithms that are part of the manipulation process.
  5. Keep devices out of the bedroom after a certain time. This one is tough, especially if you have gotten rid of your home phone.
  6. Avoid screen time among children altogether. Our kids are older, but if I had to do it all over again, boy would I do it differently.
  7. Fact-check before sharing. No matter how interesting the story might be or how much you think your friends or family will like it.

The film got great reviews by those who understand the issues social media has created. It got criticized for being too simplistic and, of course, some social media companies panned it outright.

One this is for sure: it generated some great conversations in our household and a willingness by the children to at least talk about restrictions when it comes to devices and how we let them rule our lives.

It’s a long weekend. Think about spending some quality screen time together in front of a movie that will get you talking.

And, just maybe, hiding your phone.