Boxing Clever: The Social Dilemma reeks of hysteria

The Social Dilemma is like the Magic Door on Bosco... if it was made by a three-year-old, using actors from Mad Men
Boxing Clever: The Social Dilemma reeks of hysteria

Skyler Gisondo in The Social Dilemma (Credit: Netflix)

One moment in The Social Dilemma (Netflix) made me sit up and shout . A guy is running through the list of effects that social media has on humans, when he got to ‘parents are too busy on their phones to spend time with their kids.’ I’d say this guy doesn’t have kids.

Here’s what would happen if I couldn’t check the latest transfer rumours for Manchester United because social media and smartphones didn’t exist. I’d pick up a book, or a newspaper, or an axe —  anything that parents have been doing down through the centuries to get a 10-minute break from their smallies.

In fairness, the whole point of The Social Dilemma is that this time, it’s different. It sets out to show how earlier distractions can’t compare with the addictive nature of social media, because sophisticated algorithms on platforms designed by outrageously wealthy tech companies are bound to overwhelm a human brain that has evolved to hunt deer in the woods. The point is illustrated by fictional inserts which look like they were made by the people behind Highway to Heaven. They star Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell in Mad Men) as an algorithm. It’s as bad as it sounds, not least because I’m worried that Vincent’s career might be on the slide, going from Mad Men to whatever this is.

Vincent’s algorithm spends its days trying to get a character called Ben to spend more time on a fictional social media platform that has a touch of Facebook about it. Ben’s sister persuades him to put away his phone (we’re actually more in Dawson’s Creek territory by now ), so Vincent’s algorithm goes nuclear and tells Ben that his ex has changed her status to ‘in a relationship'. Ben cracks, picks up his phone and a couple of clicks later, he’s a fascist. You couldn’t make this up, but that didn’t stop them. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it reminded me of the Magic Door on Bosco... if it was made by a three-year-old, using actors from Mad Men.

The publicity behind the Social Dilemma promises that you won’t feel safe letting your kids on social media, once you’ve watched it. Others have called it a horror film. I just think it reeks of hysteria. Yes, social media apps are way too addictive. But I bet you that’s what they said about books in the 15 th century, when readers were told they’d be better off listening to a ballad about cholera. It’s just messy progress.

It’s all science and history on DNA Caillte (TG4, Wednesday and TG4 Player). Presented by the always engaging Manchán Magan, it looks at how modern DNA analysis can cast a light on life in Ireland through the centuries.

Dr Lara Cassidy of Trinity College Dublin in DNA Caillte on TG4
Dr Lara Cassidy of Trinity College Dublin in DNA Caillte on TG4

The final episode on Wednesday

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