THE STORY – Tech experts sound the alarm on the dangerous human impact of social networking.
THE CAST – Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward & Vincent Kartheiser
THE TEAM – Jeff Orlowski (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes
By Josh Parham
As the world grows more complex and interconnected, so too does our relationship with technology. Many have observed both its benevolent and corrupt nature and how its influence is one that should be both valued and cautioned. Such examinations have been seen before, and “The Social Dilemma” aims to dive even deeper into just how the mechanizations to keep us plugged into these networks operate and why they are so influential. It’s an intriguing documentary that paints a striking portrait of the online era.
The commentary at the center concerns the ever-growing nature of how social networks have encroached into our lives and have become dangerously prolific. The examination brought forth dissects the intricate process that sophisticated algorithms use to specifically tailor the experience on these platforms to each user. However, the purpose is not benevolent, and great detail is shown regarding how these activities, meant to harvest data for advertisers, lay paths into dangerous communities that only fester in their toxicity. All of this is played against a series of narrative segments with actors playing out scenarios that mimic the observations made and further showcase the harmful effects that reveal themselves when these systems are left unchecked.
There’s some strong filmmaking on display that makes everything featured here feel dynamic and energetic. Director Jeff Orlowski makes competent choices that bring an engaging presence to the talking head interviews that makes their testimonials all that more interesting. It’s easy for one to become enveloped in this cautionary tale of just how easy technology has delivered us in the hands of insidious forces, ones that manipulate our opinions and morph our personalities into treacherous addictions. There’s an intriguing psychological exploration here that’s fascinating to uncover. It takes a skilled hand to make a series of interviews with tech industry professionals not come across as laborious, but Orlowski finds creative ways to keep these moments compelling.
Another method implemented in an attempt to make the storytelling alluring is the use of staged sequences with professional actors. These moments aren’t there to be appreciated for the performances or storytelling, but rather, to act out a hypothetical should the control of social media on our lives remain unchecked. The transition to these scenes is rather clunky, but they are well executed in the beginning. There are even moments when the acting is impressive from some members of the cast. One is always aware of the purpose of these sections, and even at their most impressive, it doesn’t surpass the engagement of the real-life analysis. Still, there’s enough to appreciate on the surface.
However, it doesn’t take long for these tangents to feel unwarranted, and their purpose of illumination comes across as unnecessary. Eventually, these scenes devolve into obvious analogies that are lazily executed and end up coming across as quite tedious. It’s a shame that much of the interest that was established earlier completely deflates by the end. These scenes just end up being distractions from the main thematic takeaways, despite some impressive craft on display. The result just becomes quite lackluster. Taken as a whole, these sequences are nowhere near as effective as the more traditional documentary portions of the film.
“The Social Dilemma” is quite captivating in the way it portrays a complicated online landscape that so easily creates an environment that plays on fears and insecurities to an unwarranted end. In truth, there isn’t a lot of optimism offered here, but it’s a sobering reality that discusses some fascinating points. Much of this documentary is incredibly effective at making these discussions invigorating and insightful without feeling banal and tiresome. All of that is accomplished despite a gimmick of scripted sequences that soon wear out their welcome. No doubt this won’t be the last piece of media to discuss the dangers of social networks, but this one is still worthy to be sought out.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A fascinating and sobering examination into the manipulative world of social networks and their methods of control and manipulation. The interviews feel dynamic and engaging. Strong filmmaking choices are present throughout the film.
THE BAD – The scripted segments grow tiresome after a certain point, becoming tedious and a great distraction from the more interesting real-world commentary.
THE OSCARS – None