The Social Dilemma: A documentary that will radicalize your view of technology 


Graphic by Julia Pohl

Whitney Hacker

“We’ve moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation-based technology environment.” -Tristan Harris 

You wake up to the horrid sound of your blaring alarm. You sluggishly roll over to turn it off, and it’s time to start your day. What’s the next thing you do? I promise you, just like me and many others, you go straight for your phone.  

In late January 2020, at the start of the global Coronavirus pandemic, Netflix released their hit documentary The Social Dilemma directed by Jeff Orlowski. The documentary/drama shows former employees from some of the biggest tech and social media companies unraveling the manipulation, addiction, and control our devices have over us.

Tristan Harris, the president and co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology and former Google design ethicist says in the documentary:

“Never before in history have 50 designers, 20- to 35-year-old white guys in California, made decisions that would have an impact on 2 billion people.”

I want you to do something for me, because you may not even be aware of how much time you are spending on your phone.

If you have a cell phone, go to settings and search “screen time.” It will show you every app and how much time a day you are spending on it. And just like it did me, it will shock you. 

But it’s not all your fault. As the documentary continues, you find that all social media and tech companies are all competing for your time and your engagement.

They don’t want you to go out and have a rich life, full of happiness and enjoyment. They want you bored, isolated, sad, and scrolling through TikTok.

Their whole job is to get you addicted to your phone, so their engagement is up and making them more money. 


“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”   -Edward Tufte


When I first watched the documentary, I was baffled. I started to pay more attention to how much I was on my phone, and my usage of social media.

I realized I was insanely addicted to my devices. I slowed down my usage, and deleted most of my social media.

Many people I knew had watched the documentary and we all agreed it was time for a change. It was ranked number 2 for most watched documentaries on Netflix for January.

The New York Times even wrote a review of the documentary called Unplug and Run, urging everyone to take a break from social media. It felt like change was going to happen. 

And then, nothing.

Everyone including myself forgot everything about that documentary.

I re-downloaded some of my social media and my screen time went up, and once again, I felt myself in the endless void of the Instagram explore page, wasting hours on end. 

Until my Sociology teacher here at GRC, Carrie Reeder, showed us this documentary for a lesson on social media and its impacts on our society. 

I re-watched it, and this time it was different.

I remembered all of the reasons I deleted my social media and how good it felt to be free.

It was hard at first, but I remembered how good it felt to get out and live life without being tied to a screen. 

And now I’m here, trying to make a difference in you, the readers. I urge you to take the hour and twenty-four minutes out of your day to watch this documentary.

I‘m not saying social media is the devil, or you should delete all of your social media right this second; I’m just saying we shouldn’t be as addicted to it as we are. 

What I have done is set a time of day, an hour or so, where all my devices are put away. I read, go outside, play with my dog, anything that is not on a screen.

I will spend time with my family, with no electronics at the dinner table.

I started finding myself looking forward to this time of day. I spend less and less time on my phone, and more time living life. I am happier.

It is a breath of fresh air to not spend hours comparing myself to people’s ‘perfect’ lives they display on social media.  

I promise you, if you decide to watch The Social Dilemma, you will not be disappointed.


“Nothing vast enters the world of mortals without a curse.”  -Sophocles


To watch the trailer for The Social Dilemma or learn more about the statistics of social media usage, CLICK HERE.