Connecting Yet Controlling… What is AI Doing to You?
Social media, AI, notifications, email, likes, comments, and more consume our daily lives, but do we even know it? The Social Dilemma brings forward the idea that our digital media habits may not be as driven by our own thoughts as we may think. Your Instagram and Facebook feeds know exactly what post to put next to keep you scrolling and before you even finish your current video, YouTube has suggested exactly what you wanted to watch next. AI sucks us in for hours and when we choose to put it down a new notification pulls our attention back once again. Kids are getting phones, social media, and the responsibilities that come along with them younger and younger these days. Has technology been controlling you too?
The Social Dilemma includes the story of Isla, a young girl who has recently gotten a smart phone. She breaks a locked Tupperware to gain possession of her phone, she runs to her room to take selfies. After posting one, she receives plenty of positive comments but the one that sticks out to her is a negative one about her ears. At a young age social media has distorted her view of herself from one hateful comment. She had also taken plenty of selfies that she deleted because they weren’t deemed “Insta worthy.” I, myself have deleted hundreds if not thousands of pictures that didn’t meet my high standards of what I should look like online.
Like Isla, I have also received negative comments on social media before and it does distort your view of yourself. While my personal account is set to private and friends/family are always kind, I also have a niche Instagram account that is public. The goal for this account was to grow and get reach, but with that comes some hate. I can’t control who the algorithm or AI shows my latest reel to, and this allows people with negativity to comment. When I started the account, I made the rule that anything with offensive language or negativity directly towards me would be deleted. One reason I made this rule was to keep my content friendly for everyone, people shouldn’t have to see offensive language on a light hearted Disney post. The main reason I did this was because I didn’t want these negative comments distorting my view of myself or my view of my love for Disney. If I chose to delete the comment it may bother me for the rest of the day but it wouldn’t be staring back at me every time I looked at the post. Doing this helps to minimize the distortion that social media can cause.
This made me think a lot about how AI is promoting negativity. In the documentary, the AI controlling Ben kept saying, well that prompted engagement, so we will show him more of that. So, that hater who stopped to comment on my Disney post is now going to be served more Disney content to hate on because they took the time to engage. Now this hater has the opportunity to spread more negativity and hate because the AI saw engagement. The negative comment not only distorted the reality of the original post, but it also affected what the commentor is going to see next as they scroll. AI is great at keeping you on the phone and getting engagement, but sometimes at the cost of spreading negativity.
One moment that stood out to me was when the family sat down to eat dinner without their phones for the first time and it ended in pure chaos. I didn’t have a phone till I was in sixth grade, and it was a tiny flip phone that could only make phone calls. As I got older, my parents upgraded the phone to a keyboard and texting, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I received my first smart phone. The main rule from the first phone on was that it never came anywhere near the dinner table, or I would never see it again. This was actually something I struggled with when I first went to college. As many of my friends ate dinner with one hand and scrolled through their social media with the other, I struggled with what to do. Dinner had always been my time away from my phone and to connect with those around me, but it quickly became clear that if I wanted to fit in, I was going to be using my phone at dinner.
Many times, when we would go out to a restaurant, we would challenge each other to place our phones in a pile in the middle of the table and the first one to take their phone back had to pay for the table. While no one had to go to the extreme measures that Isla did to get her phone back, I could tell some of my friends were lost without their devices. We would also place the phones face up so people could see when they got notifications to tempt them into taking their phone back. This moment of the film resonated with me because it is so interesting to see the power a notification has. One bing of a phone and two of the three kids couldn’t concentrate till they knew what it was. This made me think of the many times one of my friends would get a notification and beg the rest of the table to have their phone back without having to pay the tab. They were so concerned that so and so had texted them or that X person was expecting a snap back or they would move on.
Many of us may think our technology does not have power over us, but no matter how strong our willpower is the most sophisticated AI to date is sure to get the best of us. There are ways to develop healthy relationships with technology though. Forbes gives a list of the best ways to build a healthy relationship with technology.
· Limit phone time
· Collect yourself before using your phone or laptop
· Schedule your income emails with an app, if possible
· Take breaks and step away from technology every few hours
By recognizing the control technology has over us we are able to take steps to make a healthier relationship. To help limit screen time Panda MediaCenter suggests adding screen limits to certain apps or the phone in general. You need to start by tracking your screen time habits, this allows you to see where you are spending your screen time. You can then go in and add limits to apps you may be spending too much time on. For example, you may be spending six plus hours on Instagram when you only want to spend two hours scrolling. The Panda Dome Family also has protection software available to where you can block apps, restrict usage to prevent addictions, limit internet access between specific hours, and other parental controls. Restricting these areas can help you have better relationships with technology, but it also helps kids create better relationships with technology.
While I would love to think I could go a full 24 hours without my phone, I honestly do not think I could do it. Beside the fact I need it for dual authentication purposes for schoolwork and emails, I think the social stigma for not having a phone would be the hardest for me. If I was just sitting at home, I don’t think it would be as much of an issue, but if I was waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for my friend to arrive at a restaurant, I would not be able to go without. Sitting or standing alone doing essentially nothing in a public space is very uncomfortable for me and I have come to use my phone as a distraction.
Sitting at home alone I think I would do much better without my phone, although there is one notification that would get me every time, and it’s not what most people would think. It’s not Instagram, Twitter, a text message, or email, but if a notification from Canvas pops up, I must look immediately. While I could probably get around using my phone by getting on my computer, it would still force me onto technology. I have to look when I see a Canvas notification. I start to panic, what if it’s a grade, what if I failed, what if I ruined my semester with one assignment, and like the kids at dinner after the phone buzzed, I cannot focus until I look at the Canvas notification.
Seeing the crazy and sneaky ways AI controls us is very eye opening, and kind of scary. It makes you think twice about, if I’m doing this because I want to or because it’s what the AI wants from me. I go back and forth with my thoughts on this. While I don’t like that they have power over how long I scroll, I do like the personalized content. I would rather see things that interest me, but that is also what keeps me scrolling. I think this is where the app time limits or pure willpower come into play, to stop the scroll and put the phone down. So, while your phone may be connecting you to friends, family, work, and countless other opportunities, it is also controlling your next move. The Social Dilemma really makes you stop and ask yourself, what is AI doing to me?