The Social Dilemma is the most popular movie on Netflix right now. And for good reason. The pandemic has sent us inside, and sat us down in front of our screens. Because we can’t be face-to-face, we are face-to-screen. And even when our screen use has the best intentions—education, connection with loved ones, productivity—the drawbacks of a life spent online persist. The Social Dilemma pushes us to realize the consequences of our technological addiction, and helps us to better understand a rapidly growing and changing electronic world.
In recent years, technology has evolved faster than our ability to understand its effects. The telephone was invented in 1876. Nearly one hundred years later, in 1973, the mobile phone was invented. The first “smartphone” came along in 1992. Facebook was launched in 2004, followed by the release of the first iPhone in 2007. In less than a decade, there were over a billion Facebook users. Now in 2020, there are 2.7 billion active Facebook users, and more than 5 billion people with mobile devices.
In a historical blink-of-an-eye, these remarkably new innovations have permeated our global culture, finding their way into the hands of people of all ages, throughout the world.
As information technology, social media, and algorithm-curated internet experiences become more pervasive in our society, we are scrambling to understand what they are doing to our culture, our relationships, and our minds. Early results are disheartening. Average time spent on screens has ballooned. Social media use and screen time have been shown to have a positive relationship with a range of behavioral problems, mood disorders and mental illnesses. Our screens are programmed to exploit our own psychology, addicting us by tapping into our brain’s rewards center much like drugs, alcohol or gambling. In fact the language used to talk about social media is beginning to more closely align with that used to describe other types of addiction. This much is clear: it is in our best interest to shake free from the hold these technologies have on us.
“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations… So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.”
-Jaron Lainer, The Social Dilemma
In light of what we are realizing about the effects of our technology addiction, there is no better time for kids to go to camp. Now, distance learning and social distancing loom over the lives of young people. Relationships and interpersonal communication are being forced into the virtual world, so for our youth to fill the vital need for community, they must do so through the same technology that is making us so sick.
A summer at camp remedies this. No longer are relationships based online, or social lives dependent on constant electronic contact. At camp an entire community exists technology-free. To see your best friend, you walk down to Bear Paw Court. To make plans for the evening, you chat with your group on the deck of Knutson Hall. To be able to joke and laugh together, you spend an evening fishing at Buck Lake. Camp is inclusivity. Camp is direct human-to-human communication. Camp is relationships. Camp is having a group of friends that you will be able to see daily, in person, without arranging plans ahead of time. Camp lifts the weight of our tech-dominated lives off of our shoulders and lets us breathe.