Report from Louisiana: The Social Dilemma

By:  Pat Austin   

SHREVEPORT – Most of the time I feel like we are living in a dystopian universe.  If you watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix you might agree.  Absolutely terrifying.

Come sit in a high school classroom for any length of time and you’ll see the problem that is social media. In my school, the English teachers got together and decided to all take up phones before class each day. You put your phone in in the box before you enter class and they are returned at the end of class. Otherwise, I promise you, kids are staring at their phones and not doing their classwork. There are varying degrees of this truth depending on what school and how motivated the student population is in general.

The Social Dilemma docudrama makes the point that we have an entire generation of kids more anxious, more depressed than ever before due to social media. They are so bound up in that instant gratification from “Likes” and “Shares” that for so many their entire self-worth is connected to this. I see this daily.

This is a subject that has interested me for a long time; when Matt Richtel’s book, A Deadly Wandering, came out in 2014, I eagerly developed lessons around it, shared it with my students, and tried to reinforce its thesis, to no avail. Students thought it was crazy. It’s the “they aren’t taking to ME” syndrome: “I don’t have this problem.”

Social media is so insidious, so pervasive, so much a part of our lives, and we all know it. But we don’t stop. We are so absolutely dependent on it. It controls us.

Nearly everyone has had this experience, or something similar: you are driving by a store…say, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. You say out loud, “Oh, I need to go one day and get a new ladder!” What kind of ads show up on your social media feed next time you go online?

True story: I was outside one day with three friends. One person had a device around her neck with little fans at each end that blew air toward her face and she used this while gardening in our southern heat and humidity. Friend number two said something like, “Oh, that’s cool! Does it work well?” Friend no 1 assured her it worked great. End of conversation. I never uttered a word. What kind of ads were on my social media when I opened Facebook later that afternoon?  Why, ads for little fans you wear around your neck, of course.

Paranoid? Nope. This happens all the time.

Last week I saw one of those ads on Facebook for some shirt with a dragonfly design. I did not click on it. I did linger for a moment, looking at the photo. Now, dragonfly shirts are all over my feed.

This sort of thing is a tiny example of how social media controls and influences us. It is enough for me to want to pull a Travis McGee, unplug from everything, and go off the grid.

Now watch, Travis McGee books will be all over my feed.

Watch The Social Dilemma. It’s an eye opener.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

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