Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski Discusses The Social Dilemma

Two-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jeff Orlowski joined the Loomis Chaffee community virtually to discuss his latest film, The Social Dilemma, and the consequences of people’s growing dependence on social media.

Students discussed themes from the film and the webinar in advisory groups on Thursday, February 25.

Mr. Orlowski is the founder of the production company Exposure Labs. He served as director, producer, and cinematographer of the Sundance Award-winning films Chasing Ice and Chasing CoralThe Social Dilemma premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is now streaming on Netflix.

Joined by Dean of Student Life Jess Matzkin and Scott MacClintic '82, director of innovation in Loomis' Pearse Hub for Innovation (PHI), the discussion with Mr. Orlowski began with the same initial question asked of subjects in The Social Dilemma: "What is the problem?"

"The biggest problem is that we've now created technology that is affecting society at scale," Mr. Orlowski replied.

From the impact on teenage mental health to political polarization, The Social Dilemma reveals the broad spectrum of consequences that stem from the use of social media.

Mr. Orlowski explained that tech companies have turned the social platforms they provide for free into trillion-dollar industries by manipulating the public, providing little transparency or clarity on their tactics. Though the public has been unaware of these tactics for a long time, he feels that people are beginning to wake up and recognize the misalignment between these companies and the public good.

When asked how living in a pandemic has affected people’s relationships with social media, Mr. Orlowski expressed concern about the negative consequences of spending more time on platforms that feed their business models by convincing users to provide and consume content.

He described the harmful effects of scrolling through Instagram and constantly comparing yourself to friends and cautioned that “doom-scrolling” through Twitter can lead someone to feel more and more depressed about the state of the world. He also noted the alienating effects of wide-spread “fake news."

While he understands that people could be gaining meaningful connection and comfort from social media during these difficult times, Mr. Orlowski encouraged the community to find solace away from social media platforms and look for ways to cultivate real human connections, removing themselves from of the algorithmically-driven ones.

"What does social connection and social media look like when not built around an arbitrary financial business model?" Mr. Orlowski asked. He said he wants to challenge what people think they get from social media platforms.

The filmmaker also encouraged students to study the ethics and morality of technology and advised students to challenge big tech companies and ask tough questions when scouting for jobs. He reminded students that Facebook was created from a college dorm room. "You can start building something today, something out of the box, something that you actually need and want to use," he said.

Looking to the future, Mr. Orlowski is hopeful for humanity if we change the way social media exists and operates in our lives. He invited the community to explore additional resources at The Social Dilemma’s official website.

For more about Mr. Orlowski's work, connect to his professional website.

Mr. Orlowski's visit was part of the Hubbard Speakers Series, made possible by a gift from Robert P. Hubbard ’47.