Author: emmaashleighsmith

A first year Journalist.

The Social Dilemma

In the end of my last post I discussed how the themes of technology within the film ‘India in a Day’ made me realise that while technology can empower individuals, it is a powerful tool that can also become addictive and damaging. 

In his Social Transactions chapter, Athique explains that page views, click trails, followers, recommendations and likes have all emerged as effective currencies of social capital in the digital domain. This is very much the norm today and an idea that we are all very familiar with as technology users – but does it come at a cost?

Research proves that social media can damage your mental health through rewiring your brain with instant gratification. When you start getting social media notifications, your brain provides you with a hit of dopamine (a chemical in your brain that’s associated with pleasure and reward systems) and makes you feel good. When social media notifications keep coming in at a fast pace, your brain gets trained to expect instant gratification. It then becomes easy to get stuck in a cycle of chasing more highs and constantly refreshing your feed. 

The millennial generation definitely feel this pull of instant gratification intensely. We are slowly becoming conditioned to have less and less patience and chase short term highs. I have scarily noticed this pull at times. Recently, I had a lot of uni work to do and kept getting distracted by my phone so I turned it off and put it in another room. As I was working, I noticed my hand impulsively reaching to my side to pick up my phone that wasn’t even there, when I hadn’t even had a conscious thought or need to grab it. I was horrified, it was almost like muscle memory was kicking in. ‘What power does this bloody device hold over me?’ I thought. 

The documentary The Social Dilemma (2020) focuses on the dangerous impact of social networking, which Big Tech use to manipulate and influence. In the film, employees who created certain social media tools even admit they did

A harrowing quote that stood out to me was from Jaron Lainer who is a computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer. He said “We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. 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.”

What have I learnt? Consume with caution. 


Athique, Adrian (2019). Digital Transactions in Asia. Digital Transactions in Asia: Social, Economic and Informational Processes. (pp. 1-22) edited by Adrian Athique and Emma Baulch. New York, NY United States: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9780429425110-1 

Brain Forest Centres 2018, Social Media and Mental Health, Brain Enhancement and Training, available at: <,expect%20instant%20gratification%20from%20notifications>. 
The Social Dilemma 2020, Available at: <>.

India In a Day

The film ‘India in a Day’ (2016) is a crowdsourced documentary directed by Richie Mehta which shows footage shot by millions of people in India on October 10th, 2015. The vlog style film aims to create a snapshot of the country through the varied lived experiences of its citizens. 

Out of all the film’s we have watched this session, India in a Day was my favourite. The quick, montage style of the film was so engaging. What stood out to me the most was the confronting reality of the stark contrast between certain lifestyles in India. The footage showed some people spent their days farming on their peaceful, private land, some wealthy people spent their mornings doing yoga in the park, while many were living in cramped slums and navigating the crowded, polluted city. 

The film showcases the role Technology has played in transforming communities in India, and celebrates the spread of internet access and wi-fi coverage. After all – as an audience we were only able to connect with the people in India thanks to mobile phones and the internet, which made the 16,000 submissions possible. 

The contrast in lifestyles is seen again in the film however, through the disparity in access to technology. Some people in India are still using an ox and cart for transportation, while there are tuk tuk drivers with high tech modifications that support phone chargers and wifi for passengers. Mind blowing!

One participant in the film is talking about how he has to farm his land the old school way without access to weather reports via the internet and says “this generation does not want to do this kind of work. This generation wants immediate results.” 

This really struck a chord with me – not to generalise an entire generation, but with access to the world at our fingertips, you can’t deny that our generation is addicted to instant gratification. 

This made me start to think; while technology can empower individuals, it is a powerful tool that can also become addictive and damaging. 


Hunter. A 2016, ‘India In A Day: Sheffield Doc/Fest Review,’ [online] Screen Daily, Available at: <>. 


Film: AlphaGo (Greg Kohls, 2017).

Electronic Sports is a Booming Global Industry which has transformed the realm of online gaming into a spectator sport (Chapman 2018). Over 380 million people watch Esports worldwide both online, and in person (Chapman 2018).  

‘Go’ is a two-player abstract, strategic board game that was invented in China more than 2,500 years ago. It is believed to be one of the oldest board games continuously played to this day. Like many old school games, with the rise of the internet, Go transitioned to an online computer program. Deepmind Technologies created a platform where players can compete virtually with artificial intelligence. 

Greg Kohl’s 2017 documentary, Alphago explores how the Artificial Intelligence Program AlphaGo eventually defeated one of the world champion Go players, Lee Sedol in 2016. 

I found this viewing to be mind blowing! It’s hard for me to even comprehend that initially the computer program was smart enough to play at the level of human amateurs considering the complex and technical nature of the game. According to Deepmind, there are an astonishing 10 to the power of 170 possible board configurations – more than the number of atoms in the known universe (DeepMind 2018). 

Not to mention how impossible it is to comprehend that AlphaGo eventually became the best Go player of all time. I enjoyed hearing about the actual science of how Artificial Intelligence was trained to play Go. AlphaGo was introduced to amateur games to develop an understanding of human play. It then played against versions of itself thousands of times, each time learning from it’s mistakes. 

I can barely fathom that in this gaming instance, AI was smarter than a human… yet humans created the AI in the first place. This viewing really prompted me to think about some of the ethical issues of AI, not just in gaming, but also in general. According to the World Economic Forum, human dominance and humans being at the top of the food chain is almost entirely due to our intelligence. Our ability to create and use tools to control bigger, faster, stronger animals is what makes us superior. Which begs the question; will artificial intelligence one day, have the same grip over us? If this does happen, “we can’t rely on just ‘pulling the plug’ either, because a sufficiently advanced machine may anticipate this move and defend itself” (World Economic Forum 2016). 

It seems it’s a very real possibility that one day human beings might not be the smartest beings on earth. SCARY!


DeepMind, (2018). AlphaGo. Available at:

World Economic Forum (2016) Available at:

Chapman (2018) Available at:

People’s Republic of Desire Week 1

Film: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018).

The film ‘People’s Republic of Desire’ directed by Hao Wu, explores the popular digital universe of live streaming in China. The documentary follows the journey of three young performers who earn as much as $150,000 per month by entertaining millions of people on the online platform ‘YY,’  through talk shows, singing or dancing. An annual competition is held to see who is the #1 creator and fans must vote for their favourite host by donating money. 

According to the China Network Performance Industry Associations 2020 Report, 617 million people were using live streaming platforms in China, accounting for 62.4% of all internet users in China. Furthermore the number of live streamers exceeded 130 million. The online streaming platforms seem to provide an opportunity for Chinese migrants and the working class to acquire money and stardom. The report also showed that online celebrities are idolised in China so much, that some live streamers have resorted to streaming vulgar content such as burglaries and sex acts, in a bid to capture the attention of more viewers. 

I found this documentary really interesting, as I had no idea that online streaming platforms were so popular in China. The film follows the journey of three hosts – a comedian, a singer and a migrant worker, who are all trying to earn an income to support their families.  However a common theme stood out to me, the hosts were all seeking human connection and validation and were exhausted after being subject to so much scrutiny and abuse in the public eye. I found this a good reminder that money can’t buy happiness. Host Shen May says “I feel disconnected from society. I don’t go out, or even see the sun. All I know is how to make money.” It also seems that the hosts measure their self esteem based on how popular they are as a livestreamer. Li says “People say I have nothing to prove. But I need this #1 to prove to myself, for that recognition. I don’t have any other dreams.”

Ultimately, live streaming platforms are a form of social transaction which has revolutionised the way that people interact and earn money online. However, the commodification of communication also has negative implications as seen through the documentary, such as public scrutiny, mental health issues, and hosts feeling disconnected from society and reality; which is ironically the opposite of what the platforms seek to do. 


Athique, Adrian (2019). Digital Transactions in Asia. Digital Transactions in Asia: Social , Economic and Informational Processes. (pp. 1-22) edited by Adrian Athique and Emma Baulch. New York, NY United States: Routledge

Global Times 2021, ‘China’s livestreaming industry boomed in 2020, says report,’ The Global Times, 19th May, viewed 1 August 2021, <>.