Your likes, passions and habits are best known by people you've never met. They have the power to read your mind, mold your thoughts, and determine where you spend your hard-earned dollars. They're the capitalistic kings of the new digital age - the online persuaders - and they're the subject of the new documentary What Makes You Click from the renowned VPRO Backlight series.
Every day, billions of people around the globe are transfixed by their computers, tablets and smart phones. All the while, their online behaviors are being monitored, studied, and interpreted for the benefit of hugely profitable business interests. Consumerism is no longer driven by roadside billboards and 30 second television advertisements. Every click of the mouse can help to determine your next purchase, shape the cultural perception of an important issue, occupy every moment of our free time, direct social discourse, or even influence the outcome of a presidential election.
Our addiction to technology may seem benign on the surface, but it can ultimately spell disaster for the tenants of humanity we hold most dear. Free will, if it exists, could buckle under the pressure of unfettered corporate manipulation, and the notion of privacy could become nothing more than a pipe dream.
How much power is too much? Just ask the architects who operate behind the cyber curtain. Throughout the course of the film, several of these mystery figures speak about the dangers inherent in their chosen field of work, and express a need to be bounded by greater oversight and stricter regulations. In their arena, online users aren't viewed in humanistic terms; they're merely numbers on a spreadsheet that must be programmed to bend to the will of corporate interests. Ethical boundaries can easily be crossed when influencers are allowed to operate with such complete anonymity and omniscience. The desires of a few can come to define the future of millions.
What Makes You Click is both a fascinating psychological study and a gripping cautionary tale. The filmmakers navigate these uncharted new realities from an informed and probing point of view, and introduce a series of dilemmas our society is likely to grapple with for many years to come.