Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. Directed by Regan Brashear. Beacon, NY: New Day Films, 2013. 60 minutes.

The Social Dilemma. Directed by Jeff Orlowski. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix, 2020. 94 minutes.

Reviewed by Dennis M. Weiss

In Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, James Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, observes that it’s not possible to separate technology from our being human. “We are homo fabricus. We are the toolmakers,” he says (35:44). Tristan Harris, cofounder and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology and featured in The Social Dilemma, agrees, observing that in the future, our technology is going to be more integrated into our lives, not less. They disagree, however, on what technology represents to humanity. Hughes advocates for the rights of individuals to use technology to enhance their bodies and minds. Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, argues that technology is creating outrage, incivility, loneliness, alienation, and polarization, among other evils.

Is technology creating opportunities for enhancement and enrichment? Or is it an existential threat? Fixed and The Social Dilemma tackle similar topics but offer decidedly different responses to these important questions, while largely ignoring issues related to gender that might be central to the feminist classroom.

Fixed focuses on biotechnology and cybernetics and examines how emerging technologies are related to human enhancement and our understanding of disability. The Social Dilemma focuses largely on social media and the use of algorithms by companies such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube. While both heavily feature a “talking heads” approach to documentary filmmaking, in different ways they play with the form of the genre. Fixed intercuts segments that feature a variety of positions on human enhancement and ableism with striking and dramatic dance sequences, many involving disabled individuals. The Social Dilemma dramatizes concerns associated with social media by focusing on a mixed-race suburban family’s challenges dealing with social media addiction, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction in concerning ways.

While gender is often marginalized in discussions of technology, feminist technologies studies emphasizes that this set of tools—as sociotechnical products—is neither neutral nor determining, and there is a mutually shaping relationship between gender and technology such that “technology itself cannot be fully understood without reference to gender” (Cockburn 1992, 32). From this perspective, both Fixed and The Social Dilemma are problematic for the feminist classroom. Fixed is the more successful of the two, featuring a variety of perspectives that will likely provoke lively debate. In its structure, it often highlights fundamental disagreements over the meaning of human enhancement and disability and leaves it up to viewers to reach their own conclusions. For instance, the film explores the work of Hugh Herr, a double amputee and engineer at MIT’s Media Lab who argues that biomechanical prostheses challenge our conception of what human bodies can do and extend what’s possible for disabled people. At the same time, it features disability rights scholars such as Patty Berne and Sujatha Jesudason, who call attention to the history of discrimination and eugenics and the role of socioeconomic inequality in shaping how we understand disability. Therefore, although Fixed provides a good and balanced entry point into discussions of human enhancement and disability studies, I recommend supplementing it with discussions of how gender (among other identity categories) shapes and is potentially reshaped by these technological developments (Wajcman 2000; Faulkner 2001; Bray 2007).

Less balanced than Fixed, The Social Dilemma is relentless and one-sided in its critique of social media. The documentary implies that social media exerts an almost inexorable force on our lives, eschewing a more complex analysis of the ways that technology imposes control but is not a fully deterministic force. As Harris observes, social media seduces you: “It’s manipulating you. It wants things from you. . . . It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them” (30:36). The documentary repeatedly refers to our “addiction” to social media while presenting as its sole evidence the testimony of Dr. Anna Lembke, the author of Dopamine Nation (2023). Despite the evidence subsequently presented as part of the Wall Street Journal’s investigation “The Facebook Files,” showing that Instagram can be harmful for young users, especially teen girls, the documentary attends only very minimally to gender (Wells, Horowitz, and Seetharaman 2021). What few recommendations it offers for addressing the problems it identifies are presented in the final minutes of the film while the credits are rolling.

Both films serve as interesting and provocative entry points into the increasingly complicated ways technology mediates contemporary life along with additional resources on their associated websites.1 However, I recommend assigning representative feminist texts to facilitate more nuanced and critical discussions about the co-shaping of gender and technology (Wajcman 2000; Faulkner 2001; Bray 2007).

Works Cited

Bray, Francesca. 2007. “Gender and Technology.” Annual Review of Anthropology 36: 37-53.

Cockburn, Cynthia. 1992. “The Circuit of Technology: Gender, Identity, and Power.” In Consuming Technologies: Media and Information in Domestic Spaces, edited by Roger Silverstone and Eric Hirsch, 32-47. London: Routledge.

Faulkner, Wendy. 2001.“The Technology Question in Feminism: A View from Feminist Technology Studies.” Women’s Studies International Forum 24, no. 1. (January-February): 79-95.

Lembke, Anna. 2023. Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. New York: Penguin Random House.

Wajcman, Judy. 2000. “Reflections on Gender and Technology Studies: In What State Is the Art?” Social Studies of Science 30, no. 3. (June): 447-64.

Wells, Georgia, Jeff Horwitz, and Deepa Seetharaman. 2021. “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show.” Wall Street Journal, September 14.

1The Social Dilemma has resources on its “Take Action,” “The Dilemma,” and “The Tour” pages; see also the “For Educators” page on the Fixed website.

Dennis M. Weiss ( is a professor of philosophy at York College of Pennsylvania specializing in contemporary trends in philosophy of technology and media, posthumanism, and cultural studies. He is the editor of Interpreting Man and coeditor of and contributor to Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman, and has published essays exploring the intersection of philosophy, technology, and science fiction. His monograph, Designing the Domestic Posthuman, coauthored with Dr. Colbey Reid, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury Press.