Have smartphones and social media created a generation of self-obsessed egomaniacs?
Absolutely not, Donna Freitas argues in this provocative book. And, she says, these alarmist fears are drawing attention away from the real issues that young adults are facing.
Drawing on a large-scale survey and interviews with students on thirteen college campuses, Freitas finds that what young people are overwhelmingly concerned with--what they really want to talk about--is happiness. They face enormous pressure to look perfect online--not just happy, but blissful, ecstatic, and fabulously successful. Unable to achieve this impossible standard, they are anxious about letting the less-than-perfect parts of themselves become public. Far from wanting to share everything, they are brutally selective when it comes to curating their personal profiles, and worry obsessively that they might unwittingly post something that could come back to haunt them later in life. Through candid conversations with young people from diverse backgrounds, Freitas reveals how even the most well-adjusted individuals can be stricken by self-doubt when they compare their experiences with the vast collective utopia that they see online. And sometimes, as on anonymous platforms like Yik Yak, what they see instead is a depressing cesspool of racism and misogyny. Yet young people are also extremely attached to their smartphones and apps, which sometimes bring them great pleasure. It is very much a love-hate relationship.
While much of the public's attention has been focused on headline-grabbing stories, the everyday struggles and joys of young people have remained under the radar. Freitas brings their feelings to the fore, in the words of young people themselves. The Happiness Effect is an eye-opening window into their first-hand experiences of social media and its impact on them.
Huge thanks to Oxford University Press for provding an e-ARC via NetGalley.
I knew I had to read this book as soon as I set my eyes on it for two reasons. One, I've always been fascinated by social media and how it affects us for better or for worse, and two, at the time this book went up on NetGalley I had already started thinking of my research for my final year at uni and this seemed to be a good starting point to dig deeper into something I've always been interested in. In fact, I even did a project in high school loosely based on how technology affects kids of this generation where I explored the effects of social media too. So once I set my eyes on this there was no way I'd have let this pass, and when I got approved to read and review this book on NetGalley, I was over the moon.
However, due to TBR problems and what not, I couldn't get to this as soon as I would have liked, and I've been quite caught up with lots of things these days and me picking this book up got delayed and delayed until early this week when I realized it was high time I read it. Even though my research topic for uni ultimately changed to something else, I still was incredibly excited to delve into this.
In The Happiness Effect, Donna Freitas draws attention to what's most important when it comes to social media- the real issues faced by those using them. Not the attention-grabbing, clickbait-worthy headlines propagated on a daily basis. The author sheds light on all sorts of issues faced by young adults in this book, backing everything with research done on students of college campuses. While this research is based on the US, it's largely relevant to anyone and everyone who finds their time consumed by social media. This book provides enough food for thought that you'd find yourself questioning everything you do on social media and thinking about how you're unwittingly letting it all affect you in ways you never imagined.
This research has brought forth something very interesting indeed: the importance of appearing happy on social media. The "happiness effect" that's mentioned in the title is what the author describes as the tendency of people, especially students in this case, to become masters of appearing happy, at significant cost. Social media has produced a world where everyone feels pressurized to present the best virtual presentations of themselves, oft obsessively, in a quest to be "Liked." The author has presented various point of views of students and how they feel social media has made them behave online, and it's quite very surprising to note that many actually do feel they have been made to put up facades to convince their "audiences" that all is always well. In the words of one of the students,
"People share the best version of themselves, and we compare that to the worst version of ourselves."
How true this is! This is something I've noticed on a personal level, and however aware I am of it, I still haven't been able to resist comparing myself to what I see online at times. It was incredibly fascinating to read about various students and their individual struggles dealing with this on a daily basis. The author notes a significant common theme in most social media users: the need for one to carefully craft, cultivate, and curate public profiles at all times. The author has also done a great job at explaining how the pressure to appear happy all the time can even warp how students see themselves, as successes or failures.
Various other topics are explored, including but not limited to, the professionalization of Facebook, "the Selfie Generation", expressing religious and political views online and the effect of religiousness on social media usage, racism and misogyny on social media, sexting and the hookup culture, anonymity, bullying, and smartphones. The author also talks to students on how and why they take timeouts from social media and how this helps them, and ultimately provides tips and suggestions on how we can step back and rethink about the effect social media has on our capacity to be vulnerable. In this gem of a book, Donna Freitas manages to present to us an unbiased look at how social media has changed all our lives to a great extent in such a small span of time, and it's definitely a must-read for all of us who spend a significant amount of our time online.