Sexting. Cyberbullying. Narcissism. Social media has become the dominant force in young people’s lives, and each day seems to bring another shocking tale of private pictures getting into the wrong hands, or a lament that young people feel compelled to share their each and every thought with the entire world. 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.
Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!
Social media is all around us, whether we like it or not. No matter where you go, you will see people constantly checking their phones, taking selfies, or updating their Facebook status. I am one of those people who have spent a few minutes looking at my feed and thinking, “Everyone looks so happy – what am I doing wrong?”
I’m doing nothing wrong. I’m of a generation where I don’t feel pressure to put on a happy face to my peers. I don’t worry about what a potential employer might think of me, based on my social media output. For a change, I feel happy to not be a college student or a Millennial. The pressure (both internal and external) that this generation is under is immense. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to truly “be yourself” – because the whole world is watching.
The author interviewed a wide sampling of college students around the United States and put together their thoughts in this thought provoking book. Most of the interviewees spoke of selecting the best moments to share on FB, while saving the gossip and melancholy thoughts for sites that encourage anonymous postings. I learned about a site called Yik Yak, where there are no identities, and no boundaries. I also learned that when some students took a self-imposed “holiday” from their cellphones, it was like a vacation. They spoke of truly being in the moment, rather than recording it for their wall.
There was a chapter on relationships, and how students felt about hookup sites like Tinder. In an interesting juxtaposition to this theory by Simon Sinek (click here for video), Freitas notes that college students are very capable of socializing and meeting people, having complete and meaningful conversations with each other, and being empathetic. When they are around their friends, they don’t become awkward and seek to lose themselves in technology; they interact and communicate like any other generation. Sinek, on the other hand, claims that Millennials and future generations will be unable to communicate face to face, due to their smartphone addiction.
For me, the best part of the book was the last 2 chapters, where the author fleshes out her theories and explains her thought process. I support her suggestions of wi-fi free zones, and professors requiring a basket for cellphone “parking” during classes. I also applauded the inclusion of different races and religions, providing needed diversity and showing the reader how circumstances were different from one person to another.
The interviews were informative, and sometimes shocking, but at times they became repetitive and clogged the flow of information. Perhaps if she organized the book differently, it would have been a bit shorter. She did summarize each chapter at the end, while allowing the thoughts and quotes from each interviewee to illustrate her theories.
One thought that kept occurring to me was how happy I was to be older in today’s world, as I mentioned before. It’s a shame that technology has become such a big part in our lives; I can only hope the human race does not become lost.
Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.