This month, I received an advanced reader copy of The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas. This is also the first book I have received from NetGalley (Thanks!).
When I first saw this book, I was very interested in the topic. This book deals with social media and its effect on people, centered around college aged students. Freitas has surveyed and interviewed college students on thirteen college campuses across the United States and asked questions about anything from sexting to addiction to their smart phones. As and educator and a mother, I have often wondered if the interactions with social media that I notice are as harmful as it can sometimes seem. This book made some really interesting points and observations.
Here are some specific points that got me thinking:
1) The topic of "likes." Being a woman in my late 30s who is teaching teens, I didn't feel like I was really "out of touch" with the next generation, but this chapter made me wonder if maybe I am. I have always thought of my photos on sites like Facebook or Twitter to be like an online photo album; something to share special moments with people I care about. They are a way for me to connect with distant relatives and people that I don't see often. If I am looking at someone's social media and I 'like" a post, it is usually to acknowledge that I have seen the post or to let a friend know that I enjoyed looking. I assumed it was the same for everybody else too. The concept of comparing the amounts of likes that a picture I post to the number of likes a friend gets on their page is totally foreign to me. I can understand doing this if you are somebody who is marketing or promoting something, so you can see that your posting is effective, but doing this for a personal site was a little crazy to me. Another thing that was a little disturbing was the fact that there are many people just posting things for the purpose of obtaining likes. If I go out to dinner with a friend, take a picture and post it, I don't care if people like it or not. I do not make the effort to go to a specific event or destination only to get likes. Lastly, the importance of likes quantifying self-worth was kind of discouraging. I didn't realize that some of these actions/attitudes were this prevalent. I was especially surprised that many people seem to go through their social media posts at the end of the day to delete anything that didn't get "liked."
2) Branding yourself- I am on Twitter and Facebook. I have never tried Instagram or Snapchat, and probably won't. I use social media to connect with other people. This book mentioned how many high school guidance counselors and college professors have emphasized to students that people will examine them on social media, so they should be aware of the image they are sending out. This has led to many people only putting up "The highlight reel" of their lives, which has a few implications. The first thing that can be noticed is that many people are putting out an "online version" that is different from the in person version of themselves. Secondly, if a person is told that they can only put positive things on their page- or to never make a mistake, is that carrying over to life offline, where they think they have to be perfect all the time? Lastly, constantly comparing how happy/adventurous the lives of everybody else seem to be is not usually healthy for anyone who has ever felt lonely or longed for something better in their own life. I think it is easy for many people, myself included sometimes, to watch other people live their lives through the lens of social media and wonder why our life seems a little drab in comparison.
3) What are the implications of social media in the long run? How will it affect relationships and face to face communication? Do people have to be "on" 24/7? Is it healthy to feel like you cannot be without your phone at any time? I particularly liked what she said about this. "The burden we are carrying around because of our phones would be lifted if they would only disappear if they dropped off the face of the earth. These tiny, light, pretty, shiny devices have come to represent an outsized weight upon our shoulders- we look at them and see our to do lists, our responsibilities and other people's needs, o ur perpetual inability to keep up, the ways in which others constantly judge us, everyone's successes amid all our failures, among so many other stresses- stresses that feel more like thousands od pounds than a few ounces."
4)Faith and social media- How does being a person of faith impact your use of social media, if at all? I loved this chapter and really enjoyed seeing the perspective of other people.
One thing that Freitas mentioned, that I had never really considered, was that college aged kids are truly the first generation growing up with "no precedent for a life lived and celebrated and picked apart on a virtual scale." Freitas says that this fact alone makes them explorers and pioneers who are trying to navigate the same way that all the rest of us are and adjusting accordingly.
This is a good read for anybody who works with students or has children on social media.
I would be curious to hear some of your views on social media. What are some things you like and dislike? What social media sites are you on? Are there any things you have wondered regarding the long term use of technology? What is your relationship to your smart phone?
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