It is a simple question. It may not have an easy answer.
As I teach undergraduate students ages 18-22, the topic of social media comes up. It may be during a class break when many go to their smartphones. It may be during conversations about social interaction or the media or technology. It may be in discussing my research in this area. According to psychologist Jean Twenge, these students would be right in the iGeneration that grew up with iPhones and smartphones. They are often immersed in social media.
In two research studies (one from 2015 looking at 18-23 year olds and one from 2020 looking at 23-28 year olds), Peter Mundey and I examined how emerging adults interacted with social media. The vast majority participated. But, they also expressed reservations ranging from privacy issues to negative interactions to new demands on their. On one hand, they enjoyed maintaining connections to people and described participation as necessary to keeping up with people. On the other hand, it would be hard to not participate at all as it is connected to multiple life domains.
My sense from this data is there is not a total endorsement of social media from emerging adults. Their responses are differentt from singing the praises of the positive benefits of social media. And when I ask my students the question in the title – “does social media make your life better?” – it can provoke some thinking.
Perhaps this is a good question for many people to ask. It could be a more domain-specific question: is social media good for our national political life? Does social media encourage spiritual growth? Does social media promote learning? Or, it might be better as a larger question: does social media improve the lives of its users? This is at least a question worth pondering and then acting in response to the answer.
When assistant professor of sociology Christine Whelan, 33, set out to study the rise of the self-help industry ten years ago, she was skeptical. But after reading hundreds of books, writing her doctoral dissertation on the subject at Oxford, and then teaching more than 400 students, Whelan, now at the University of Pittsburgh, realized that several self-help classics had a lot to teach a generation of people who are expert at texting and other sorts of online communication, but ill-schooled in the art of face-to-face communication and self-presentation…
Whelan got the idea to start teaching self-help classes, which she framed as the sociology of self-improvement. She was surprised to discover how eager her students were to absorb the lessons taught in books like Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, first released in 1937, M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled from 1978 and Stephen Covey’s 1989 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “They were raised in a therapeutic culture,” she notes. “That separates this generation of job-seekers from others.”…
After putting hundreds of students through her course, Whelan says she came up with some lessons that combine 20th century common sense with 21st century lives. She combined them into a new self-help book aimed at Millennials, Generation WTF. I asked her to boil down the points most salient to job seekers, and illustrate them with some anecdotes. Notes Whelan, “nothing in this is rocket science. But it’s new to them and it works.”
The six steps that are then laid out seem fairly obvious but perhaps Whelan is right about the need to teach this material. There does seem to be a lot of articles floating around these days that talk about the crazy things that people interviewing for jobs do.
So what exactly goes on in a “sociology of self-improvement” class? While it sounds odd when you first hear about it, it could end up being an interesting course about human interaction. I wonder if there is any critique of the self-help movement.