SxSW Panel Rutledge Segment: Does the Internet Make You Happy?


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  • there’s a lot of people weighing in on both sides. There’s a lot of psychological reasons why people are fearful of technology, but given the time constraints, I’m just going to cut to the chase.
  • Does the Internet make you happy? Before you bash me in backchannel twitter streams #happynet, let me tell you why
  • But the within I’m talking about is the brain. Humans are subject to “impact bias” which means that we always think things and events are going to make us happy, but that isn’t the case. Most of what we feel comes to us from sensory input from unconscious portions of the brain—our instinctual lizard brain or our emotional mammalian brain. Up at the top is the conscious brain, blissfully going along on the assumption that it’s in charge when it’s really just responding to a pop of oxytocin or dopamine. But the rational brain is an interpreter and planner, it’s job is to make a story that fits sensory input based on previous experience and context. At the lizard level, we don’t distinguish readily between real and virtual in our visceral response. Consequently, what we experience online that triggers the basic human needs, such as connection, affiliation, group membership, and social validation—may be technically ‘virtual’ but they are interpreted as real experience by the lizard brain.
  • These are lemons. Take a look and then close your eyes. I’m going to squeeze this lemon. The juice is coming out and a drop of it falls on your tongue. Open your eyes.Did anyone salivate? Did anyone smell lemon? Did anyone’s nose crinkle? All of these are lizard brain reactions to images in your mind—to a virtual world that taps your personal database of experience and metaphors. Just like the interactive technology.
  • Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology created this formula, H is for happiness. Happiness, in his formula, equals “set point” plus “circumstances” plus “voluntary activity.” Leave it to an academic to make even happiness sound so grim.First of all, ‘Set Point” is your biology. Blame the lizard and the mammal, or your mother and father. Each of us has a biological range of happiness, just like extroversion and introversion, which determines our basic degree of optimism. It’s a drag, but some people are just naturally happier than others. But remember that, biologically, we are wired to notice danger and react much more powerfully than fear. Because in the wild, there wasn’t much upside in noticing the flowers compared to the downside of missing the tiger.Circumstances are our context or environment. Those are often out of our control. However, the human brain will, over time, reframe this experience into a more positive light.That brings us to “V” for voluntary activities. These things you can control. Next to biology, this is the most important thing of all. And this is where the Internet really delivers.
  • We can look at Internet impact through the lens of positive psychology. Researchers have identified critical areas that contribute to happiness. I said earlier that the Internet doesn’t make you happy. It doesn’t make you sad either. The Internet is just a tool, and it reflects and sometimes amplifies human activity and goals, which haven’t changed much since we grew our neocortexes. As a tool, though, the Internet is a game changer in how it facilitates things that can make you happy. More importantly, these things positively impact all areas of life, not just Internet-based activities.Voice – The belief that you have a right to speak—it doesn’t matter who you are. It’s changed the nature social power structureThe Internet connects us; this allows to expand our social circles, build social capital, social support, group affiliation and identity, and have our existence and ideas validated by othersSocial validation increases our sense of agency. Agency is about taking action and having it matter; being able to act on your environment with resultsBelief that your actions matter encourages you to take risks and engage, leading to self-efficacy and flowSelf-efficacy is the belief that you are capable of meeting the challenges you face and this leads to resilience in the face of adversity and increased optimism
  • The most common things that make people happy are on this list. All of these, except arguably “sex,” can be facilitated by or experienced on the Internet. But ultimately, what we’re talking about is human strengths—the ability to take action and believe it matters, whether it’s getting health information, learning social skills, writing fan fiction, or playing World of Warcraft. When we look at the impact of technology, we have change how we ask the questions. It’s not what does the technology “do to us.” It’s what are we trying to do as individuals and in support of the human condition, and how is the technology helping?
  • We have to get over asking what does technology “does to us” and start asking what, as humans, we are trying to do as individuals and as a global community, and how can the technology help.
  • SxSW Panel Rutledge Segment: Does the Internet Make You Happy?

    1. 1. Does the Internet Make You Happy?<br />Dr. Pamela Rutledge<br />Media Psychology Research Center<br />A Think Lab<br />Panel Presentation<br />SxSW 2011<br />March 13, 2011<br />
    2. 2. NO<br />
    3. 3. It’s not about the tools<br />
    4. 4. Happiness comes from within<br />
    5. 5. Happiness actually starts here<br />Neocortex<br />Emotional<br />Lizard<br />
    6. 6.
    7. 7. H = S + C + V<br />
    8. 8. The Psychology of Happiness<br />Voice <br />Social Affiliation<br />Agency<br />Engagement<br />Self-efficacy<br />
    9. 9. What makes people happy?<br />Seeing children smile<br />Laughing<br />Helping others<br />Connecting with others<br />Love<br />Freedom <br />Choice<br />Play<br />Gratitude<br />Competence<br />Good health<br />Sex<br />
    10. 10. The Internet doesn’t make you happy. <br />The Internet facilitates the human goals that make you happy.<br />
    11. 11. Thank You<br />Dr. Pamela Rutledge<br />SxSWPanel<br />March 13, 2011<br />Media Psychology Research Center<br />A Think Lab<br /><br />