By Shannon Lodoen
This paper explores how the concept of “happiness” is being redefined in the Digital Age, specifically within North American capitalist society. I argue that smartphones (and the social media platforms they support) have restructured daily life around processes of exchange and engagement, turning our interactions with others, whether onscreen or in person, into forms of transaction. This leads to an instrumentalized view of life wherein happiness seems achievable through pre-made formulas such as purchasing specific goods, services, or experiences. Indeed, the ever-increasing options for pursuing individual ideals of happiness that link (and limit) happiness to material accumulation or social popularity are highly celebrated in our capitalist, consumer-driven society. However, construing happiness as something that can be obtained through consumption is a dangerous precedent, one that dramatically alters the way people value their possessions, relationships, and selves. My discussion draws primarily on Horkheimer’s concept of instrumental reason (instrumentalization) and is further supported by the work of Han, Bernstein, Turkle, and others.
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