The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being

Katrina Forrester writes:

‘What’s on your mind?’ Each day, the 968 million people who log in to Facebook are asked to share their thoughts with its giant data bank. A dropdown menu of smilies invites you to update ‘how you’re feeling’. ‘Excited’ is the first option, ‘happy’ is the second. If they don’t fit, you can scroll down and pick from 120 other moods, including ‘fed up’, ‘anxious’ or ‘stuffed’. Facebook has made no secret of the fact that it passes our personal information and preferences to ad companies, branding agencies and governments. In 2014, we learned that it also gathers data about our moods, and ran experiments in manipulating them by tailoring users’ newsfeeds to be more happy or more sad. By translating subjective expressions of feeling into objective data, Facebook is in the business of making what goes on in our heads knowable, legible and marketable.

(LRB 22 October 2015)