Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Village Effect, by Susan Pinker

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect convincingly shows that the key to health and happiness lies in the quality of our relationships. She also argues that too much technology in the form of social media is diluting the quality of our personal interactions.

How important is it to have strong relationships, built on regular face-to-face contact? The answer is your life might depend on it, according to Canadian psychologist Susan Pinker. Pinker amasses a wealth of research to demonstrate that strong connections to other people not only benefit our well being, but also our physical health. People who maintain strong personal relationships enjoy better immunity to disease and experience swifter recovery from illness.

That’s the positive side. The dark side is modern society’s slide towards maintaining relationships through technology, rather than face-to-face interaction. Ironically, more friends on social media means more time spent alone in front of a screen. High users of technology tend to be lonely, according to the research. Education through technology is another area that Pinker devotes considerable time to. She convincingly argues that the move towards more computer use and less face-to-face teaching has resulted in poorer educational outcomes. The information superhighway, some 20 years old now, was supposed to lift academic achievement  across the board. Instead school results have remained stagnant, even fallen back slightly according to some studies.

The Village Effect is both depressing and inspiring. It’s depressing because of the world’s inexorable slide into using text and Facebook to conduct relationships (research shows that teens prefer texting to talking face-to-face because they find it too confronting.) It's Inspiring because it shows how face-to-face relationships and human contact have the power to enormously improve our lives. In a world rendered more artificial and spiritually thin through computer technology, harnessing this simple fact can give you an incredible advantage.   

Susan Pinker’s book is solidly researched and substantial. Best of all, it’s a triumph of common sense over the received wisdom that only technology has the power to make great improvements in our lives.

The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters, by Susan Pinker. Published by Atlantic. ISBN:  9781848878587 RRP: $29.99

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