By Thomas8047 via flickr cc.
By Thomas8047 via flickr cc.

 

Picture a family holiday dinner. Food is on the table, everyone is gathered together, and a high school or college student is text messaging under the table. Upon prodding questions about the recipient—“Are you dating?”—the irritated adolescent might glance up just long enough to mumble, “We’re just talking.”

Sociology professor Kathy Hull shares her thoughts about the changing relationship landscape with the Star Tribune. A generation or two ago the word “dating” often meant a casual, nonexclusive relationship involving the occasional dinner and movie without commitment. That idea has changed. Hull explains,

“Going on a date now has more significance, when the option of hooking up or just hanging out in a group-friend setting is more prevalent. When people say they’re dating someone, it usually means they’re in a relationship.”

Hull suggests the shift in terms has come out of an extended transition to adulthood, with more young adults pursuing college and delaying marriage and family until they’ve secured a stable job. After graduation, Hull says, many millennials decide to start dating in the traditional sense.

“It’s not until they leave college that some people go back to the idea of using dates as a way to check out potential partners, rather than a way to get into a committed relationship.”

With so many waiting to play the game of love, it appears they may, to some degree, forget how—perhaps one more driver behind the rise of online dating.

Much of 2014’s sporting news happened off the court or outside the stadium. As described by Dave Zirin in The Nation’s “Why 2014 Will Be Remembered as the Year the Sports World Turned Upside Down,” incidents involving sports figures’ off-the-field conduct created a new era of public accountability and showed social media’s ability to effect change. The article quotes Dr. Harry Edwards, a UC Berkeley sports sociologist:

I’m not sure that institutionally, this nineteenth-century institution of sport is really organized to handle, in this modern age of real-time communication, the kinds of concerns that are going to come up. I just don’t think that they’re organized or developed to absorb and handle the situations we’re going to be confronted with.

As, say, fans saw NFL player Ray Rice punching his partner (now wife) in an elevator and heard NBA owner Donald Sterling hurling racist epithets at his girlfriend, the news spread like wildfire online. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice after security footage went viral, despite the fact the NFL leadership, including Goodell, had turned a blind eye to domestic abuse in its ranks many times before. Similarly, Sterling, a billionaire with a long history of racist comments in his 30 years of basketball ownership, was this time disgraced, forced into selling his team as pressure mounted via social media mobilization.

As Edwards told Zirin, “[W]e’re moving into utterly uncharted waters and again, I’m not sure that these nineteenth-century institutions can function within a twenty-first-century cultural and technological context, without utterly changing their structure, management and, in some instances, even their goals.” Sport may look quite different in the coming years—and sports sociologists will have definitely have to keep their eyes on the ball.

Twitter coverAlthough some research emphasizes the negative impacts of social media on well-being, a recent Smithsonian article highlights a specific benefit: social media platforms allow individuals to connect across thousands of miles. Further, despite anecdotal evidence, social media usage does not actually result in higher stress for users.

Dhiraj Murthy, sociologist and author of the book Twitter, told the Smithsonian Magazine about how social media lets people keep up with friends and family members, whether it’s communication about big events such as births or weddings, or every day things like food or funny cat videos. By fostering a sense of connectedness, Murthy says, this communication can reduce stress and increase happiness.

Still, Murthy warns, “Increased social awareness can of course be double edged.” Connectedness can mean feelings of stress, sadness, or anger when the interactions relate to death, job loss and other heavy topics. This means it’s the content viewed on social media, not social media itself that affects stress levels.

While the relationship between social media and stress is complex, many such studies focused on heavy users, Murthy says. In general, the common perception of most social media users as gadget-addicted stress cases doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. 

Busy schedules coupled with near constant access to technology contribute to people becoming more social via social media. While sharing a cup of coffee takes coordination and time, a quick scroll through an album or a post about a promotion allows users to participate in communal behaviors that benefit mental health. If the trick is focusing on the good content without ignoring the bad, it seems our online interactions are an awful lot like the in-person ones.

best-bogle_kidsgoneDamn kids today. Do we have to do everything for them? I, for one, do not have the time to egg cars and throw basement parties. But if Joel Best and Kathleen Bogle are right, teens are less deviant than ever, no matter how prurient the headlines.

Bogle explains to Salon,

in previous generations they were worried about going steady, they were worried about lipstick, they were worried about miniskirts, they were worried about rock music. It’s not new for parents to worry about kids or that their pop culture interests or their access to the opposite sex is going to lead to trouble. We’ve been worried about that for a long time…

But rainbow parties! But red bracelets! But twerking! more...

Small World
Photo by Steve Ransom via flickr.com

It seems a no-brainer that the internet, social media, and cellphones have made homesickness for migrants a thing of the past. But as historian Susan J. Matt reveals in a recent New York Times op-ed, previous generations have found technology no substitute for home sweet home, and today’s immigrants are no different.

More than a century ago, the technology of the day was seen as the solution to the problem. In 1898, American commentators claimed that serious cases of homesickness had “grown less common in these days of quick communication, of rapid transmission of news and of a widespread knowledge of geography.”

But such pronouncements were overly optimistic, for homesickness continued to plague many who migrated.

Today’s technologies have also failed to defeat homesickness even though studies by the Carnegie Corporation of New York show that immigrants are in closer touch with their families than before. In 2002, only 28 percent of immigrants called home at least once a week; in 2009, 66 percent did. Yet this level of contact is not enough to conquer the melancholy that frequently accompanies migration. A 2011 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that Mexican immigrants in the United States had rates of depression and anxiety 40 percent higher than nonmigrant relatives remaining in Mexico. A wealth of studies have documented that other newcomers to America also suffer from high rates of depression and “acculturative stress.”

Then why does the idea that technology can overcome homesickness persist? Matt cites a pervasive belief about mobility that many hold despite its disappointments.

The global desire to leave home arises from poverty and necessity, but it also grows out of a conviction that such mobility is possible. People who embrace this cosmopolitan outlook assume that individuals can and should be at home anywhere in the world, that they need not be tied to any particular place. This outlook was once a strange and threatening product of the Enlightenment but is now accepted as central to a globalized economy.

Technology plays a role in supporting this outlook.

 The comforting illusion of connection offered by technology makes moving seem less consequential, since one is always just a mouse click or a phone call away.

Further, Matt argues that this illusion of connection may amplify homesickness rather than cure it.

The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlight the impossibility of that proposition.

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that undergirds so much of our market and society. The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.

 

It’d be easy to think that Georg Simmel hasn’t been the talk of the town since he took on Kant, but there he is, resplendent in the New Yorker’s front section in its December 5, 2011 issue.

The topic at hand is actually the naming of personal wireless networks in reporter Lauren Collins’s “Brave New World: The Tao of Wifi.” In the article, readers are introduced to Alexandra Janelli, an environmental consultant with an accidental interest in the names of the wifi networks she encounters as she and her iPhone wander New York City. Janelli’s website, wtfwifi.com, catalogs and considers the names, which Collins says range from “passive aggressive messages to neighbors (Stop Cooking Indian!!!)” to “names [that] are poetry (Dumpling Manor, More Cowbell).”

To get a little more background on this unique form of self-expression, the New Yorker’s author sought out Elihu Rubin, a professor of urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture. It was Rubin who brought Simmel into the discussion:

He wrote [in “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” 1903] about the difficulty in asserting individual personality within the dimensions of metropolitan life. One solution was to adopt “tendentious peculiarities,” mannerisms (of dress, speech, etc.) or other extravagances to attract attention and thus bolster self-esteem.

Rubin muses that “the wireless network name is one such peculiarity,” and comments on how such names give anonymous writers “an open, uncensored forum for personal mantras and other compact philosophies.” It’s nice to see that, nearly a century later, Simmel is still helping everyone ask “What is Society?”

Duck DNA N°2

Last fall, 27-year-old Ohad Ben-Yaakov was injured in an accident at his part-time job, and he died after two weeks in a coma. Ben-Yaakov wasn’t married, nor was he in a relationship. No woman was pregnant with his child. Nevertheless, his devastated parents believe it’s not too late for them to become the grandparents of his offspring. And because they live in Israel, the world capital of in-vitro fertilization and a country that regularly pushes the envelope on reproductive technologies, they might get their wish.

No, this isn’t science fiction.  It’s reality in Israeli, and  Tablet recently explored an Israeli court’s consideration of whether parents have the right to use their dead son’s frozen sperm to create a grandchild.

It’s not surprising that Israel, a society that is at once rooted in ancient faith and deeply invested in cutting-edge technology, has pioneered futuristic forms of procreation. The biblical emphasis on fruitfulness, when compounded by the legacy of the Holocaust and the demographic issues shaping the Middle East, have made Israeli society and public policy exceptionally pro-natalist. The country is aggressive in pushing the boundaries of reproductive technology.

Some scholars worry about how these boundaries are being pushed, though.

“It used to be, God forbid you were infertile, it was sad and terrible and tragic, but you came to terms with it,” says Susan Martha Kahn, a Harvard anthropologist and author of Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel. “Now you can never come to terms with it. There’s no resolution. Some of these women go through round after round, 12, 15 rounds of IVF, and it doesn’t work. That is the eclipse of an entire young life spent trying to get pregnant.

Vardit Ravitsky, a professor in the Bioethics Programs at the Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine, adds:

“Where we are with reproductive technologies is a result of the fact that we have refused to accept infertility as a fact . . . Today, the idea that I have a right to have a genetic child is much more accepted than in the past. To extend that one generation to genetic grandchildren maybe is not that farfetched.”

As the author of the article thoughtfully asks, when should a tragedy be accepted rather than combated with technology? Who gets to decide?  For more questions and discussion, see the full article.

 

 

 

male's eye  (mental masturbation)In February’s issue of Wired (now available online), Columbia sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh helps us understand the life of a prostitute in New York City and how the trade has been transformed by advances in technology.

While Venkatesh’s initial goal was to examine how the gentrification of Times Square and other areas of New York City would impact the sex trade, he quickly found himself documenting the rise of a new type of sex worker.

The economies of big cities have been reshaped by a demand for high-end entertainment, cuisine, and “wellness” goods. In the process, “dating,” “massage,” “escort,” and “dancing” have replaced hustling and streetwalking. A luxury brand has been born.

The shift has resulted in an increase in both the price of, and level of respect for, prostitutes. Technology has played a large part in this as it allows clients to find companionship without resorting to driving the streets.

The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue.

Most exciting about this short piece was the amount of information conveyed in about ½ a page of writing through the use of a wide array of supplemental graphics. A map is used to show the movement of sex workers to trendier, more upscale districts in Manhattan. And a compilation of images, statistics, and well-chosen quotes demonstrate the divide between types of sex work, as well as the infusion of technology into the escort services. For instance, Facebook is quickly becoming a medium for advertising adult-services and a BlackBerry phone has come to symbolize a professional (and disease-free) status.

fiftyeight/threehundredsixtyfiveAh…to be a college student. Days spent on the college quad, frisbee or text book in hand, and late nights filled with frivolity. It is a time many people look back upon fondly, reminiscing of a simpler time. However, recent studies highlighted by the NY Times and Slate suggest college is not the carefree place it is often made out to be.

Tamar Lewin of the NY Times reports that the emotional health of freshman entering college is at an all time low.

In the survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as “below average” in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.

The statistic is seen as confirmation of what college counselors are encountering on a daily basis.

“More students are arriving on campus with problems, needing support, and today’s economic factors are putting a lot of extra stress on college students, as they look at their loans and wonder if there will be a career waiting for them on the other side.” said Brian Van Brunt, director of counseling at Western Kentucky University and president of the American College Counseling Association.

This pressure is in part due to a combination of increased, and internalized, expectations and the devaluing of having ‘just’ a college degree.

While first-year students’ assessments of their emotional health was declining, their ratings of their own drive to achieve, and academic ability, have been going up, and reached a record high in 2010, with about three-quarters saying they were above average.
“These days, students worry that even with a college degree they won’t find a job that pays more than minimum wage, so even at 15 or 16 they’re thinking they’ll need to get into an M.B.A. program or Ph.D. program.” said Jason Ebbeling, director of residential education at Southern Oregon University.

To make matters worse, Lippy Copeland reports in Slate that social networking websites, which have become pervasive on college campuses, only compound the suffering of the unhappy.

Led by Alex Jordan, who at the time was a Ph.D. student in Stanford’s psychology department, the researchers found that their subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were–and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result. Jordan got the idea for the inquiry after observing his friends’ reactions to Facebook: He noticed that they seemed to feel particularly crummy about themselves after logging onto the site and scrolling through others’ attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates. “They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life.”

The results of both reports are particularly concerning to women. Each study found that women reported higher stress and lower emotional well-being. According to Linda Sax, a professor of education at U.C.L.A. and former director of the freshman study, leisure activity helps us understand the gender gap.

“One aspect of it is how women and men spent their leisure time,” she said. “Men tend to find more time for leisure and activities that relieve stress, like exercise and sports, while women tend to take on more responsibilities, like volunteer work and helping out with their family, that don’t relieve stress.”

Copeland’s article also highlights the significance of leisure time in reporting that women are not only more likely to second guess major life decisions and measure themselves against others success, but they are also more likely to be active on Facebook.

Each article highlights youth confronting a time of increased pressure and uncertainty. While there are few simple answers, Copeland’s article provides a useful reminder when she turns once more to Jordan, now a postdoctoral fellow studying social psychology at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, who suggests

we might do well to consider Facebook profiles as something akin to the airbrushed photos on the covers of women’s magazine. No, you will never have those thighs, because nobody has those thighs. You will never be as consistently happy as your Facebook friends, because nobody is that happy.

Using Twitter

The Los Angeles Times reports that there can be a disconnect between our “real life” and virtual personalities:

Just because popular social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, encourage members to use their actual identities doesn’t mean people are presenting themselves online the way they do in real life.

Some psychologists and sociologists who have studied usage habits on Twitter, Facebook and popular dating sites say there’s little correlation between how people act on the Internet and how they are in person.

A sociologist argues that people may polish up their online selves, and she thinks that what happens on the web is likely to have consequences for the real world person:

Online, people tend to exaggerate their personas because they have much more time to revise and calculate the content they present than in spontaneous face-to-face interactions.

“The persona online may be much more fabulous, much more exciting than the everyday life that they’re leading,” said Julie Albright, a digital sociologist at USC, “because they see everybody else doing it.”

Twitter, in many ways, has become a personal broadcast medium.

“It has turned people into mini-broadcasters,” Albright said. “It makes them in a way stars of their own reality shows.”

Albright points out that actions online can, however, influence real-life behavior. A new batch of followers on Twitter could translate into a more positive outlook.

“They can go back to their lives and have a boost of confidence,” she said.