“It’s easy to look around a college campus and think – there’s no digital divide here,” begins a blog post on a new digital divide by sociologist Jessica Calarco. Despite the ubiquity of digital devices on today’s campuses, Calaraco argues that college students are still very much divided into haves and have nots: “the digital divide on college campuses has shifted from one of technology access to one of technology maintenance. [In a recent study] we [found] big gaps in the quality and reliability of the technology students own.” Inside Higher Education also has a story about new digital divide research of Professor Calarco and others.

 

Wired magazine is reporting that San Francisco, CA could become the first United States city to ban its agencies from using facial recognition technology. The article notes that for critics of facial recognition technology, “[i]n the hands of government…it enables all-too-easy access to real-time surveillance, especially given the availability of large databases of faces and names (think your driver’s license or LinkedIn).” The city’s Board of Supervisors is considering a new ordinance that would implement the ban. Additionally, “the ordinance would require city agencies to gain the board’s approval before buying new surveillance technology, putting the burden on city agencies to publicly explain why they want the tools as well as the potential harms. It would also require an audit of any existing surveillance tech—things like gunshot-detection systems, surveillance cameras, or automatic license plate readers—in use by the city; officials would have to report annually on how the technology was used, community complaints, and with whom they share the data.” There should be very spirited debate about this proposal!

In the new Atlantic article “Could Black English Mean a Prison Sentence?” John McWhorter argues, “court stenographers often misunderstand Black English, and their mistakes could affect people’s lives at crucial junctures.” This provocative article includes links to other analysis of the linkages between race and linguistics, such as “What Does It Mean to ‘Sound’ Black?”

CityLab has posted a new article with several maps about how Americans commute to work. There is sociological variation in the data. For instance, “(e)ducation is [a] piece in the picture of how Americans get to work. People are less likely to drive to work alone and to use alternate modes in metros where more adults are college graduates…. The same basic pattern holds for class. Across metros, the share of workers who are members of the knowledge-based creative class is positively associated with using transit (0.56), biking (0.62), or walking (0.56) to get to work, as well as working from home (0.50), and it is negatively associated with driving alone to work (-0.44), and the same holds for the local concentration of high-tech industry jobs. But the reverse is true for the working class. Across metros, a higher concentration of working-class jobs is positively associated with driving alone to work (0.36) and negatively associated with using transit (-0.48), biking (-0.39), and walking to work (0.32).”

The article concludes with “[w]e are cleaving into two nations—one where people’s daily lives revolve around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of alternative modes like walking, biking, and transit. Little wonder that bike lanes have emerged as a symbol of gentrification and ‘the war on cars’ has become a way to call out the so-called urban elite.”

Last year I posted a note about efforts by the social networking site Nextdoor.com to combat racial profiling. The site also tries to deal with other instances of incivility. For example, I recently came across a newspaper article about Nextdoor’s role in the San Francisco Bay Area housing debate: neighbors use the site to attack each other. I’ll have to search for social science research on this topic.

 

In early January Lake Superior State University provides a list of words and phrases to banish in the new year. Wayne State University also releases a list about word usage, but its “word warriors” project encourages the increased use of words that better convey meaning and promote good communication. 2019 lists of words/phrases to banish and words to use more frequently have been released. The most intriguing on the increased usage list is “anechdoche,” a conversation in which everyone is talking, but no one is listening. Sadly, that is too common these days.

CityLab is one of my favorite websites. It is “dedicated to the people who are creating the cities of the future—and those who want to live there. Through sharp analysis, original reporting, and visual storytelling, [CityLab] focuses on the biggest ideas and most pressing issues facing the world’s metro areas and neighborhoods.” They recently published their 2018 year in review. Contents:

According to a recent CityLab article, “[n]ot everyone spends Christmas Day eating home-cooked meals beside a tree draped with tinsel and ornaments. For many Jewish families in the United States, there’s another Christmas tradition: maybe a trip to the movie theater, and definitely dinner at a Chinese restaurant.” The article uses Yelp and Google Trends data to examine how many people — Jewish and others too — eat Chinese food on Christmas Day. Next year in 2019 the authors will have to update the article to also include data on Christmas Eve; while driving around searching for an open spot for dinner on Christmas Eve 2018 my favorite Chinese restaurant had a line that stretched halfway down the block (!).

Why do grits remind U.S. Southerners of home, while maple syrup does that for Canadians, and chocolate activates positive feelings for the Swiss? “Behind our seemingly nationalistic food preferences are the psychological processes that inform group identity, which, research shows, can change depending on our environment,” explains a Pacific Standard article on social identity theory. The brief article closes with “identities that govern seemingly innate experiences, such as the taste of food—or even racial bias—can be harnessed to create positive social change.” It doesn’t provide any specifics, however. Hopefully future article will do so.

The sub-header of the recent Pacific Standard article The Boundary Between Our Bodies and Our Tech is “Our online identities have become a part of who we are in the real world—whether we’re always aware of it or not.” The author asks readers to conduct a thought experiment:

Where do you end? Not your body, but you, the nebulous identity you think of as your “self.” Does it end at the limits of your physical form? Or does it include your voice, which can now be heard as far as outer space; your personal and behavioral data, which is spread out across the impossibly broad plane known as digital space; and your active online personas, which probably encompass dozens of different social media networks, text message conversations, and email exchanges? This is a question with no clear answer, and, as the smartphone grows more and more essential to our daily lives, that border’s only getting blurrier.

The rest of the article provides a compelling analysis of the blurred lines.