Thursday, November 18, 2010

Owensboro Christmas Parade

The following originally was a post developed in conjunction with a project from my Sociology course, "The Community."

View photos from the parade below (the following is no longer available)

Watch the archived live coverage of the event by clicking below. (the following is no longer available)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We the People, Social Media, and Qualitative Research

Today a small group of folks pulled together our existing resources and took on the innovative task of tweeting and blogging a local civic engagement event.  Using our laptops and cellphones, we live tweeted/blogged a local civic engagement event sponsored by AmericaSpeaks and the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro.

The event brought together nearly 300 locals to discuss local issues centered around Education and the Economy. (A participant guide from the event can be found here.)  This was the second We the People event held in my hometown of Owensboro, KY, the first one being in 2007.

Our local group consisted of four folks (me, Steve Metzger, Jessie Schartung, and Michelle Montalvo).  I set up an event of Cover it Live at the Owensboro Blog.  The interface was free, very easy to use.  After talking with Mary Lauran Hall with AmericaSpeaks the day before, we set everything up and organized ourselves to pull this off late in the afternoon the day before the event.  This came upon us quite spontaneously.

I'd like to devote the remainder of this blog post to addressing some insights from the process, with its implications on citizen journalism and qualitative research.

Qualitative insights
Social media and social networking tools are disruptive tools in the media-sphere.  Particularly in our local community, social media and social networking tools are still largely viewed as new and for entertainment purposes.  Social media and social networking tools are primarily open, accessible, and can be implemented by anyone with the initiative to learn how to do so.  Pulling together these tools to document and regard an event of this type is not entirely difficult, but it does take some thinking and planning.  I have been working in this fashion in various ways for several years.  We like to think that as a result of our process that we not only documented the event live, but we were able to give lasting insight into the minute-to-minute, stage to stage process of dialogue and deliberation of participants during this event.

Usually during We the People events the first draft of information received is the draft final report handed out at the end of the day.  During our project, we were able to document quotes, feelings, raw ideas and beliefs of participants as they shared those in the moment, in dialogue and discussion with other members at their particular tables.  While this information served as a social media component because it was live, the real benefit is that this information is also archived, giving organizers, staff, researchers of the process particular insight into the emotional give and take often experienced as participants delve deeply into local issues.

The AmericaSpeaks were nothing but extremely supportive of our work during the event.  We obtained a .pdf copy of the initial final reports immediately after they were distributed to participants.  We shared that online and made it publicly available to anyone.  Part one of the document can be found here, part two can be found here.

This is significant as it relates to qualitative assessment and analysis.  We live in a culture (societal and in the academic community) that largely focuses on quantitative information: giving us the overarching view with little attention to detail and the quality of feeling of individuals and small groups.  By organizing qualitative research as we did with this event, we now also have the added dimension that gives depth of context to the results from the day long town meeting.  Therefore, this process can be used not just for documenting a live event for those unable to be physically present, but this process should also been seen as adding another layer of context to the overall town meeting and the results derived by the participants.

In our particular effort we worked to provide rich media, including photos, audio, and video accounts of activities occurring in the moment.  There are variations of intensity that can be conducted in documenting an event live.  Given our very quick turnaround on organizing for this event, we were unable to strategically plan how we would do the live tweeting/blogging.  In future instances, this would be an aspect to have better control.  Some particular options are having members of the team focus on specific activities.  For example, one person document via photos, others via text, others recording and uploading video.  The beauty of the Cover it Live interface is that those moderating the interface can include content from the outside.  In our case we did pull in this rich media as we were able to, including tweets from not just our small staff, but tweets from the AmericaSpeaks and tweets from the few participants that were tweeting from time to time.  We also brought in other content on the web, relevant to the event.  So for example we posted the participant guide so online participants could follow what was being covered in the physical setting.

The Cover it Live web based software does include stats.  Given our limited time for marketing, we did not expect that our live event would garner a whole lot of outside participation.  But keep in mind we also approached this as an effort of documenting the day, so it will be hard to tell how often the event (which is archived on the Owensboro Blog) will be viewed later.  In fact we do expect that qualitative insight into the day can be had by viewing both the archived Cover it Live instance and the backed up tweets from the day (found here).

During the event it appears we had around 20 people actively engaged in commenting and viewing via the Cover it Live interface.  During this particular event there was not much effort of online participation in the event via our interface.  We were unable to design the interface in such a way this time around, but options are available where such an effort could gain more traction and significance for online participants if established and communicated well in advance of the day of the event.  AmericaSpeaks does have experience in linking several physical locations at the same time, incorporating a collaborative web component to do so (or like service).

Below is the archived event on Cover it Live

In our effort each of the team members tweeted to their followers and posted links to our information on Facebook.  In total we theoretically have a reach of at least 1500 followers; people from all over the world, national, statewide, and not just locally.  So there is some consideration that needs to occur about the impact of such a reach, the impact of the process as it ripples through social media.  How many folks will research this process?  How many will read recommendations on live tweeting/blogging an event and using the data for further qualitative analysis via this particular blog post?  These are very relevant in the face of the reach and impact of social media and its content, and the utilization of data for for research and ultimately procedural and policy implications.

Notes on process
We were mobile with our approach.  We established our "base of operations" on a back table, essentially sitting down and connecting with our laptops.  Although I haven't mentioned, it's hopefully obvious we had a local wifi network established via the technical capacity of the AmericaSpeaks folks.  This was a must for us to do our work.

Jessie, myself, and my mother as volunteer

Because we were pulling in tweets with a certain hashtag, we were able to take our mobile phones out amongst the tables and mobile blog/tweet.  I found it intimate to listen to quotes from tables and directly tweet those; these ended up in the Cover it Live interface and were backed up as previously mentioned.  It still is rewarding to go back and view the quotes that we pulled in from participants in the moment.  This data is from participants in deep conversation with others, considering ideas and sharing those perhaps in a very rare safe and inviting environment.

These are some initial thoughts that seem to be bubbling up as I continue to reflect on this process.  Below was the initial debrief that our local tweet/blog team shared.

Live Coverage of We the People-Owensboro

See this link for a sociological look at the event, the process our team to took, and considerations for qualitative research.  Found here


First off a huge thanks goes to Mary Lauran Hall with the AmericaSpeaks project, Steve Metzger, Jessie Schartung, Michelle Montalvo, the Public Life Foundation and the local We the People project.

The archived coverage of the We the People event Oct. 23rd event is below. Click "replay" to thumb through all the work we did for the day.

An initial draft of the days events has been released, and can be accessed here and here.

Concluding thoughts by our local team can be found here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Groups function on Facebook

Purpose of Groups
I'd recommend using groups for a close network of friends, family, or for a trusted network of colleagues or those with similar interests.  There needs to be a dimension of trust and dependability of members to get use out of this function.

When Group participation starts to become active it does become apparent that information needs to be better aggregated for easier access.  There still is not much structure for aggregating information via the Group.  This however can be achieved by using outside services such as Google Apps and then linking that content back into the Group.

Currently you can add Posts, Links, Photos, Videos, Events, and Docs to Group members.  You can also conduct Group chat.

Multiple administrators can be added to a Group.  The administrator(s) can decide to make the Group one of the following:
  • Open: members and content is public
  • Closed: members public and content is private
  • Secret: members and content are private

This is a very important function to gain control of as soon as you join a Group. When you are in the Group, you'll see the "Edit Notifications" icon towards the top right. You can choose your notification options there. Note: if you do not want email notifications make sure you uncheck the box at the bottom. If there is a lot of activity in the group you will receive a large number of notifications both in your Facebook notification feed and your designated email inbox if you have not deselected the appropriate boxes.

  • Facebook notification:  when you perform activity in the Group and someone replies or interacts with that activity, you will receive a notification via the traditional Facebook notifications tab on your main Facebook page

Group chat
The group chat allows you to chat with members in the Group that are currently online. At this stage note that all conversations held in Group chat are available for all members to see.

Therefore, Group chat should be relegated to casual conversation, with more specific interaction taken to individual chat or email.

Wall Posts
At current wall posts are the only way to develop interaction in a thread like manner. However, there are no threads in this new version of Groups. In order to get collaborative use out of this Groups function I'd recommend that people begin with the Wall posts function: post something. This helps to get interaction, exchange, and collaboration started.

I'd recommend that after a wall post develops much interaction with value added content, that perhaps it then is copied and pasted in to a Document so it can be better referenced over time.
As activity in the Group increases it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with general information that flows in and out of the Group through wall posts.  This information needs to be better managed.  As previously mentioned, this may better be addressed by using outside services such as Google Apps and then linking into the Group.  The Group can also use the Docs function, highlighted below.

The docs function allows members of the Group to create standing, editable documents.  This function has a very easy to use interface.  Docs are also available and can be accessed on the right hand side of the Group page.

Adding members
Once you are at the Group page the web address can be copied and emailed, tweeted, etc.. to anyone and they can click that link and request an invite to be added to the Group (the user has to have a Facebook account).  The administrator will have to approve.

All members of a Group can invite other members.  Therefore, you really should have a clear understanding of the purpose of your Group and who you want to invite.  That fact alone means you should have a handle on your trust, dependability, and willingness to collaborate with potential Group members before they are invited.    To repeat, all members of a Group can invite new members.  You do not have to be an administrator to invite new users.  Pick your members wisely.

Leaving the Group
You may find that you have randomly been added to a Group.  You can easily opt out of the Group by choosing "Leave Group" on the right hand side of the Group page.  However, once you leave you have to be reinvited to be added to the Group.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Be Afraid…Be VERRYY Afraid…(not) � The Social Lens

Be Afraid…Be VERRYY Afraid…(not) The Social Lens

Originally posted at The Social Lens

March 3, 2010
Posted by: Chad M. Gesser
Twitter: @profgesser

Each semester I cover different aspects of deviance and crime with my Sociology students, and I’m always intrigued to hear their varying perceptions of crime and violence in our community, the nation, and the world.

It is inevitable that the prevailing viewpoint is that we do indeed live in a violent society. In discussions this week, I had one particular student who is married to a local police officer share that her husband refuses to allow her to walk, jog, or run alone at night in her neighborhood and community for fear of violence. An argument can be made that he is just being safe, but it certainly does beckon the question: How safe is my community? My country? Society in general?

Ten years ago Barry Glassner released his “Culture of Fear“, which examined how various social forces from media to the government influence Americans’ perceptions of safety and violence in the United States. Glassner has since updated his book, continuing to provide documentation and evidence that the culture of fear we live in is largely unjustified. In most places in the United States, and yes there are exceptions, but in most places in the United States, a fear of violence and crime is largely unfounded. This fear rests in an inaccurate assessment based on opinion, largely influenced by the mass media.

Let’s examine a couple examples that influence our culture of fear. The image at the beginning of this post is the threat level diagram that was implemented by the United States Department of Homeland Security following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The system was designed “create a common vocabulary, context, and structure for an ongoing national discussion about the nature of the threats that confront the homeland and the appropriate measures that should be taken in response. It seeks to inform and facilitate decisions appropriate to different levels of government and to private citizens at home and at work.” (Source link) During 2002-2004, anxiety rippled through the U.S. population as the threat levels fluctuated from blue to orange. In late 2009, Wired magazine reported proposed changes to the threat level system, given the lack of public confidence in the system and the suspicious nature and use of the system for political maneuvering.

Various organizations (academic and government) monitor the types and degree of crime committed all across the United States to determine the extent of violence and safety to the population. Historically, serious crimes have been monitored to get an accurate assessment to the degree of violence and crime occurring in the United States. Serious crimes that are monitored are homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape.

The data above from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (image no longer available) shows both the recorded rate of violent crime and the rate of victimization reported to the police. These two measures combined give us a very good assessment to the extent that violent behavior and crime are occurring in the U.S. Given the recent history of the war on terrorism and terrorism in the United States, perhaps American society is doomed to be scared out of it’s wits for some time to come. However, the fact of the matter is that total violent crime in the United States is lower now than it has been in over 35 years.

A closer look at the victimization rate shows us the changes by age group over time.

This data further verifies that few people are being victimized by violent behavior and crime (image no longer available).

While most people indeed are not afraid of walking alone at night, data from the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics documents that the fear, while changing somewhat over time, has not changed over the past 45 years.

How else does our society nurture and foster a culture of fear? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood, your community? Why is feeling of safety important? How does a one’s perception of fear and violence affect one’s outlook on life? How does it affect how you might interact with strangers?

Durkheim and Anomie � The Social Lens

Durkheim and Anomie � The Social Lens

Anomie is one of those concepts in the field of Sociology that can be applied in a variety of ways. Coined by French Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his 1897 study “Suicide”, anomie refers to a sense of normlessness, resulting in individual detachment and disconnection from other members of a group or society at large.

Sociologists see society as an organism, much the way the human body is an organism. Society, just like the human body, is a sum of its parts.
Staying with the human anatomy and physiology theme, I like to think of the above image as the “skeleton” of society. Below you’ll find the makeup of the “central nervous system”. These are the fundamental elements of culture.

Keep in mind that norms are the guidelines and expectations in society. They are not right or wrong, but we as members of society determine at any given moment in time or history the makeup of norms. For example, it once was the norm for males to hold the door open for females. That is a particular folkway that seems to not carry as much importance in relationships anymore. Norms, just like culture, change. The “skeleton” of society, and the “central nervous system”, remain the same.

This is the stuff that theory is made of, and precisely the insight that Durkheim was seeking to provide in his study on suicide, and his coining of the term anomie. Individuals that feel connected to the prevailing cultural norms, to groups, to society as a whole, engage in conventional behavior and have more in common with others in the group or community. Some would suggest that those that feel more connected also have a more positive sense of self or self concept. When people feel detached, when they feel that they do not belong, this is anomie. What groups or individuals in society are seen as detached or disconnected?

In order to understand anomie one has to understand not only how society and culture is organized, but also the subjective nature of society and culture. Therefore anomie, just like society and culture, changes. This poses a challenge to members of society; the need to change, to adapt, to fit in. Structural functionalists would say that social institutions play an important role in this regard of keeping society organized and efficient, that members of society feel included. Social conflict theorists may suggest that anomie is a byproduct of society; that varied access to resources inherently breeds anomie in society, thereby leading to constant inequality and social change.

Can you think of other examples of anomie? Do you feel that you are connected to the prevailing social norms? Do you feel that most people in your community have a sense of anomie or feel like they belong in the community? How does sense of connection change over the life span? What can members of social institutions and organizations do to make sure people feel included and connected?

Issues of Health and Health Care Reform � The Social Lens

Issues of Health and Health Care Reform � The Social Lens

The effort of passing health care reform has been a major source of national interest for several presidential election cycles. Until recently though, health care reform was an idea without much substance or potential of being realized in the United States.

Health care as a social problem is a very complicated issue. This is precisely why any effort of passing major health care reform has consistently been blocked. There are several dimensions of health that have rightfully generated a substantial amount of interest in the United States over the past decade. The issues surrounding health care are not limited to health care insurance. They include issues of lifestyle and nutrition (including the high incidence of overweight and obese citizens in the United States), the health care costs for the poor, senior citizens, and the health care costs enacted on the government due to a very unhealthy population.

Certainly a big factor influencing President Obama’s effort of enacting health care reform centers around the number of people not covered by some of health insurance in the United States.

When we drill down into the uninsured data, the picture begins to take twists and turns. Below you’ll see how gender and race of children can be a deterrent for having no health care insurance coverage.


While this data is startling, it’s important to note that the uninsured rate and number for children are the lowest since 1987.

An interesting aspect of the health care reform efforts is the role that social media is playing in the debate. Go here to view viewer submitted video clips, questions, and politician’s replies regarding health care questions.

Should their be universal health care insurance coverage? Should there be a sliding scale? Is health care coverage a right or a privilege? Should everyone pay into a health care plan, and everyone be able to use that health care plan? Is the health care coverage problem tied to social class? Gender? Race?

Homosexuality: more than just preference � The Social Lens

Homosexuality: more than just preference � The Social Lens

The issues that gays face go well beyond social acceptance of their sexual preference. Heterosexuals certainly do not recognize the advantages that they reap in a culture that is deeply rooted in heterosexuality.

The Heterosexuality Questionnaire was developed by Martin Rochlin, Ph.D., in 1977. While it certainly appears humorous to the average heterosexual reader, a closer examination can help one examine the social implications of a heterosexual society, particularly if you’re homosexual.

1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

2. When and how did you decide that you were a heterosexual?

3. Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may grow out of?

4. Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

5. If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay or lesbian lover?

6. To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did he or she react?

7. Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your life-style?

8. Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Why can’t you just be what you are and keep quiet about it?

9. Would you want your children to be heterosexual knowing the problems that they’d face?

10. A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?

11. With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?

12. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?

13. Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual like you?

14. Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don’t you fear (s)he might be inclined to influence you in the direction of her/his own leanings?

15. How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive heterosexuality, and fail to develop you natural, healthy homosexual potential?

16. There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you to change if you really want to. Have you considered trying aversion therapy?

For most heterosexuals, perhaps some of the above questions can seem a bit humorous, or even ridiculous.

Consider the plight of the homosexual couple below, and the children.

Besides sexual preference, what other areas of stereotyping, prejudice, and/or discrimination might gays encounter? Should a gay couple be allowed to legally adopt a child? She gays be allowed to marry under the rule of law in the United States? Do gays confer the same legal rights as someone who is heterosexual? Why are they separate? Should they be equal? Why or why not?

Friday, February 19, 2010

McDonaldization and Starbuckization

Posted McDonaldization and Starbuckization over at the Social Lens.

“I’ll have a Big Mac, Filet of Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries..icy Coke, Big Shake, Sundae, and Apple Pie…”–yeah, I didn’t need to Google that to find the lyrics, that was from memory.

That was a popular “nursery rhyme” when I was younger, a chippy jingle by McDonald’s that served its purpose: to lure me in like the sad fast food sap that I am.

I’m sure you can relate, but what is it that can be made of this “McDonaldization of Society”? George Ritzer uses McDonald’s as the primary example to illustrate the modernization of society, a move from cultures built on tradition to cultures that are mechanized and highly organized.

The principles that Ray Kroc used to build his food empire have been modeled in businesses from motor companies to coffee: 1. efficiency, 2. predictability, 3. uniformity, and 4. control. Look at the pervasiveness of both McDonald’s and Starbucks in the world. This graph dates back to 2003, so imagine the extent this pervasiveness has grown over the past seven years. Notice the profit versus the gross domestic product of Afghanistan.

To what extent have these principles of economic productivity spilled over into the various groups and institutions by which we associate in daily life? How has the fast food culture come to characterize how we live?

Ritzer built on his ideas surrounding McDonaldization and provides an updated and extended version of his analysis with the concept of Starbuckization. Hear some of Ritzer’s thoughts on the role and influence of Starbucks as a global business chain at the video below.

Ritzer mentions his focus on structures. How do businesses and the models they employ promote efficiency, predictability, uniformity, and control? Why are these important in terms of profit? How do the business structures affect employee productivity? How do they affect creativity? Innovation? Morale? In what ways is a highly organized bureaucracy good or bad?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who Are You?

Posted over at the Social Lens blog.

In a previous post (Facebook and Connection) I introduced some concepts related to Georg Simmel’s work around associations and sociability. One of the more popular self help gurus of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been Stephen Covey. An extension of Covey’s work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” involves a retreat and an examination of one’s circles.

Each of us as individuals can gain great depth of understanding of who we are by examining the positions we hold in society (status) and the expectations of those positions (role). These are philosophical and questions of meaning that have been explored for quite sometime.
Let me provide a brief introduction to the video below. This is a studio snapshot of The Who, you know, that band that played at halftime of the 2010 Super Bowl? For most Who fans, this is The Who that we would rather you come to know and love. This is a song of theirs, not part of the Super Bowl medley, called “Who Are You”.

So let’s explore the question, posed by Simmel, Covey, The Who, and thousands over time, “Who Are You”?

Considering the social institutions (particularly the Family, Education, and the Economy), what social positions do you occupy in society? Social positions in this regard are not necessarily paid work. For example, within the institution of the Family I am a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, amongst other status positions I hold in the social institution of the Family. With each of those positions, I hold a role or a variety of roles: social expectations for any given social status. What is expected of me as a father, a husband, etc..?

Take a few minutes to list all of your social statuses (think about your social position in relation to the Family, Education, and the Economy). Then list your roles for your various positions. As you begin working through this you can to see the variety of “persons” you are in the world. As you list roles, you can begin to see the variety of expectations that you have of yourself and the expectations that others have of you. To add another layer, what is it that defines the social positions we occupy, and the expectations of those positions? How do we learn our “roles”?

So….Who Are You?

For the Love of...Consumerism

Updated in Nov. 2019 due to breaks in links

Posted over at the Social Lens blog.

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!!!!

….wait, humor me for a minute. Would you rather celebrate a holiday for its meaning or are you moved by the overload of consumerism that surrounds our holidays?

Don’t get me wrong, I like to celebrate events, holidays, birthdays, just about anything. But I have found that the consumerism in my environment, the availability of too much “stuff”, has gotten to be so much of an overload that I’m turned off from celebrating. That’s a difficult thing for me to consider, because I try to focus on the intent of events (why the celebration is occurring).

That picture above is not an example of overload in and of itself. But let me clarify something: that is a picture I took at my local grocery store on New Year’s Day. Doing some last minute shopping on Valentine’s Day a friend I ran into nearly purchased an Easter gift for Valentine’s Day: the marketing and promotions from Easter goodies had mixed in with the Valentine’s Day goodies. Valentine’s Day on January 1? Easter on Valentine’s Day? Do I need to mention when Christmas decorations and Christmas merchandise starts to appear?

I suppose what really opened my eyes to the consumerism of any particular holiday season was when I began to uncover the origin of diamonds. Remember: diamonds are a girl’s best friend. If you are going to marry someone in the United States, it most likely will involve an engagement ring and/or a wedding band: with a diamond. Diamonds, much like red roses, are two of the most popular symbols of love in the United States.

Do consumers bear some responsibility for their consumer habits? Who, if anyone, should accept some level of responsibility when the market plays unfair? Does it matter?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Facebook and Connection

Posted Facebook and Connection over at the Social Lens blog.

All the world is Facebooked, Twittered, MySpaced, Googled….connected.

I have been particularly interested in themes related to connection in my physical community since around the year 2000. One of my areas of focus as a Sociologist is the Sociology of Community. Among German Sociologist Georg Simmel’s many contributions is his work examining group size and relationships. What is integral to the study of community are relationships and connection.

In the year 2000 a major work in the social sciences was published by Robert Putnam, a book entitled “Bowling Alone“. This book was a national bestseller and spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. Putnam’s work spoke to the loss of attachment and connection that people had with one another and how the sense of community had declined over the period of the 1970s-1990s.

A basic level research question that I have examined over the past several years is how does the role of internet technology, particularly social networking sites and services, impact relationships and connections? On a practical level, have Facebook and other social networking services played an important role in meeting the needs of connection and interaction of people not only in the United States, but the world? Is the void that Putnam highlighted now being filled through the internet?

Let’s examine Facebook a little more closely. Literally. Let’s look at my “connections”.

Below is a Facebook application I used back in February of 2008 to map my connections.

I decided to take another snapshot of my friends one year later in February of 2009. That’s it below.

Notice in the friend wheel above that you can now barely see my name. I’m literally “covered up with friends”. This makes me feel loved, connected, friended when I look at this.

Then this month, I took another snapshot of my friends list. Check this out.

When I first looked at this, it reminded of the sun, or the Earth. Have my friends and me transcended something extraordinary?

I absolutely love the Friend Wheel application. It’s striking to see my visual connections. My “connections” have grown to nearly 300 “friends” over the past three years. Sure, I have a large quantity of friends, but do I have quality relationships too? If you are on Facebook, look at your friends list. How would you characterize your friends? Are they from high school, former boyfriends/girlfriends? Family? Neighbors?

After characterizing your friends, now think about those you maintain contact with, whether physically or visually, on a regular basis. Some of these may also be Facebook friends. What is the difference between “real life friends” and “Facebook friends”? Do you consider the Facebook friends real? What is the purpose of Facebook?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Girl Like Me

Posted A Girl Like Me post over at The Social Lens.

Socialization is characterized as the life long social experience by which individuals develop their human potential and learn culture. The socialization process begins soon after birth, as babies are cared for (or not) by their parents or other loved ones from their family. Of course that experience is as varied as there are cultures in our world. We begin to learn at a very early age how to love, to hate, to care for, to fight, and to ultimately relate to other people in our society.

We also learn our position in society, particularly in terms of social class, gender, and race. We are influenced by history and the social norms of society. Norms aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but we gauge ourselves to the cultural standards in society, and as Mead would characterize, we develop that sense of self.

As an example of how we internalize what we perceive in society, watch the “Girl Like Me” video below. 

Many students question the validity of these girls’ interpretations of what others think about them. Keep in mind these are the experiences of these girls, right or wrong, and it is the “job” of the Sociologist to ask the critical questions as to why.

What shapes their viewpoints? What popular messages in society influence their perceptions? What ideas and/or behaviors have they garnered from their family and peers that influences their sense of self?

Social Interaction and Technology

Due to broken links, the following post has been updated in November 2019.

Just made this post over at The Social Lens: Social Interaction and Technology.

I authored a blog post in early January entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. That post addressed the influence of technology on the current generation, using terms to identify the younger generation such as “Wired, Wireless, Mobile, Open, Participatory, and Empowered”.

We tend to have informal conversations in my department from time to time around the use of web 2.0 technologies, particularly Facebook and Twitter. It is obvious, as was reflected in the the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants post, that there is a very large gap regarding the use of information technology and devices between the younger and older generations in the United States.

Part of those informal discussions we have around our department involve the environment of the classroom versus the environment of the virtual classroom. Does online learning (learning through the internet, using Facebook and Twitter) meet the same standards and achieve the same results as the traditional classroom setting? There are a variety of issues to be addressed regarding online learning, some of which can be found here.

This is a topic of much consideration of faculty and students at varies institutions across the United States, and the world. Taking that notion one step further, if young people are using the internet so frequently, along with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace (see this report providing indication that teens don’t tend to use Twitter that much), then we begin to need to address this fundamental change in a new form of social interaction, forming new communities.

This is the basis of social networking sites: networking through interaction, encouraging negotiation, communication, and collaboration.

During our informal discussion today, I mentioned the community or personal learning network I had established through my use of Facebook and Twitter. A colleague replied, “But that’s not community.”

Can we have meaningful social interactions without physical appearance? How does current internet technology facilitate better social interaction? Does the technology hinder social relationships? How do the changes wrought by recent technologies differ than say the invention of the telephone? In your opinion, do our relationships benefit or suffer as a result of the use of technology? Can we have community through online interaction?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sport and Society

Just posted over at The Social Lens

Sport and Society

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”

That’s a quote made famous by former Chicago Bears linebacker Michael Singletary, current head coach of the San Francisco 49’ers of the National Football League (NFL). Singletary’s quote speaks to the innocence of spontaneity, play, and competition.

While we are early in 2010, we have already witnessed major sporting events here in the United States. It has become tradition at the beginning of each year for the college bowl series to kick high in to gear, signifying the end of the college football season and the crowning of the national college football champions. During the first few weeks of January, college football dominates the sports world in the United States. But as soon as that ends, the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl are front and center.

As I write this week’s post, I’m taking in the Winter X Games from Colorado (might I recommend watching it in HDTV; fabulous!).

In early February, the “Super Bowl” of auto racing hits Daytona Beach, Florida as the NASCAR season begins. This year alone after these major sporting events, consider what remains: the NBA All Star game, the Winter Olympics, the PGA and LPGA majors, the World Cup in soccer, and playoffs in every major professional sport. The list could literally go on and on. This is not to mention the role of sports in the elementary and secondary schools and in the backyards and streets throughout the United States and the world. We begin engaging in sports soon after birth, and come to know and love our favorite athletes and teams as we move through adolescence and adulthood.

Are we naturally drawn to sports and leisurely activity? What is it that influences someone to play baseball versus soccer, basketball versus volleyball? What is the difference between high culture and pop culture, and how does social class and social position influence us into the types of sports we engage? What role do sports play as part of our culture?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Allow me to introduce..the Turtleman

A subculture is a group that exhibits some cultural characteristic that distinguishes them from the mainstream society. Most patterns of the group, and the behaviors of the individual members are consistent with the socially acceptable behaviors. Countercultures vary in that their cultural patterns go against the mainstream norms. Often times countercultures engage in behaviors that are consider illegal.

Subcultures and countercultures vary over time. The benchmark of gauging a group as a subculture or counterculture are the norms of the society. At one point in history, a group that is now considered mainstream (for example, Christians) were seen as a counterculture. As values, beliefs and attitudes of individuals in a society change, so do norms. Thus as the rules, guidelines, and expectations for behavior in society change, so then does our definition as to whether a group is considered a subculture or a counterculture. Certainly in the 21st century United States, Christianity plays an important role in the culture.

A couple of years back I heard the story of the Turtleman in central Kentucky. The Turtleman engages in very odd behavior by current social standards. Given that he is somewhat an isolated case, his behavior is unique in and of itself, but not considered a subculture. There are not large numbers of people that engage in turtle hunting as the Turtleman.

Compared to U.S. averages and norms, Kentucky ranks well below the standards for income, education, and other standard measures of achievement in society. While the Turtleman may be a novelty, how do images and behavior like his serve to validate stereotypes and cultural perceptions of “hillbillies from Kentucky”? If Kentucky ranks on average well below the United States average on many socioeconomic indicators, then on some level our stereotypes can be validated.

Do habits, hobbies, and behavior vary according to social class? What elements of high culture tell us something about particular subcultures of our mainstream society? What elements of popular culture give us a better understanding of the general patterns of behavior of individuals? How does understanding what groups of people do for fun and entertainment provide insight into their values, attitudes, and beliefs?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Language: from coke to Coke

Just published this blog post over at the Social Lens.

Language is the fundamental basis for culture. Language allows us to communicate with one another. It allows us to pass on information from generation to generation, whether through cave drawings, folk tales, or textbooks.

Language allows us to also glimpse into the culture of the individual. Here are two interesting pics that illustrate the cultural differences of language.

(Source of pic)
In most of Kentucky, we refer to soft drinks as coke. Not the Coke with a capital “C”, but all soft drinks. When we visit a restaurant or head up to the counter at a sporting event, we order coke. Coke, rather coke with a lowercase “c”, applies to all Pepsi, Coke, RC, and generic cola soft drinks. When visiting northern Ohio, Michigan, or even Washington state, we do not understand the snickers and perplexed looks we get from waiters and waitresses when we order coke and they ask us if “Pepsi is ok”. Of course it is.

In all seriousness this is the culture in which we live, reflected in our language. It’s not necessarily right or wrong, but how we communicate. What do you call soft drinks? Do you find it to be consistent with the map? Notice the Maryland area on the map. Why is there more diversity in what people call soft drinks there, but such widespread commonality in most regions of the United States?

Taking this notion of the role of language one step further, how important is a common language for people living in an area?

Take a look at the linguistic map below of central Africa country of Chad. The color differentiation reflects dialect and or language differences.

(Source of pic)

This area has a tremendous amount of diversity of dialect and language. If members of the same geographical areas do not speak a similar language, what will be their capacity to live together in relative harmony, and to establish stable societies? What do we know about social conflict over the course of the central Africa history? How does language factor into this instability?

Symbols: Meaning and Interpretation

There is something intriguing to me about the use and message of signs, symbols and physical representation of ideas. I have a tendency to notice bumper stickers, crosses on the sides of the road, messages on signs that go against the norm. I suppose it appeals to me in a “symbolic interactionist” kind of way. What!? Don’t you remember the definition of symbolic interactionism as a major theory in the field of Sociology? Ok ok, I’ll remind you: “a framework for building theory that sees society as the product of the everyday interactions of individuals”.

Certainly a big component of our interactions is the play and interplay of our use of symbols. Symbols say something about the type of music we like, the type of clothing we “support”, our favorite race car driver, sports team, and brand of religion we practice. But symbols are not only significant in a material kind of way. They say something deeper about what we think, how we feel, our emotional state. Personal use of symbols allow us to say something without saying anything.

On a fundamental level, symbols are used in simple communication.


Think about it. For example, I have a wonderful time watching my five year old daughter learn the alphabet.

Without learning what the squiggly lines mean she will not be able to read nor write, and will obviously struggle in a 21st century society that relies on reading and writing for communication. After all, we are not hunters and gatherers.

Sometimes messages and ideas stick out to me in what I deem to be places where you do not expect to see such messages. I see these around my community in Kentucky all the time. For example, I was quite shocked when I read this message on a local church sign.

Our class discussed this message early in the Fall of 2009 and I learned that the reference may be to a book that is popular in self-help and Christian circles. I certainly didn’t read it that way, leaving me astonished that a church would approve a message that uses flatulence as metaphor.

How about pizza and politics? This particular restaurant owner is taking advantage of the public space of his restaurant sign. But socialism and pizza? I never knew that pizza could taste…political?

I’m also glad to know that the person driving this vehicle is married to a coal miner…I guess.

Then there are those that strive to achieve that shock value. Yes, there are homophobic people in my community, but they usually don’t wear it on their sleeve, or on the bumpers of their cars.

What symbols or signs do you notice in your neighborhood or community? What are people trying to communicate? Do they cross the line? How do symbols contribute to how we understand everyday life? How do they influence your local culture? What do they say about the community in which you live?