Archive for February, 2010

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Facebook and Connection

February 10, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser

Email: chad.gesser@kctcs.edu

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?
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Developing a Sociological Imagination

February 8, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

One of the most difficult things for the new sociology student is to understand what on earth the “sociological imagination” or the “sociological perspective” is.  The idea of learning to relate, as C. Wright Mills puts it, your biography to your moment in history and realizing the ways in which that combination of factors influences how you view the world is challenging to say the least, and one of the major goals of any introductory sociology class.

Probably the easiest way to develop the muscles of your sociological imagination is to USE them; the only way to learn to think sociologically is to challenge yourself to DO SO.  This week, I asked my class to do just that – to think about how their own biography and history would impact their interpretation of a social phenomenon such as poverty, educational inequality, gender inequality, or the changing divorce rate.

As an example, we spoke about how my own biography and history might impact my interpretation of the childfree by choice movement.  In this growing social movement, individuals and couples of childbearing age are making the conscious decision to forego parenting for a variety of reasons.

Every individual would come to an analysis of this phenomenon based on their own experiences.  For me, a number of factors will impact how I look at the movement.  First off, I am a parent.  Not only that, I did not come by parenthood easily.  That personal experience naturally must shade my thoughts about people who would choose not to raise children.  I’m not just a product of my own relationship to parenting, though; my opinions are also influenced by the historical context in which I live.  In particular, I look at the idea of choosing a child free life through the lens of our growing knowledge of the impact that the growing human population is having on the planet.

Somewhere in the space between those considerations lies my sociological perspective on the childfree movement.  We all go through this same process, whether consciously or unconsciously, whenever we try to flex our sociological imaginations.  The challenge is to be aware of the process.

How do your own biography and history impact your sociological imagination?

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A Girl Like Me

February 4, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser

Email: chad.gesser@kctcs.edu

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?

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Social Interaction and Technology

February 4, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser

Email: chad.gesser@kctcs.edu

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.  Recently I came across an interesting graphic by Focus.com called The State of the Internet.  It’s quite large (see below), but take a few minutes to look through the information presented in the graphic.
Note the difference in age groups using the internet.
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?