04 – Socialization

Slate has a story up about how doing network analysis of our online personas can reveal a lot about us that we never intended to reveal. In a story titled, “The Leaky Nature of Online Privacy,” author Kevin Gold reports:

[P]attern recognition software has made it possible to learn about someone not based on what he has shared about himself but by examining what his friends have made public. For example, researchers have trained a program to identify the sexual orientation of gay males with roughly 80 percent accuracy using the self-reported orientation of their Facebook friends. Alan Mislove of Northeastern University has shown that it takes only a 20 percent participation rate among college students in filling out profile information to deduce facts—such as major, year, and dorm—about the nonresponders who simply friended others. The software uses statistics gleaned from large data sets about how often friends tend to have characteristics in common when they are a part of a community and how often they might simply share characteristics by chance; then it combines several such probabilities into a statistically motivated guess as to whether a person belongs to a particular community. So it’s not actually possible to participate in social networks without revealing anything about yourself; you reveal your interests by association.

In other words, even if we think we are keeping elements of our lives private, it is possible to leverage our network connections to learn information about us that we never intended to reveal. In fact, according to the story, “ZIP code, sex, and birth date are enough to determine your exact identity 87 percent of the time.” This raises questions about not only privacy but of power. Who has the capacity to do this kind of analysis? What might they do with it? Should using such information require some kind of informed consent?

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Do smaller towns produce more athletic stars? The article, “How to Raise a Superstar,” reports on research  suggesting that they do.

In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers the article considers the possible effect of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule which is based on the research of K. Anders Ericsson. Pointing toward a core presupposition of this approach, the article quotes Ericsson as saying, “The differences between expert performers and normal adults are not immutable, that is, due to genetically prescribed talent. Instead, these differences reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance.”

An additional area that Gladwell considered was the impact of January birthdays on athletic success (especially for hockey players). This article, however, suggests that a more powerful influence is importance of birthplace. Researchers found:

the percent of professional athletes who came from cities of fewer than a half million people was far higher than expected. While approximately 52 percent of the United States population resides in metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 people, such cities only produce 13% of the players in the NHL, 29% of the players in the NBA, 15% of the players in MLB, and 13% of players in the PGA.

This suggests that the chances of going on to success in those sports is enhanced if the athlete comes from a smaller community rather than a large city.  The article goes on to suggest possible explanatory factors for this correlation. It would be interesting to break this down even further to see if this trend holds for those who come from communities of less than 50,000 or even less than 10,000.

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The New York Times has an article up about twenty-somethings: “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”  Of particular concern is the increased likelihood that people in this age group are more likely to live at home with parents than in the past. The authors identify some of these patterns:

One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever.

Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.

This is identified as part of the “changing timetable for adulthood” resulting in extended adolescence.

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Bowdoin College offers a sociology course titled “In the Facebook Age” which analyzes sociological concepts and applies them to Facebook. According to this report at allfacebook.com, the course is taught by sociology professor Dhiraj Murthy and covers topics from “internet privacy, to the persistence of information put online, to the opposing forces of risk and opportunity.”

The Bowdoin Orient newspaper also includes information about the course which goes beyond just Facebook including a consideration of ChatRoulette and YouTube.

Researchers find that “text speak” by kids, in which they use creative abbreviations to shorten words, correlates with strong literacy skills: Phone texting ‘helps pupils to spell’. According to the BBC report on the research:

Instead it suggests that pupils who regularly use text language – with all its mutations of phonetic spelling and abbreviations – also appear to be developing skills in the more formal use of English.

Pew has a report up as part of their Millennials coverage providing data on teens and sexting. They report:

  • 4% of cell-owning teens ages 12-17 say they have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else via text messaging.
  • 15% of cell-owning teens ages 12-17 say they have received sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of someone they know via text messaging on their cell phone.

In addition, they provide statistics on teens and cell phone trends. They find, for example, that, as of 2009, 58% of 12 year-olds own a cell phone, an increase from 18% in 2004.

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Sociologist Markella B. Rutherford has an article out in Qualitative Sociology titled, “Children’s Autonomy and Responsibility: An Analysis of Childrearing Advice” [pdf]. I found out about it from this blogpost Lisa Guernsey who suggested an alternative title might have been, “Today’s Kids: So Many Choices, So Little Freedom.” Guernsey summarizes Rutherford’s research this way:

Rutherford compared childrearing advice in Parents magazine from 1929 to 2006, poring over 300 texts comprised of advice columns and articles on child development, discipline, parenting methods, and family relationships. She was looking for moments in the texts where authors talked about giving children choices – such as choosing what or when to eat, what activities to be involved in, what kind of chores to do or when to do them. What she found is that parents have, over the decades, given their kids more choices at home while tightening the leash once outside the house.

She goes on to provide additional details from Rutherford’s research and also provides links to a related story on what she calls the “choices-versus-freedom paradox” about parents being angry at neighborhood ice cream vendors who might seem to be a threat to parental control outside the house.

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Could you give up your cell phone for a semester? The Oregon Extension is a one-semester liberal arts college program located at an old logging camp in the mountains of southwestern Oregon near Ashland. As they describe it, “Daily reading, small group discussion, and one-on-one conversations with faculty members comprise the heart of the OE program.”

When students enroll they agree to limit their use of technology including televisions, laptops, and cars. This also includes giving up their cell phones during the week while they are on the mountain. In a post titled “Community,” they explain their reasoning this way:

One of the most effective means toward creating a refreshingly alternative atmosphere has been our policy of limiting the use of cell phones for students and faculty alike. We ask that you ‘check’ your cell phone with us when you arrive. We store your cell phone safely, and return it to you for use during our week-end town trips and during our trip to San Francisco. Public phones and email are available for your use while you are on campus, and the OE has limited web access for necessary functions like college registration, travel reservations or required research. You are welcome to take your laptop into Ashland on weekends, where you’ll find free access to high-speed internet connections.

They have posted some responses from students who gave up their phones for the semester at “OE students reflect on a semester of limited cell phone access.” Some comments include:

“During my time at the OE, I wrote a lot of letters and made a good amount of phone calls. While they were inconvenient methods compared to a cell phone, they made me more aware and appreciative of my relationships.”

“I know if I had my cell phone on me the whole time, I would have been more focused on things going on at home than on getting to know my classmates, having amazing conversation with my cabin mates, and enjoying the incredible experience at hand.”

“I had to admit I liked living without my phone. I didn’t feel stressed or pulled in so many different directions.”

I found this interesting because in my Social Problems course this past spring, when talking about technology and its impact, I coincidentally suggested that  students either give up their cellphones or go on a Facebook fast for just a weekend. I suggested that by doing so we might learn something about our taken-for-granted practices. I ended up with no takers, but we did have some interesting discussions about how much we take technology for granted and a few examples of people who’d  found themselves without their phones or computers for some reason or another and found it to be an enlightening experience.

Don’t forget, the next International Shutdown Day is May 1, 2010.

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The New York Times has a snippet from Ben Schott, author of Schott’s Almanac and collector of miscellaneous pieces of information, in which he provides some benchmarks that allow us to compare the present with the past. It is titled “The Way We Were, 1968.”

In it he provides some results from opinion polls from 1968 (for example, 72% “agreed that Richard Nixon was a man of ‘high integrity'” and 53% of non-blacks “agreed that there should be laws against marriages between Negroes and whites”). Also included are results on questions regarding “social alienation,” “Whites views of Negroes,” Richard Nixon, Vietnam, and both “Beliefs” and the “Most Important Problems” (for which they provide contrasting 2008 results).

It also includes results regarding parents 1968 attitudes about teenagers, including resulst on issues such as whether or not they would forbid their teenager from going steady (11%), allowing their boys to have long hair (50%), and smoking marijuana (85%).

Such results provide opportunities to consider the impacts that age cohorts have and might make for interesting discussion points about how times change and what the impacts of such changes might have for socialization.

Click image below to visit the New York Times full-size image:

The Way We Were, 1968

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I was searching for some statistics on both age of first sexual intercourse for teens and effectiveness of absitinence education when I came across a study that provided answers to the age question  at ChildTrends.org based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics.  Written by By Elizabeth Terry-Humen, M.P.P., Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., and Sarah Cottingham it is titled “Trends and Recent Estimates: Sexual Activity Among U.S. Teens” [pdf].

In addition to their written report, they provide a series of graphs including this one that give a sense of age at first sexual intercourse for both males and females (from p. 2):

Age of first intercourse

They also provide a graph that contrasts types of sexual contact for different racial/ethnic groups (from p. 3):

Type of sexual activity by race/ethnicity

They also contrast the number of partners teens had by gender (p. 4):

Number of partners by gender

I had also remembered recent research results about the effectiveness of abstinence only sex education programs and tracked down this recent summary from the Washington Post: “Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds.” They report that:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The study was by Janet Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins and appeared in the January 2009 issue of Pediatrics and was titled “Patient teenagers?: Virginity pledges as a marker for lower sexual activity.” She did a longitudinal study using a national sample. In her abstract she states her results this way:

Five years after the pledge, 82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged. Pledgers and matched nonpledgers did not differ in premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and anal and oral sex variables. Pledgers had 0.1 fewer past-year partners but did not differ in lifetime sexual partners and age of first sex. Fewer pledgers than matched nonpledgers used birth control and condoms in the past year and birth control at last sex.

There’s a report on the study at CNN, an interview with the author at Time,  and US News & World Reports provides a more detailed summary concluding that there were patterns among those who did remain abstinent, reporting that the study “showed that the greater sexual restraint of the pledging teens, demonstrated here and in most other studies, was not due to the pledge per se but rather other virginity-promoting factors in their backgrounds.”

The New York Times provided this graph and brief summary of earlier research  that reached a similar conclusion as part of a larger story on the topic in 2007.

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