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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