Time to blow the dust off this thing and get back to posting on a (semi-)regular basis!
To mark my return, I’ve posted my slides and speaking notes from 3 conference presentations I’ve made during the past 6 months.
- The first, delivered at the annual meeting of Midwest Sociological Society in March, links current Internet prosumption to historical forms not owned by corporate interests and provides much-needed data regarding how the relationship between owners, administrators, and prosumers plays out in practice.
- The second, delivered at the Theorizing the Web conference in April at the University of Maryland, delves into the interactional and structural workings of claiming a male-dominated space at a popular social news website.
- And the third, delivered at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in August, looks at the role of Facebook in maintaining social ties and supplementing social capital.
Listed in reverse order below. Don’t forget to select View>Show speaker notes if you want to see my delivered remarks. And I’ll be doing my best from now on not to turn this site into a tumbleweed factory…
Lynn, Randy and James C. Witte. 2011. “Social Network Sites, Social Ties, and Social Capital.” 106th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 20-23, Las Vegas, NV. [Select View>Show speaker notes to see spoken text.]
In this paper we present results from a national sample of American adults (N = 571) of all ages, who are members of two online survey panels. The results show that social network sites (SNSs) are used to maintain social ties at a comparable rate to face-to-face, phone, and e-mail, and moreover that SNSs are used to maintain ties with close ties and family members as well as distant ties and friends. Facebook users who use Facebook to maintain ties are no more or less likely to maintain ties through other media, while Facebook users who don’t use Facebook to maintain ties compensate by relying more frequently upon other media. The findings further suggest that SNSs supplement–rather than simply increasing or decreasing–social capital, and are multifaceted portals that are not used in the same ways by all users.
Lynn, Randy and Jeffrey Johnson. 2011. “‘Bitches Love’ Ambiguous Sexism: Gender, ‘Karma,’ and the Limits of Male Progressivism in Online Communities.” Theorizing the Web 2011 Conference, April 9, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. [Select View>Show speaker notes to see spoken text.]
Although most social media applications have more female than male users, social news websites continue to be male-dominated. To investigate the causes of this phenomenon, we examined 52 front-page links and 45,454 comments relating to gender collected over one week of front page activity on Reddit.com. We found that hostile sexism was common on Reddit and identified three structural factors contributing to its prevalence: 1) front-page selection of links espousing or encouraging sexist or masculinist perspectives, 2) the relationship between “karma,” humor, and boundary maintenance, and 3) the rationalization of sexual objectification through a framework of “gender-blind sexism.” Examples illustrate how these factors combine to place considerable quantitative, spatial, and normative impediments in the way of anti-sexist and anti-masculinist sentiments.
Lynn, Randy and James C. Witte. 2011. “Repaired Is Broken: Newsgroup Commodification, Prosumption, and Rebellion.” Annual meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society, March 24-27, St. Louis, MO. [Select View>Show speaker notes to see spoken text.]
Extant studies of Internet prosumption often do not situate the commodification of Internet prosumption in its historical contexts and lack empirical data. This study attempts to address these limitations by examining the social news website, employing a a mixed method analysis of all 282 front-page posts on Reddit between December 2005 and March 2011 in which one or more of the words “Digg,” “Digger,” or “Diggers” appear. Results show that corporatized Internet prosumption is linked to the cultural practices of early prosumptive communities (such as Usenet) in ways that affect its economic relationships. The data shows that prosumers will effectively use the traditional tools of resistance employed by producers and consumers owners or administrators of social news sites are thought to have illegitimately exercised their formal powers, but also that corporate ownership may leveraged by shrewd administrators to secure compliance from restless prosumers.
If it seems like American teens are texting all the time, it’s probably because on average they’re sending or receiving 3,339 texts a month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake – an 8 percent jump from last year.
So I said to myself, “Hmm. I wonder if by ‘average’ they mean the mean or the median–you know, given the fact that texts per month is likely to be an extremely skewed distribution and the mean would just happen to distort central tendency in a direction favorable to moral panic narratives of teens and digital media.”
So I wrote to Nielsen. Here’s what they wrote back:
I received your question about the mean vs. median number of texts that teens sent in Q2 2010. The 3,339 number is the mean, and the median is 1,950 texts per month.
The median texts sent or received per month is 58% of the mean. (For comparison, median household income in 2005 was 73% of the mean.) That’s some pretty significant skew there.
Surely some enterprising journalist has done his or her job and contacted Nielsen in the same manner I did?
No? Okay. I wonder what happens if I search for 3,339 texts per month.
Not only has this misleading statistic been parroted some 160,000 times, but the top five results (and eight of the top ten) all forgot to read the actual press release.
…on average they’re sending or receiving 3,339 texts a month.
So, to recap, if you read CNN or Mashable, or watched Brian Williams last night, you heard that the average teen sends six texts per waking hour. But accounting for the inclusion of received texts and more statistically sound use of the median, the average teen actually sends or receives three texts per waking hour.
Furthermore, this assumes that texts are evenly distributed while one is awake. I don’t know about everyone else, but I tend to have text conversations–wherein several texts are exchanged in a short period of time.
If you further account for the uneven distribution of texts during the day, it’s more like the average teen sends or receives nine texts in fifteen minutes, and then none for the next two hours and forty-five minutes.
This blog has been pretty slow lately–even for me.
One of the reasons for this, though, is I’ve been involved creating and maintaining a blog and website for my university’s Graduate Student Sociological Association.
I recently made an attempt at A Guide to the Sociological Blogosphere on that site, which may be of interest to visitors here. Take a look and feel free to put me in my place if I’ve made any glaring omissions.
My conference paper about media constructions of parenthood during the recent “sexting” panic is available for download. Link and abstract below.
Lynn, Randy. 2010. “Constructing Parenthood in Moral Panics of Youth, Digital Media, and ‘Sexting.’” 105th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 14-17, Atlanta, GA. (PDF, 295 KB)
This study examines 93 articles published in major U.S. newspapers between November 2008 and April 2009 regarding the dissemination of sexually explicit images using cellular phone cameras and multimedia message technology, or “sexting,” among youths. The results show that these media sources viewed sexting through the lens of a moral panic and uncritically disseminated essentialist representations of teens as impulsive, libidinous, and lacking self-control.
However, these articles also uncritically disseminated stereotypical representations of parents as ignorant, technologically inept, and incapable of controlling their children’s behaviors. Moreover, these articles aggressively propounded parenting strategies for addressing sexting in the family, preferring authoritarian solutions to less restrictive or confrontational solutions and invoking draconian legal consequences as justification for implementing harsh parental restrictions.
These findings suggest media sources play an especially significant role in constructing exemplary parenting with regard to youth’s use of digital media, while complicating critical theory’s tendency to conflate parents, law enforcement officials, and journalists as harmonious co-conspirators in the oppression of youths.
Adolescence is popularly considered a biological inevitability largely due to the prevalence of misleading claims about the adolescent brain, such as the following which appeared recently in the New York Times:
While we used to think the brain was relatively mature by 16 or 18, in fact it is still developing into the mid-20s. What does develop early is the pleasure-seeking area, the nucleus accumbens. The regions that help with abstract thinking, decision-making and judgment are still maturing, and therefore less likely to inhibit the pleasure-seeking behavior.
In fact, it’s those who argue that adolescents are intractably limited by underdeveloped brains who are displaying deficient abstract thinking and judgment, for several reasons:
- Behavioral studies do not support the hypothesis that adolescents are biologically or cognitively deficient. Memory peaks shortly after puberty. Raw intelligence scores peak around age 14. Piaget’s formal operational thinking stage is usually attained by age 15. Lawrence Kohlberg found most teens are capable of moral reasoning at the level of adults. And behavioral studies of decision making and judgment have also found that teens perform at a level equal to adults. (Source)
- The causal relationship between brain activity and behavior is unclear. Might behavior produce brain activity? Although there is a definite pattern of brain activity associated with schizophrenia, for example, Joseph Dumit has shown that many schizophrenics actually have “normal” brains. Yet even scientists who (should) know that correlation does not imply causation frequently conclude from correlational studies that brain activity is causing behavior.
- To attach the labels of “developing” or “maturing” to changes in brain activity over time is to impose a narrative not reflected in the data. Suppose the same changes were found to occur between the ages of 40 and 55, rather than ages 10 and 25. No one would think to apply the “maturing” descriptor, because the 40 year old is already “mature.” When the data is interpreted to coincide with cultural expectations of extended adolescence, however, the descriptor is uncritically applied.
Cross-cultural data overwhelmingly demonstrate that adolescence is a social construction. Fifty-five percent of societies studied by anthropologists don’t even have a word for “adolescence.” Contemporary adolescence has its roots not in biology, but in the urbanization, immigration, labor and educational movements, and misguided psychological theories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The empirical data generated from new brain scan technologies, then, are used to reinforce hierarchical age relationships much as phrenology was used to reinforce hierarchical class relationships in the nineteenth century. No doubt brain activity is more strongly correlated with psychosocial behavior than skull shapes, but this is not a high bar to clear–glaring disparities remain and at present the causal inferences are just as dubious.
Until these problems are resolved, telling youths they lack the cranial capacity to regulate their behavior is no more scientifically valid than slandering someone for having the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter.
Earlier this month I spent a week at the National Data Archive for Child Abuse and Neglect investigating the correlation between guardian behaviors (rules, filters, surveillance, etc.) and youth online safety.
I’ve recently become interested in how technology use among youths is regulated within the family. Parents tend to learn about parenting mostly from their own parents, but that resource is of limited use with new technologies, so it raises the questions of how and from whom guardians are learning about how to deal with youths and digital media.
I quickly discovered that there are many studies of youths’ online experiences, but very few studies of how guardians regulate their youths’ use of digital media–much less correlating those guardian behaviors with online safety. So I took the opportunity to use the NDACAN’s data to look more closely at this relationship.
“Online safety,” in this context, refers to two classes of events: (1) exposure to illicit or threatening content against the youth’s will, such as being cyberbullied, exposed to pornography, or sexually solicited, and (2) unsafe behaviors initiated by the youth, such as revealing too much personal information or participating in cyberbullying or sexual activity.
Two big caveats: (1) The data is ten years old—equivalent to the paleolithic era in Internet time. (2) There’s no time-order data, so there’s no way to tell which came first, the guardian strategy or the unsafe event. I’ll address these limitations in a new study I’m planning for the fall, which will update the instrument and should allow an interesting comparative analysis of how guardian and youth behaviors have changed over the past decade.
Despite these limitations, the results were interesting, and since so many public discussions of Internet safety rely on anecdotes, media sensationalism, and biased “studies” conducted by advocacy groups, I thought I’d share my main findings:
(1) The effect of guardian strategies is small but significant. Guardian strategies collectively accounted for about as much variance as demographic controls such as age and sex, but had just one-fourth the explained variance of variables assessing access in the home, frequency of use (days per week), intensity of use (hours per day), and diversity of use (do they use e-mail, do they use IM, etc.).
(2) A good relationship is important. When the guardian and youth both agreed that they got along “very well,” the youth was less likely to have had an unsafe incident.
(3) Learning about the Internet is important. Youths with guardians who knew as much or more about the Internet as they did were less likely to have an unsafe event than youths who knew more about the Internet than their guardian.
(4) Talking about the risks is important. Among frequent youth users, the more their guardians had talked with them about online dangers, the less likely they were to have had an unsafe event.
(5) Having rules is important. “Rules,” in this context, refers to an understanding between the guardian and youth about what (s)he can or cannot do, like time limits, curfews, or designating certain sites or types of interactions as off limits. (It does not necessarily mean that the youth’s activities are monitored or the rule is enforced.) Youths who had more of these understandings were less likely to have had an unsafe event.
(6) The jury is still out on filters and surveillance. Blocks and filters on home computers were insignificant predictors of whether or not youths experienced an unsafe event. Surveillance (which ranges from the guardian occasionally peeking over the youth’s shoulder to checking browser histories or using keyloggers), meanwhile, was positively correlated with unsafe events.
As I stressed earlier, it’s impossible to know whether guardians with youths who have been unsafe online implement surveillance by way of response, or whether guardians implement surveillance first and then the youth figures out a way around it and subsequently experiences an unsafe event. So I definitely wouldn’t say that the evidence shows that surveillance doesn’t work—but I also didn’t find any evidence that it works either.
I was surprised that the autocratic methods, such as filters and surveillance, were less effective than the more collaborative methods, such as conversations and rules. In a content analysis of newspaper coverage of sexting that I’m preparing for the ASA annual meeting in August, I found that the autocratic methods were commonly and aggressively advanced by law enforcement officials, editorialists, and even parenting experts. Guardians were systematically portrayed as admirable, autocratic tough-lovers or, conversely, negligent enablers.
Given the popularity of autocratic methods in the media—and the potential damage to the guardian-youth relationship they risk—it will be interesting to see in future studies whether they are actually more effective than talking and setting some guidelines.
My paper, “Teens, Tribunes, and Tribulations: Representations of Youth and Technology in Mass Media,” is now available for download.
Written last fall for a public sociology class, it examines how essentialist and determinist constructions of youth and technology (of the sort espoused by Bauerlein in my most recent post) act as vehicles for exploitative adult beliefs and fears related to power, control, and norm preservation.
This paper was also a winner of the District of Columbia Sociological Society’s 2010 Irene B. Taeuber Graduate Student Paper Award.
Mark Bauerlein is an English professor, moral panic practitioner, technological determinist, and G. Stanley Hall kool aid drinker, as evidenced by his book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.
These credentials are evidently sufficient for an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, where Bauerlein argues that digitally mediated communication makes kids social morons too stupid to understand nonverbal cues:
In Silicon Valley itself, as the Los Angeles Times reported last year, some companies have installed the “topless” meeting—in which not only laptops but iPhones and other tools are banned—to combat a new problem: “continuous partial attention.” With a device close by, attendees at workplace meetings simply cannot keep their focus on the speaker. It’s too easy to check email, stock quotes and Facebook. While a quick log-on may seem, to the user, a harmless break, others in the room receive it as a silent dismissal. It announces: “I’m not interested.” So the tools must now remain at the door.
Older employees might well accept such a ban, but younger ones might not understand it. Reading a text message in the middle of a conversation isn’t a lapse to them—it’s what you do. It has, they assume, no nonverbal meaning to anyone else.
It does, of course, but how would they know it?
I mean really, young people—do you have to create your own social meanings? Can’t you just assimilate completely into the dominant culture?
Bauerlein cites as evidence the work of anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, who “argued that body language, facial expressions and stock mannerisms function ‘in juxtaposition to words,’ imparting feelings, attitudes, reactions and judgments in a different register.” Apparently it never occurs to Bauerlein that Hall was describing a particular social context (i.e., face-to-face communication) and other cues may fill the role of nonverbals in different contexts. Or that he is perpetuating a tired trope that has accompanied youth and technology for nearly one hundred years–despite the fact that radio, television, video games, and other media have yet to destroy society.
Bauerlein ends with an ethnocentric plea for compassion :
Lots of folks grumble about the diffidence, self-absorption and general uncommunicativeness of Generation Y. The next time they face a twenty-something who doesn’t look them in the eye, who slouches and sighs for no apparent reason, who seems distracted and unaware of the rising frustration of the other people in the room, and who turns aside to answer a text message with glee and facility, they shouldn’t think, “What a rude kid.” Instead, they should show a little compassion and, perhaps, seize on a teachable moment. “Ah,” they might think instead, “another texter who doesn’t realize that he is communicating, right now, with every glance and movement—and that we’re reading him all too well.”
Seems to me a more compassionate interpretation would be ‘People construct their own meanings, groups negotiate meanings that are contested and constantly changing, and the dominant meanings will be different in twenty years whether I like it or not. Though it may come at a cost to certain literacies and meanings I value, these youths are engaging their social world and developing new literacies and meanings. Good for them.’
FiveThirtyEight, a paragon of insightful statistical commentary, critiques a series of Hyundai commercials featuring Jeff Bridges in which adult fears of reckless teen drivers are exploited to sell cars:
My point here is not to justify teen driving behavior. It’s a serious problem, but one that receives ample attention, publicity and action by state legislatures. But few dare mention the fatality accidents on the other end of the age spectrum because seniors are politically powerful in ways teenagers are not. Worse, Hyundai apparently thinks it’s clever or cool to sell cars by making people fear young drivers. They would never do this if political clout were similar for younger drivers and older drivers, who happen to be–albeit for different reasons, of course–our most dangerous drivers.