Monthly Archives: June 2008

Anxious about non-friends inviting you to be their Facebook ‘friend’? You’re not alone.

I’ve written earlier about how odd it is to be invited by non-friends or the weakest of friends to be their Facebook friends and this post raising the same issue through humor troupe Idiot’s of Ants.

Turns out that sociologists now have a name for this angst: Social Networking Anxiety Disorder.

Nicole Ferraro of Internet Evolution writes: ” Speaking on a recent O’Reilly Webcast (The Facebook Application Ecosystem: Why Some Thrive — and Most Don’t), Shelly Farnham, doctor of social psychology, said, “A common problem in social networking applications is it’s hard to say no to people who want to be your friend,” adding that a number of applications ease this pain by allowing you to isolate 25 Friends (e.g., Top Friends).

“But what about when someone you don’t consider to be a ‘Top Friend’ per se requests to be part of that elite list? Truth be told, our social algorithms and applications just can’t capture the complexities of human relationships.

“Not sure if you’re suffering? Here are three symptoms of SNAD to look out for. If you have any of these, you should contact your mental-health-professional avatar immediately.

“1. You were considering breaking up with your significant other, but decided to stick it out because of the anxiety associated with changing your Relationship Status on Facebook and de-tagging hundreds of photos.

“2. You currently have 36+ Friend requests festering on Facebook or MySpace, which have built up month over month because you don’t want your rejection to send these strangers on a downward, emotional spiral.

“3. You belong to several groups including “I Skin Cats on Sundays” and “Cousins Make Great Husbands,” because, well, they were nice enough to invite you…”

To see Nicole’s whole interesting post, click here.

Kitty Genovese all over again?

CNN had footage from a surveillance camera of an elderly pedestrian, Angel Arce Torres, in Hartford who was hit by a Honda and sent toppling.

The video camera showed that “Nine cars pass[ed] Torres as a few people stare[d] from the sidewalk. Some approach[ed] Torres, but most stay[ed] put until a police cruiser responding to an unrelated call arrive[d] on the scene after about a minute and a half.” The Police Chief, shortly after the incident castigated Hartford residents for their lack of a moral compass.

By the next day (Friday 6/608), police were backtracking from that story; it turns out that 4 people did call 911 within a minute of the accident. The hit-and-run victim, Mr. Torres, remains in critical condition. We wish him a speedy recovery.

[For more on the reference to Kitty Genovese, see here, both on the callousness of Americans, and the possible over-exagerations of the non-response.]

For the CNN story, click here.

Barack’s nomination and finding a trustworthy veep

We congratulate Saguaro’s Barack Obama on wrapping up the Democratic nomination for President. Assuming all goes to plan, he will be the nation’s first African-American major party nominee for President. [Various folks have commented on the fact that only Hillary Clinton upon losing could give an “unconcession speech“. If she can’t give an acceptance speech, she won’t accept reality sums up Maureen Dowd.]

In choosing a vice presidential running mate, we hope that Barack will find someone other than Hillary Clinton who can help to reunify the Democratic base of working collar Americans and older Americans. Choosing Hillary only shackles Barack to the scorched earth politics of the past as we witnessed in great quantity from her during the primary season. Moreover, as we often write about in this column, trust is an extremely valuable commodity and hard to repair once breached. And with Hillary as his Vice President, President Barack Obama could scarcely take a business trip without fearing a palace coup during his departure. Whether one’s grist is Shakespearean tragedies or the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, it’s hard to build an effective team around fratricide.

Trivial technologies (Twitter, Flash Mobs) have power in non-democratic countries

[Updated 4/7/09 to reflect latest use of Twitter in Moldovan protests.]

Clay Shirky, author of the interesting read, Here Comes Everybody, has commented on how technologies that seemed trivial and pointless have shown their mettle outside the U.S.

Flash mobs: As Shirky says everyone remembers flash mobs. The technology that made it possible to almost instantaneously and without a clear organization, assemble a pillow fight in downtown Toronto, or enable a mob to all meet in New York’s Central Park, and make pigeon noises for a few minutes. A wonderful recent cool, but pointless example, was 100s of New Yorkers freezing simultaneously in Grand Central Station for a minute.

The anonymous New York founder “Bill”, aimed to critique hipster culture and art happenings.

I published a piece on the meaningless of this trend (“Flash-in -the-pan Mobs?“, 2003). But then in 2006, a developer created a page on Live Journal in Belarus. He proposed a flash mob of citizens convening in the central square and simultaneously eating ice cream. The government’s rules prohibited group public actions (although no doubt the law’s inventors weren’t thinking about ice cream eating). The protesters brought their cameras and filmed black clad security forces apprehending them in October Square. The mission didn’t bring down the government since the protesters overestimated how enraged citizens outside Belarus would at this action, but they did make the government look foolish.

Twitter: another seemingly mindless technology being put to social use. Twitter users send ‘tweets’ (short descriptions, up to 140 characters, of what they are doing at the moment). ‘Having a little trail mix’, ‘On my way to the daily grind’, etc. As the Toronto Star describes Twitter: “In Akron last week, JuggleNuts coded 250 death certificates in a single day. “A new record,” he said. In Bakersfield, jcjdoss “(j)ust bit into a rotten apple… almost barfed.” Seconds later and half a world away, sauj in Auckland, New Zealand, shared a moment that was, he said, “Beautiful: the early morning train, witnessing the gentle pink blushes or the sun reflected on the wind-caressed waves of the Orakei basin.

“Random musings, mundane updates, boredom-fueled brain farts, the rare poetic outburst – all constant fare on Twitter, the online social-networking (think: Facebook) world’s fascination of the moment.

“Until very recently, Twitter could have been regarded as little more than that: an always-on inanity machine, indulging spontaneous tedium. In the past two months, though, those narrow parameters have broadened considerably.”

Then Egypt and China found twitter. An American journalism grade, James Karl Buck, arrested in April in Egypt, send a ‘tweet’ through his cellphone that said simply ‘Arrested.’ Buck’s tweet, after being taken in by policy following an anti-government protest, rallied family, friends and even the U.S. government and led to his ultimate release.

On April 6, 2009, 10,000 protesters used Twitter to mobilize out of thin air to protest the communist government, in a protest that began peaceably and turned violent. Protesters created their own searchable Twitter tag so other would-be protesters could learn of the impending protest.

Last month, the Chinese 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Chengdu offered Twitter another chance to shine as a meaningful technology. The Toronto Star notes that “Twitter users offered the first on-scene accounts. “Slight ly dizzy after being shaken around by the Chengdu earthquake for several hours now,” tweeted one user, Casperodj.

“Suddenly, Twitter’s triviality was no longer its most notable feature. ‘I saw three people in Chengdou giving reports on the ground long before traditional media could even get close,’ said Fons Tuinstra, a media consultant in Shanghai and a fellow at the U.S. media nonprofit organization the Poynter Institute. ‘On that first day, it was a very important tool – a great example of how it could work.’

“A year ago, it was a weird little toy,” says Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief of Technology Review, a publication owned by M.I.T. “Now, its potential seems significantly greater than that.

“How much greater? That’s open for debate. (‘One of the reasons it’s not fully mature yet is that it keeps breaking,’ says Pontin, a nod to the service’s iffy architecture).

“But slow down a moment. The weird little toy is still very much at play, and with tweets like this one, from femmedelacreme, still being the norm, overblown idealism is kept well in check: ‘I am really craving shavings of parmesan cheese. Plain. Such oddness.’ “

Twitter users have doubled in only 18 months from just over 600,000 to more than 1.2 million. The creators (much like Flash Mobs) did not build it with social purpose in mind, although the Toronto Star notes that Twitter offers to turn the world into 24-hour a day micro-blogging.

And some claim that with Twitter’s rise in popularity, comes the increased corporatization of the site (a la Friendster, Facebook or Second Life) that ultimately portends its demise as an innovative social approach.

Volunteering, family ties forestall mental declines

Harvard School of Public Health researchers Karen Ertel, Lisa Berkman, and Maria Glymour, in a paper to appear in the July 2008 issue of American Journal of Public Health, found that an active social life forestalled memory losses. Before you get too excited, they didn’t find that an active party life was associated with the same beneficial impact!

The study of nearly 17,000 people found that the least socially connected individuals experience memory-loss (dementia) declines at twice the rate of the most socially connected individuals in their study. They used data from a large national health and retirement study in the U.S. that followed individuals over 6 years and calibrated their memory four times over the study.

Their social integration scale was composed of factors like:
– volunteering at least one hour in the past year;
– contacting one of their parents and one of their children once or more a week by phone email or in person;
– getting together with neighbors once a week just to chat; and
– being married.

These results held even when controlling for age, income, health status and other factors. And they found no evidence that the relationship between socializing and memory went the other way: i.e., that those with the best memories became more social.

The mechanism is unclear. One theory is that “the sort of emotional validation and sense of purpose that comes from these social contacts may have neuro-hormonal benefits” for the brain, Ertel said. Another hypothesis holds that being socially active stimulates the brain in a way that either boosts memory function or protects it from decline. Or it may be that people with a strong social network have lots of friends who encourage them to stay healthy and to keep up with their medication, Ertel says.
See press advisory about this study.

“And I said yes” (Barack commencement address on serving one’s country)

Barack Obama, in his commencement address at Wesleyan, subbing for Senator Ted Kennedy, gave an oration on the topic that Ted was planning on delivering: service to one’s country.

Barck indicated that we are misinclined to believe that there are two differing and unconnected themes in society:

“The first is the story of our everyday cares and concerns – the responsibilities we have to our jobs and our families – the bustle and busyness of what happens in our own life. And the second is the story of what happens in the life of our country – of what happens in the wider world. It’s the story you see when you catch a glimpse of the day’s headlines or turn on the news at night – a story of big challenges like war and recession; hunger and climate change; injustice and inequality. It’s a story that can sometimes seem distant and separate from our own – a destiny to be shaped by forces beyond our control.

“And yet, the history of this nation tells us this isn’t so. It tells us that we are a people whose destiny has never been written for us, but by us – by generations of men and women, young and old, who have always believed that their story and the American story are not separate, but shared. And for more than two centuries, they have served this country in ways that have forever enriched both.

“I say this to you as someone who couldn’t be standing here today if not for the service of others, and wouldn’t be standing here today if not for the purpose that service gave my own life.

“You see, I spent much of my childhood adrift. My father left my mother and I when I was two. When my mother remarried, I lived in Indonesia for a time, but was mostly raised in Hawaii by her and my grandparents from Kansas. My teenage years were filled with more than the usual dose of adolescent rebellion, and I’ll admit that I didn’t always take myself or my studies very seriously. I realize that none of you can probably relate to this, but there were many times when I wasn’t sure where I was going, or what I would do.

“But during my first two years of college, perhaps because the values my mother had taught me – hard work, honesty, empathy – had resurfaced after a long hibernation; or perhaps because of the example of wonderful teachers and lasting friends, I began to notice a world beyond myself. I became active in the movement to oppose the apartheid regime of South Africa. I began following the debates in this country about poverty and health care. So that by the time I graduated from college, I was possessed with a crazy idea – that I would work at a grassroots level to bring about change.I wrote letters to every organization in the country I could think of. And one day, a small group of churches on the South Side of Chicago offered me a job to come work as a community organizer in neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel plant closings. My mother and grandparents wanted me to go to law school. My friends were applying to jobs on Wall Street. Meanwhile, this organization offered me $12,000 a year plus $2,000 for an old, beat-up car.

“And I said yes.”

Barack points to national and community service, not only as a way to discharge a debt to society, but to give meaning to one’s live and connect one’s life and narrative to a larger whole.

[Talking about his Chicago organizing experience…] “[It] wasn’t easy, but eventually, we made progress. Day by day, block by block, we brought the community together, and registered new voters, and set up after school programs, and fought for new jobs, and helped people live lives with some measure of dignity.

“But I also began to realize that I wasn’t just helping other people. Through service, I found a community that embraced me; citizenship that was meaningful; the direction I’d been seeking. Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America.

“Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say ‘chance’ because you won’t have to take it. There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s.

“But I hope you don’t. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt.

“It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.”

“We will face our share of cynics and doubters. But we always have. I can still remember a conversation I had with an older man all those years ago just before I left for Chicago. He said, “Barack, I’ll give you a bit of advice. Forget this community organizing business and do something that’s gonna make you some money. You can’t change the world, and people won’t appreciate you trying. But you’ve got a nice voice, so you should think about going into television broadcasting. I’m telling you, you’ve got a future.

“Now, he may have been right about the TV thing, but he was wrong about everything else. For that old man has not seen what I have seen. He has not seen the faces of ordinary people the first time they clear a vacant lot or build a new playground or force an unresponsive leader to provide services to their community. He has not seen the face of a child brighten because of an inspiring teacher or mentor. He has not seen scores of young people educate their parents on issues like Darfur, or mobilize the conscience of a nation around the challenge of climate change. He has not seen lines of men and women that wrap around schools and churches, that stretch block after block just so they could make their voices heard, many for the very first time.

“And that old man who didn’t believe the world could change – who didn’t think one person could make a difference…”

[See earlier blog post regarding Barack’s speech on national service]

Full text of Barack Obama’s Wesleyan commencement address available here.