Monday, July 31, 2017

Norm Violation: A Simple Example

I pulled into the grocery store parking lot yesterday. It was 7:00ish on a Sunday morning. No shortage of parking spaces, as you can see. I'm guessing the owner of this fabulous Dodge Challenger didn't want to take a chance on someone denting or scratching their car. We are taught to park between the lines, but some of our fellow drivers bend the social rules now and again. There is no punishment for this norm violation that I know of, unless silent judgement counts. Or being used as an example when I teach norms in Introduction to Sociology. A new semester begins soon. My file of examples is always growing.

Song of the Day - Moanin' by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers


Friday, July 28, 2017

Two Ways to Be Prepared to Teach First-Year College Students

The fall semester is coming soon. I'm feeling the pressure. More work now is less work later, I like to tell myself. So after I write this I'm working on my syllabi. I'm thinking of new 18-year-olds in my classroom. Should I read the latest research on millennials so I know how to teach them? I suppose I could, but more likely I'll draw on two key things to remember:

1. Don't overgeneralize.

If I read a list of all the things that happened before the incoming first-year students were born, it serves as a useful reminder that students are young and professors like me are not. I was born in 1972. If I make an obscure reference to a baseball player that I loved when I was a kid (Oscar Gamble) there is no way in hell they will catch the reference. But that doesn't mean all 18-year-olds are the same. It's a mistake to paint all 18-year-olds with a broad brush and, for example, assume they're technology whiz kids. I find in conversations with students (and in simple observations) that youngsters are, in some ways, like oldsters. Some 18-year-olds have their phones in their faces while others don't. Amazing. People are different. Oldsters shouldn't assume all 18-year-olds can't function without iPhones and PowerPoint just as 18-year-olds shouldn't assume oldsters don't know anything that happened after 1986.

No, the students won't catch my Oscar Gamble reference, but some of them have watched The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Those specific movies come to mind because I can remember two of my students recently making references to them. So while I'll stay away from super obscure popular culture references, I won't avoid more obvious references. They know who Michael Jordan is and I can mention him if I talk about consumption and Nike or if I want to assert he's better than LeBron (although for the first time in my life I'm wavering on this point and close to shifting to LeBron being the better player. Stay tuned).

In conclusion, don't overgeneralize. People think and act differently. Don't broad brush. And if and when someone who is 18-years-old tells me Oscar Gamble was a clutch pinch hitter then you'll get a mea culpa from me for assuming he's too obscure a reference.

2. Treat students with respect.

The thing about 18-year-olds is that they're people and here's one thing I'm 100% confident about having lived on this warming planet for 44 years: people like to be treated with respect. You already know that, right? No one likes to be disrespected. It's true for 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds. If we do the best we can to treat students with respect, I think we'll usually find the student-professor relationship falls into place. Mistakes will be made, as they say, because we are human and thus imperfect, but we should aim to give respect to our students. They notice. They appreciate. [If you are thinking "Hey you said don't overgeneralize but you're overgeneralizing by saying all people like to be respected" then consider this an exception to my don't overgeneralize rule.]

So there you have it. Don't overgeneralize and be respectful. You're almost ready to crush it in the classroom when the new semester begins. So shape up your syllabi (sooner than later) and have fun when school is in session!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Song of the Day - "New York" by St. Vincent

This morning on Sirius XMU, Julia Cunningham described St. Vincent's "New York" as a beautiful song.

I agree.

The opening line is a good one: "New York isn't New York without you, love".

A song about a place that isn't as good without one person in it. A song about a lover, a friend, who makes a place what you need it to be.

A place where "you're the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me".

Do you have a person in your life who can deal with your shit and handle your weirdness? Or handle your strength? And maybe even forgive you once in a while? Millions of people in New York, billions of people in the world, but you're lucky if you can find just one.

It's a beautiful song about yearning. A special person in a special place fills the void.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What I Would Have Posted on Social Media Yesterday, Probably

I have no presence on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, the place where many of my friends and relatives reside, posting memes and pictures of daily activities. I take pictures almost every day but for the most part they sit on my phone, seen by no one. They are not liked, except by me. I don't have any high-minded reason for not being in those social media spaces. I used to be on Twitter and enjoyed it for a while. I think I'd join Instagram but who cares about the 24 ounce can of beer I drank at the Buffalo Bisons game yesterday? And that's probably what I would have posted. It was a hot one at the ballgame. I usually buy a $6 craft beer in the first inning, and then one more later in the game. Yesterday was one stop shopping, an $8.25 big can of Labatt Blue. I liked my big can of cold beer on a hot summer day. I probably would have shown it to my social world, and tried to add a clever caption. That's a good enough reason to be on social media, or not to be. Either you want to show people what you're up to, or you don't. You want to express something publicly, or not. That I write on this blog is evidence that I care to share in some way, or at least keep a public diary of sorts.

Tell me, why are you in the social media spaces you prefer, and how do you operate?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Inspired by Springsteen's Storytelling Genius

For a long time, I've been writing sociological stories. I keep trying to merge my loves of creative writing and sociology. Stories and poetry are some of the vehicles I've used for conveying sociological ideas. I'm enamored by those who tell good stories. I'm also a classic rock fanatic. So it's no surprise that I'm a Bruce Springsteen fan. Put on "Born to Run" or "Rosalita" and I'll run through a brick wall. The early Springsteen is so amazing. You hear the hunger in his voice. He's had an tremendous career but I'm especially drawn to 1970s Bruce. This week I'm inspired by a lesser known Springsteen tune, "Meeting Across the River". Loan me some money, Eddie, stay cool Eddie, don't blow it, "word's been passed, this is our last chance". The piano, the horn, the story, all outstanding. Around the 2:05 mark, it feels like the song is fading out, but there's still a minute to go. He rhymes "hocked it" with "pocket". The caper will work out, he's determined to keep his word, he's going to throw money on the bed so Cherry knows he isn't a bullshitter. Enjoy...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Leftover Observations and Experiences

On Saturday, my 9-year-old went to a birthday party in our neighborhood. That left 6-year-old pissed that he couldn't go, so my wife and I took him to a carnival for fun. In a surprising act of kindness, a stranger insisted we not pay for a $20 wristband because he had a voucher for a kid's wristband. We were both hesitant because people are so often terrible and we both possess the minimum level of street smarts, but this guy seemed legit and turned out he was. We had a nice time and felt better about wasting $20 on games and fried dough we had saved on the wristband. My dad makes better fried dough in his kitchen than what you can find at any carnival or county fair, by the way.

The main detail in the above paragraph is that once in while you encounter a kind stranger. My wife tried to give him some money but he declined. I asserted that our built up karma had boomeranged to good effect, and suggested we pay it forward soon.

Saturday night we partied. I'm never the life of the party and I'd rather be at a public library than a party, and I'd rather read than party. But every once in a while I shed my boring self and join in the fun. My wife happens to be Director of Fun in our relationship so occasionally I step my game up so she doesn't dump me for someone taller and more fun. That's like 88% of the population so it wouldn't be a difficult task. Anyhow, we met a bunch a couples out and tore through downtown Buffalo as if we weren't in our late 30s and early 40s. Once in a while I could see a younger side-eyeing us for our conduct but I couldn't care less. One of the benefits of growing old is caring less.

Fast forward to today. My wife is at a training for work so it's just me and the boys. It rained hard this morning so I took them to Sky Zone which is a fun indoor trampoline place. I didn't see a single kid in the place get hurt or cry which is a welcome relief from the usual crying and injuries you see whenever you go outside and find yourself in proximity to children.

I'm always up for a trip to Sky Zone. I find myself very relaxed there and like to observe people. Observing public space for a sociologist is like water for normal human beings. Observations keep me running. I found myself looking at my phone a lot because you can only observe so much without losing attention and plus the phone has information and I'm an information junkie so I can't go very long without looking at my phone. Suddenly I realized that contrary to what Sherry Turkle says not everybody is on their phones all the time. People are totally capable of social interaction and all the kids and adults (except for me) seemed to me getting along in life just fine without their devices. Granted, we were only in Sky Zone for an hour and it's a small sample of people I observed, but I'm not kidding you I was the only one looking into a phone. And good for me, because information. And good for them, because they were content.

So there you have it faithful readers, my leftover observations and experiences. Publishers, get at me if you want me to assemble an accessible book for the public called Leftover Observations and Experiences that should be priced right at $4.99.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Song of the Day - "Road Head" by Japanese Breakfast

Here at Creative Sociology we like artists who push boundaries and breach norms. This song caught our attention during an early afternoon drive. It's a perfect 79 degree day, nothing but sun, traffic flowing on the highway, head in the clouds, eyes on the road, and, wait a second, is the opening line "You gave road head on a turnpike exit"? Yes it is.

For analysis, see Kevin Lozano's review in Pitchfork. Here's a glimpse: "On "Road Head," [Michelle] Zauner does a great job of sifting through mortal concerns—specifically desire, shitty romances, and hooking up in cars."

A subject that interests me--and one I've written about--is that we live in a social world in which people usually avoid references to sex. Maybe it's a taboo topic, or it could be a polite omission of information. Whatever the case, this song stands out for the way it acknowledges desire and sexual activity. Also, the video is....well, you can watch and describe it yourself.