Archive for the ‘Social Life’ Category

Cards Against Humanity can be difficult to play with those you don’t know since it requires you to say terrible things and with those you do know but are likely to say terrible things unironically. Now there is an alternative, Cards Against Sociology! Take a moment to read through the cards and consider the hilarious possibilities.

The downside, of course, is that the people you know who have enough awareness of social issues to appreciate this game are also probably the people you can trust to play Cards Against Humanity ironically, so this doesn’t really solve the problem of having a group of people to play a game with but not wanting to play Cards Against Humanity.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive posts and links about terrible things (ironically and unironically) via your news feed.

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A Facebook friend recently asked for advice about how to make friends after grad school. Because this is something I’ve struggled with since starting my first job five years ago, I couldn’t respond with any sage advice. In the few weeks I’ve been at my new institution, however, I’ve noticed a number of differences that have led me to wonder if it is possible for institutions to do a better job of fostering these relationships among faculty and staff. So far, these are the differences I’ve noticed:

-I previously lived in a town with a college but my new location better fits the definition of a college town. The town is also much smaller, meaning that there are not that many places for faculty to go. At dinner the other night, for example, I saw two different groups of faculty getting drinks. I can’t remember any chance encounters like this in my previous city.

-My new town is not only smaller, it is also more isolated. There are still faculty members who live in other cities and commute, but there are a lot of faculty members who live in town. Institutional practices also make it easier for faculty members to live in town. A large number of faculty spouses and partners have also been hired in some capacity, whether as visiting faculty, adjuncts, or staff members.

-The institution also makes other efforts to promote interaction between faculty during business hours. One of the biggest is a course schedule with a common lunch hour, allowing faculty members time to have lunch together. There is also a faculty dining area, which my previous institution did not have.

-The final major difference I’ve noticed so far is in the composition of the new faculty cohort. At my previous institution, my cohort was fairly small and was also heterogeneous in terms of age and location. At my new institution, my cohort is quite a bit larger (the institution itself has about 1000 more students, leading to a larger number of incoming faculty members, but orientation also included new administrators and adjuncts) and the age of full-time faculty members is more homogenous, with more young-ish people who are interested in making friends in their new town.

Together, these factors have resulted in a completely different experience as a new faculty member. I am not exaggerating to say that I have done as much with colleagues off-campus in the past few weeks as I did in the previous five years at my former institution. Colleges and universities obviously can’t change their locations so that faculty members can more easily make friends, nor can they force faculty to live nearby or refuse to hire employees who aren’t in their early- to mid-thirties.

On the job market, these factors are largely influenced by luck. Institutions can, however, do things to encourage faculty and staff to engage with each other on campus through social gatherings and in faculty dining rooms. Unfortunately, social gatherings are probably among the first to go when schools face budget constraints since they don’t clearly contribute to the bottom line. Common lunch hours are probably also related to budgets, since schools with cramped facilities don’t have the luxury of leaving their classrooms unused for five or more hours per week.

So far, these changes have made me hopeful for my social life in this town. I have to remember, however, that finding and keeping friends still demands effort. Rather than sitting and waiting for people to contact me, I need to be proactive about inviting people to get lunch or coffee on campus and dinner or drinks off campus. We’ll see how it goes.

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Recently, Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half returned after a long absence, first with a warning that she would be posting again, and then with an actual post about her depression, which she previously described here. As many around the internet have noted (it seems they like it, alot), the post as a whole is a great description of what depression is like but I want to focus on the part where she discusses the experience of others trying to help her and the reasons that their help failed. I think that she does an excellent job at capturing both the desire of others to help and the frustration that arises on both sides from the lack of intersubjectivity. I imagine that this is how a lot of the advice we give our students comes across, as well. I have excerpted this section below, but you really should read the whole thing.

And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.

It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.

The problem might not even have a solution. But you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions. You’re maybe just looking for someone to say “sorry about how dead your fish are” or “wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though.”

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In honor of Darwin Day, here is a reminder that even famous brilliant people have bad days. On October 1, 1861, Darwin concluded a letter to Charles Lyell by writing:

But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.— I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchidsf8 & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am | Ever yours | C. Darwin

Despite the teen angst in Darwin’s letter, he was 51 at the time.

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From MSN (though it has been covered numerous other places as well), here is another example of a teenager’s backstage statements causing frontstage problems. As the article states:

The lawsuit raises the complicated — and quite unsettled — legal quandary that balances students’ constitutional rights with schools’ needs to maintain order and a positive educational environment. For example, can schools punish students who publicly criticize school officials on their own time using social networks?

Federal district courts have handed down contradictory decisions on that issue. Facing a chance to settle the matter, the U.S. Supreme Court in January declined to hear three cases on the issue.

But private social media criticism, intended only for a limited audience behind a password or a privacy wall, raises a different legal issue, said Teresa Nelson, a lawyer for the ACLU in Minnesota.

“The notion that it was a search of her private Facebook content … the Fourth Amendment applies,” she said.  “The government has to have a really good reason to do that kind of search,” and would need a court order in most cases, she said.

Situations like this demonstrate that even the ability to choose who is allowed to see the content you post on Facebook is not always enough. With this in mind, I offer the following advice to classmates, coworkers, and anybody else who wants to complain about their public lives in private:

Facebook is not for venting! Even if you choose who can see your posts you may find yourself needing to explain them to your friends, parents, school officials, bosses, or college professors. If you want to vent, do it in a Google Document that is accessible only to you and a few close confidants. Facebook is the equivalent of writing a comment in somebody else’s yearbook. Google Documents are the equivalent of passing a note to a few of your friends. Yes, there is still a chance that it might fall into the wrong hands, but that chance is vastly diminished.

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“Romantic” vs. “Practical” depictions of love from Ann Swidler’s research via Sociological Images.

And my typical Valentine’s Day shopping experience via xkcd:

Of course, Easter candy and a jar of hammers is still probably better than $182.

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Following my recent manifesto about relationships, I noticed an article by Casey Johnston at Ars Technica focused on online dating. Dating websites are apparently now the second most common way for couples to meet (behind, I assume, the meet cute), more than doubling in the past ten years. The authors of the meta analysis Johnston discusses note that this makes meeting people less intimidating but can also cause us problems because we don’t know what we really want:

According to the surveyed studies, users can list things they like to see in a potential date’s online profile, but often a completely different set of preferences emerge in real-life encounters. When users selected dates, the degree to which a person’s profile “matched their ideals” did not predict their romantic interest after a meatspace encounter. People can go on and on about what they like, but they have a less-than-perfect idea of what they will be attracted to.

The authors also found that it was better to meet in person after a short time (I unscientifically agree – context-free texts seem like a terrible way to get to know somebody).

Coincidentally (or not, given that Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching), a friend of mine also posted a few articles about love on her blog (this is the same friend who initially asked for the manifesto, bringing things full circle). The third post that she links to demonstrates the way that our digital communications can provide a (potentially devastating) record of our past relationships. The first post she links to, by Jonathan Franzen, echoes my call for honesty (I’m choosing to ignore Franzen’s love affair with birds):

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

Unlike Crazy, Stupid, Love, this is an approach to relationships that I can support.

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*Please enjoy the accompanying soundtrack.

During a recent viewing of Crazy, Stupid, Love, which I had been looking forward to due to its mostly positive reviews, I found myself increasingly angry. I was angry at Jacob Palmer for being a total tool, I was angry at most of the women in the movie for being attracted to a total tool, and I was angry at the filmmakers for perpetuating the idea that women should be attracted to total tools. Upon sharing this anger with a friend who has known a tool or two, she suggested that I “write a manifesto about the culture of dating and how much men suck.” Well, friend, you asked for it! (Of course, I haven’t “dated” in nearly a decade, but since I started giving job market advice on this blog almost immediately after receiving a job offer, I figure that being married must qualify me to give relationship advice.)

In the movie, Ryan Gosling plays Jacob Palmer, who likes to hook up with women he meets in bars, using ridiculous pick-up lines that work mostly because he looks like Ryan Gosling. The only person he cannot successfully pick up is a woman named Hannah (she doesn’t get a last name), played by Emma Stone. When Hannah breaks up with her boyfriend (because he offers her a job at his law firm when she thinks he is going to propose to her), however, she immediately seeks out Jacob and goes home with him. Jacob’s approach to picking up women, which he teaches to Cal Weaver, played by Steve Carell, is summarized in the following clip:

The problem that I have with the movie is not so much that Jacob is hooking up with a large number of women (after all, he looks like Ryan Gosling, so I imagine there are a large number of women who would be happy to hook up with him), it is that he is presented as a predator who is manipulating women into sleeping with him. This point is driven home when it is revealed that the final stage in his manipulation involves recreating the penultimate scene from Dirty Dancing.

In addition to depicting men as sexual aggressors and women as sexual objects, Crazy, Stupid, Love also reinforces the idea that physical attraction is paramount. Indeed, in the movie’s world half of the problem with Steve Carell’s character is that he dresses like a man in his 40s. Similarly, Hannah’s friend tells her to break up with her boyfriend (played by Josh Groban) because he isn’t as physically attractive as she is. If accepted by America’s dating population, a singular focus on attraction will result in countless failed relationships when the parties involved find that their sexual attraction for each other does not make up for the fact that they have nothing else in common. Of course, the fact that they’ve been sleeping together since they met may cause them to prolong the relationship for a while so that they can imagine that they “really connected” at the beginning before things fall apart.

While it cannot be blamed on a single movie, I think that the larger Hollywood story about the early stages of relationships may also cause problems for those who are dating. Most romantic comedies focus on two people falling in love, not two people dealing with the everyday experiences of being in a long-term relationship. I would argue that the “three-month honeymoon period,” as one friend put it, at the beginning of relationships occurs mostly because the people involved do not know each other well enough to have an informed opinion about whether they enjoy spending time together. There is also a lot of pressure to be “perfect” at the beginning of a relationship. Somebody with no interest in operas, then, might spend the first few months of a relationship attending them so as not to turn off her prospective partner, only to refuse when football season starts so that she doesn’t miss her favorite team’s game. (Congratulations, you just wasted three months of your life suffering through operas before breaking up because of an argument about whether college football exploits poor inner-city youth!)

Without pressure to have a “perfect” relationship, people would be able to be honest about their likes and dislikes. The resulting relationships may be much shorter on average, as people realize more quickly that they have not found “the one,” but they would also be more able to seek that person since they wouldn’t be tied up in dead-end relationships. Maybe people would also realize that there are no perfect relationships. It seems unlikely (and likely boring) that two people would share the same taste in everything. From my extremely limited experience, relationship success seems to occur when two people have enough of the important things in common to make the things that they don’t have in common seem unimportant. Maybe your significant other doesn’t look like Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone, but if both of you support the same political party, want to send your two future children to a Montessori school, and share an affinity for Lifetime movies, maybe it doesn’t matter.

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A recent trip to to an R1 for a college basketball game brought back a feeling I didn’t know I missed – the feeling of being in a college town. It turns out that there is a huge difference between a “college town” and a “town with a college.” I suppose that I would classify a college town as one in which a college or university is the largest employer, causing most of the people in the town to interact with students or academic employees on a regular basis. Using this definition, the location of my undergraduate institution qualified for most of my time there and the location of my graduate program definitely qualified.

After 11 years in college towns, the transition to a town with a college can be jarring. The character of social life is much different, especially in terms of the age of bar patrons, but there are a number of other differences. Over break, a colleague mentioned getting coffee but noted that doing so was impossible because the coffee shop in the student union closes at 10 am during breaks. In a college town there would be numerous coffee shops within walking distance of campus. In my town there are none. The realization that I could not get coffee on a January afternoon made me think about all of the time I spent as an undergraduate in off-campus coffee shops.

The things within walking distance of my campus consist of a bank, two grocery stores, two pizza places, a Chinese restaurant, a post office, a drugstore, a post office, and a bar. Each of these locations has college student patrons but none of them are aimed particularly at college students. The difference is also felt by those who have no affiliation with the school. Each time we visit a large campus in a college town my wife notes that she wishes my career aspirations had been different so that she could experience the kind of environment she grew accustomed to while I was in grad school. Maybe if there were huge liberal arts colleges (HLACs) we could have the best of both worlds.

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Despite my desire to become involved in my campus and community, there are times that I wish I lived closer to family.  Since I don’t have kids (and, as a result, don’t need occasional free child care) these times are typically related to visits home.  On a daily basis, I am happy with where I live and I actually prefer my current are of the country to the area where I grew up.  During trips home, however, the presence of parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins is enough to make me wish that I had a more mobile job.

There are several problems with this desire.  The first is that I am happy where I am professionally and I recognize that lots of people end up with colleagues or administrators that they dislike.  The second is that, as you may have heard, academic jobs are hard to come by. Beyond this, there are not a lot of colleges and universities in the area where I grew up and several of those that are in the area are not the kinds of institutions that I spent seven years in graduate school preparing to work at.

Despite these problems there are a few schools in the area where I would be willing and/or qualified to work, so I suppose that every fall I will check job listings looking for one of these schools but accepting that I am likely to stay where I am.  I am probably equally likely to convince my entire family to move here.

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