Lots of sociological themes in Time’s “10 ideas that are changing your life”

I enjoy reading magazines and other media sources that are willing to consider the world of ideas and what new thinking we all need to know about. Thus, Time’s “10 ideas that are changing your life” are not only interesting – there is a lot of sociological material in these ten ideas. Here are a few sociological musings about four of these ideas:

1. “Living Alone is the New Norm.” I’ve highlighted some of the recent reviews of the new research from sociologist Eric Klinenberg (see here and here) that shows that Americans living alone “make up 28% of all U.S. households, which means they are now tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type, more common than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family and roommate or group home.” Another interesting line: “Living alone helps us pursue sacred modern values – individual freedom, personal control and self-realization.” That is an interesting trio of values to mull over.

3. “The Rise of the Nones.” Sixteen percent of Americans claim to be non-religious but this group is particularly interesting because 4% claim to be agnostic or atheist. Thus, many of the “nones” are spiritual or religious but dissatisfied with organized religion. This group can be examined as part of a larger debate about whether American religion is declining or not. This also presents a challenge for organized religion: how do you get these religious or spiritual “nones” to buy into established houses of worship?

7. “High-Status Stress.” New findings suggest that people in charge or in the higher classes experience more stress: “In fact, research indicates that as you near the top, life stress increases so dramatically that its toxic effects essentially cancel out many positive aspects of succeeding.” It may not be easy to be at the top even if you have the power and ability to do more of what you want. I’m not sure how this would affect the class struggles between the upper and lower classes but it is interesting information nonetheless.

9. “Nature is Over.” Humans have altered the earth in many ways, doing so much so that our conception of nature might need to change: “The reality is that in the Anthropocene, there may simply be no room for nature, at least not nature as we’ve known and celebrated it – something separate from human beings – something pristine. There’s no getting back to the Garden [of Eden], assuming it ever existed.” This reminds me of the romanticism of nature in the mid 1800s that influenced how early American suburbs were created (designing winding streets to preserve pastoral views) and how Central Park was created (meant to preserve a piece of nature in the midst of the big city). More realistically, neither city parks or most suburbs really present much of nature – based on an idea in James Howard Kunstler’s TED talk about suburbs, these are more elaborate “nature band-aids.”

Several of the other ideas have sociological implications as well.

Reading through this list, it reminds me of how much I enjoy reading and talking about new ideas and where society might be going. If I could get all of my students to share this enthusiasm and develop a capacity to seek out and interact with ideas on their own (using the critical thinking skills and other tools they have picked up in college), it would make me happy.

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