Laundromats as “iconic places of loneliness”

Several experts suggest urban laundromats can be lonely, depressing places:

They’re often harshly lit and filled with strangers — weary, industrial where no one really wants to be. One could say the same of train stations, banks and other public places.

But there’s something deeper going on with Laundromats, mental health experts say, that can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety in even the most stoic dryer jockey.

Antoinette D’Orazio, a licensed mental health counselor in Hartsdale, New York, who specializes in depression, has found that Laundromats can often trigger toxic emotions…

Roger Salerno, a psychoanalyst and professor of sociology at Pace University who has written books exploring urban alienation and estrangement, calls Laundromats “iconic places of loneliness,” in part because they rouse up subconscious longings for domestic stability…

In general, Salerno added, women are more susceptible to this Laundromat-induced loneliness than men, because women have been historically more socialized toward domestic activities and the concept of having a family to care for.

This fits with some larger images of cities as lonely places: you have to go somewhere else to do laundry and there may be people around but you don’t know anyone. People may think they are good neighbors but few people are going to enjoy neighborly interactions while doing laundry.

I could think of several ways to help limit these issues:

  1. Make sure housing units have to have at least washing machines. Or, perhaps more Americans should have washer/dryer combos in one machine like many Europeans. This would be a cost to landlords and could be a space issue in many expensive neighborhoods. Additionally, this contributes to the privatization of domestic space – but perhaps this process is already irreversible in the United States.
  2. Some laundromats could set themselves apart by being more social places. The goal is to have a lot of machines yet why not charge a little more and host social activities?

Facebook’s new emoji reactions based on sociological work

Facebook used sociological work to help roll out new emojis next to the “Like” button:

Adam Mosseri has a very important job. As head of Facebook’s news feed, Mosseri and his team were assigned the task of determining which six cartoon images would accompany the social network’s ubiquitous thumbs-up button. They did not take the task lightly. To help choose the right emoji to join “like,” Mosseri said Facebook consulted with several academic sociologists “about the range of human emotion.”…

The decision was reached after much deliberation. Arriving at the best of those trivial and common picture faces followed a lot of data crunching and outside help. Mosseri combined the sociologists’ feedback with data showing what people do on Facebook, he said. The goal was to reduce the need for people to post a comment to express themselves. “We wanted to make it easier,” he said. “When things are easier to do, they reach more people, and more people engage with them.”…

In order for something to qualify for the final list, it had to work globally so users communicating among various countries would have the same options, Mosseri said. One plea from millions of Facebook users, which the company ultimately ignored, was a request for a “dislike” button. Mosseri wanted to avoid adding a feature that would inject negativity into a social network fueled by baby photos and videos of corgis waddling at the beach. A dislike option, Mosseri said, wouldn’t be “in the spirit of the product we’re trying to build.”

Operation emoji continues at Facebook while the company monitors how Spaniards and Irish take to the new feature. The list isn’t final, Mosseri noted. The first phase in two European countries is “just a first in a round of tests,” he said. “We really have learned over the years that you don’t know what’s going to work until it’s out there, until people are using it.”

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been clear for years that they do not want Facebook to spread negative emotions. Rather, the social network site is about finding and strengthening relationships. The emojis both avoid dislike (though this set of six emojis includes one for sad and one for angry – but these are different than dislike) and make it easier for people to react to what others post.

Here are two factors that could affect these reaction emojis:

  1. Facebook will be pressured to add more. But, how many should they have? At what point does more options slow down reactions? Is there a proper ratio for positive to negative emojis? I’m guessing that Facebook will try to keep the number limited as long as they can.
  2. Users in different countries will use different emojis more and ask for different new options. At some point, Facebook will have to choose between universal emotions and providing country-specific options that appeal to particular values and expressions.

The formula to resettle refugees in European countries

How will refugees be dispersed among European countries? This formula:

On Wednesday, shortly after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a new plan to distribute 120,000 asylum-seekers currently in Greece, Hungary, and Italy among the EU’s 28 member states, Duncan Robinson of the Financial Times tweeted a series of grainy equations from the annex of a proposed European regulation, which establishes a mechanism for relocating asylum-seekers during emergency situations beyond today’s acute crisis. Robinson’s message: “So, how do they decide how many refugees each country should receive? ‘Well, it’s very simple…’”

In an FAQ posted on Wednesday, the European Commission expanded on the thinking behind the elaborate math. Under the proposed plan, if the Commission determines at some point in the future that there is a refugee crisis in a given country (as there is today in Greece, Hungary, and Italy, the countries migrants reach first upon arriving in Europe), it will set a number for how many refugees in that country should be relocated throughout the EU. That number will be “not higher than 40% of the number of [asylum] applications made [in that country] in the past six months.”…

What’s most striking to me is the contrast between the sigmas and subscripts in the refugee formula—the inhumanity of technocratic compromise by mathematical equation—and the raw, tragic, heroic humanity on display in recent coverage of the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and elsewhere who are pouring into Europe.

The writer hints at the end here that the bureaucratic formula and stories of human lives at stake are incompatible. How could we translate people who need help into cold, impersonal numbers? This is a common claim: statistics take away human stories and dignity. They are unfeeling. They can’t sum the experiences of individuals. One online quote sums this up: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.

Yet, we need both the stories and the numbers to truly address the situation. Individual stories are important and interesting. Tragic cases tend to draw people’s attention, particularly if presented in attractive ways. But, it is difficult to convey all the stories of the refugees and migrants. Where would they be told and who would sit through them all? The statistics and formulas help give us the big picture. Just how many refugees are there? (Imagine a situation where there are only 10 refugees but with very compelling stories. Would this compel nations to act.) How can they be slotted into existing countries and systems?

On top of that, you can’t really have the nations of today without bureaucracies. We might not like that they are slow moving or inefficient at times or can be overwhelming. How can you run a major social system without a bureaucratic structure? Would we like to go to a hospital that was not a bureaucracy? How do you keep millions of citizens in a country moving in a similar direction? Decentralization or non-hierarchical systems can only go so far in addressing major tasks.

With that said, the formula looks complicated but the explanation in the text is fairly easy to understand: there are a set of weighted factors that dictate how many refugees will be assigned to each country.

Creating a quirky and warm Twitter personality for your on-the-market housing unit

Here may be a new housing trend: personifying your for-sale home in a Twitter account.

Bob the House — a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath ranch in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect — has been tweeting about his journey on the market since October. You’ll find Bob to be a rather inspirational house, tweeting messages of positivity and hope on a regular basis, along with fanfare for the Chicago Cubs and humorous updates about his search for the right family. (“Six showings today! You like me, you really like me!”)

Here’s the open secret: It’s not really Bob who’s doing the tweeting. It’s his “handler,” Rich Burghgraef, an account executive with sales consulting firm Randolph Sterling, Inc. Burghgraef writes in a blog post that he created Bob, whose name comes from the street the house lives on, Robert Drive, as a way to get away from typical advertising tactics. It seems Bob was a hit, with showings of the home going from one or two a weekend to six and eight after the Twitter account debuted. It may have even been responsible (or at least contributory) to the ultimate happy ending, as Bob tweeted on March 1: “My new family moved in on Friday. Thank you all for taking an interest.”…

Burghgraef says that he used Bob to make a personal connection with buyers, not just to throw marketing messages of “buy me!” at them. Bob would tweet about the school that taught him to tweet (so there’s a good school in the neighborhood!); his friend, the stop sign (safety first!); and his stepson, the swing set (don’t you see your family here?). The home’s Twitter account gave buyers a new way to “fall in love with him even before stepping in for a showing,” Burghgraef says.

A clever way to use social media. The several accounts I read of this phenomena did not provide much evidence regarding the effectiveness of this tactic. Of course, social media attention is one of the currencies of today’s social realm so why not leverage it to help sell your home?We can’t be too far away from someone automating this process so that every new housing unit on the market could take advantage of Internet available information about the neighborhood and surrounding area to develop a winning personality.

I think Burghgraef is right in suggesting that this could be particularly effective with real estate since there is a high level of emotional investment. While we could imagine all sorts of consumer goods having their own online personalities, not all of those goods might have the same emotional connections to their owners.

Pseudo equation/PR attempt to label the most depressing day of the year

Yesterday may have just been the most depressing day of the year if you believe one argument:

The idea of Blue Monday dates back to a 2005 campaign by Sky Travel. The company wanted to encourage people to take January vacations, so they reached out to Arnall, who developed his equation to find the most depressing day of the year.

Media, the public, and even other companies latched onto the idea. A U.K. group started a website dedicated to “beating Blue Monday.” Another group, bluemonday.org, encourages acts of kindness on the date.

Scientists, however, say there is no evidence that Blue Monday causes any more sadness than other specific days of the year. Burnett has been outspoken on the topic, publishing multiple blogs in The Guardian dedicated to dispelling the myth…

Burnett blames slow January news cycles, general post-holidays discontent, and “confirmation bias” for the term’s endurance.

“(People) feel down at this time of year, and the Blue Monday claim makes it seem like there are scientific reasons for this,” Burnett said in an email exchange. “It also breaks down a very complex issue into something easily quantifiable and simple, and that tends to please a lot of people, giving the impression that the world is predictable and measurable.”

And what is this equation?

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/01/19/today-is-saddest-day-year-and-there-blue-monday-equation-that-explains-why/?intcmp=latestnews

This is almost brilliant: come up with an equation (everyone knows equations make things more scientific and true), put it out there in January (dark and cold already), and the media eats it up (every morning show host ever hates Mondays). And the scientific data? Lacking.

That said, it would be intriguing to more into mass societal emotions around different times of the year. Is Christmas an excuse for many just to be happy for a month between Thanksgiving and the end of the year? I remember seeing a suggestion from someone that we should move Christmas later, perhaps to the middle of January, so we can enjoy the Thanksgiving high a bit longer before being pressed into another holiday. Or, what about those arguments that we need a national holiday the day after the Super Bowl? Given the amount of interaction people today have with the mass media (something like eleven hours of media consumption a day on average), couldn’t publicly displayed emotions have some effect on how we feel? Perhaps this has little or no effect compared to the effect of the emotions from the people nearby on us in our social networks.

Reactions “when your childhood home becomes a ‘teardown’”

A reporter describes seeing her childhood home make way for a teardown:

I understand why the house is being torn down. The stairs aren’t up to today’s construction codes. The bathrooms and kitchen are small. When someone slams the door in the garage, you can feel the vibrations upstairs in my brother’s old bedroom. The plumbing, windows and electric wiring haven’t been touched in decades. The metallic wallpaper with blue flowers in the bathroom my brother and I once shared says it all: The house is clearly outdated.

Still, I dread its rendezvous with a wrecking ball. When my childhood BFF’s century-old house was bulldozed last spring (goodbye high ceilings and ornate mantelpieces), the teardown trend in our old neighborhood suddenly became personal. Was some nefarious force—McMansion mania? Voldemort?—out to destroy my childhood haunts?

And what might explain such emotions?

Irene Goldenberg, a family psychologist and professor emerita at the University of California, Los Angeles, says teardowns can be more traumatic for former owners, and their children, than sales in which a house survives.

For one thing, she says, it’s hard to escape the finality of a teardown, which makes it all the more obvious “that you can no longer go back to the safety and comfort” of childhood. “It’s in your face,” she says.

There is also an obvious analogy to my aging parents. With new construction springing up all over the neighborhood, the house suddenly looks like a relic of another era. Still, when I came across the property records in my parents’ files last spring, the comparison that immediately sprang to mind was to myself. Although I had always assumed the house was older, it was actually erected just a few years before I was born in 1964.

For many people, childhood homes function like a psychological safety net, says Gerald Davison, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California. “Even if you don’t feel comfortable knocking on the door, it’s nice to know that it’s always possible to do so” and reconnect with childhood, he says.

Neighborhoods do change over time but homes often represent permanence. This hints at the broader ideology of the American Dream as well as childhood. The first refers to the emotional attachment to single-family homes on plots of land, places that people can call their own. The second involves the development of childhood as a sort of “golden age” in the lifecourses filled with good experiences and exploring the world.

It would be interesting to hear more about the expression of and limits to such emotions. Perhaps we can add “McMansion mania” to the list of childhood bogeymen…

Watch for more personal appeals from home sellers

Personal appeals from home sellers may be the next big thing in real estate:

Watch for this to take off in home listings: Sometimes, in a bidding war, you hear about homebuyers writing love letters about themselves — words that explain what wonderful families they have, how they’re crazy about the house, etc., in order to persuade sellers to choose them over other bidders.

Now comes a vaguely comparable feature for sellers: Coldwell Banker Real Estate recently revised its listings to allow home sellers to post personal stories, photos and videos about their homes, with the aim of making their listings stand out. Among the first to take up the offer were actors William Macy and Felicity Huffman, who explained their affection for the house they’re aiming to sell in Colorado: “Felicity and I love to hike up toward Sopris Mountain, right out the back door. … We put a secret door between the kids’ bedrooms, which has been a huge hit.” The brokerage says that all of its seller-clients can add their own content to their listing pages, although it must be approved by their agents.

Positive emotions seem to be the key to such appeals. If the opposite party is touched, the home can be sold for more or bought for less. It all may seem cheesy but selling and buying a home can be a very emotional process. As economic sociologists and others have found in recent decades, such decisions are not just about dollars and cents but often include complex emotional reactions. Buying and selling certainly counts as an emotionally fraught process from the amount of money involved to the transitions involved (changing communities, jobs, etc.) to the commonly-invoked American ideals of “making it.”

I would love to see some data on this: how much does an effective letter change the price? And, on the flip side, how might a poorly worded letter damage the party who wrote it?