Majority of young adults “see online slurs as just joking”

A recent survey of teenagers and young adults suggests that they are more tolerant of offensive or pejorative terms in the online realm:

Jaded by the Internet free-for-all, teens and 20-somethings shrug off offensive words and name-calling that would probably appall their parents, teachers or bosses. And an Associated Press-MTV poll shows they don’t worry much about whether the things they tap into their cellphones and laptops could reach a wider audience and get them into trouble.

Seventy-one percent say people are more likely to use slurs online or in text messages than in person, and only about half say they are likely to ask someone using such language online to stop…

But young people who use racist or sexist language are probably offending more people than they realize, even in their own age range. The poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows a significant minority are upset by some pejoratives, especially when they identify with the group being targeted…

But they mostly write off the slurs as jokes or attempts to act cool. Fifty-seven percent say “trying to be funny” is a big reason people use discriminatory language online. About half that many say a big reason is that people “really hold hateful feelings about the group.”…

It’s OK to use discriminatory language within their own circle of friends, 54 percent of young people say, because “I know we don’t mean it.” But if the question is put in a wider context, they lean the other way, saying 51-46 that such language is always wrong.

This would seem to corroborate ideas that anonymity online or comments sections free people up to say things that they wouldn’t say in real life. Perhaps this happens because there is no face-to-face interaction or it is harder to identify people or there are few repercussions. In the end, the sort of signs, verbal or non-verbal cues, that might stop people from saying these things near other people simply don’t exist online.

I would be interested to see more research about this “joking” and how young adults understand it. Humor can be one of the few areas in life where people can address controversial topics with lesser consequences. Of course, there are limits on what is acceptable but this can often vary by context, particularly in peer-driven settings like high school or college where being “cool” means everything. These young adults likely know this intuitively as they wouldn’t use the same terms around parents or adults. Are these young adults then more polite around authority figures and save it all up for online or are they more uncivil in general as some would argue?

For an important issue like racism, does this mean that many in the next generation think being or acting racist is okay as long as they are among friends but is not okay to exhibit in public settings? Is it okay to be racist as long as it is accompanied by a happy emoticon or a j/k?

Knowing that this is a common issue, what is the next step in cutting down on this offensive humor, like we are already seeing in many media sites’ comments sections? And who gets to do the policing – parents, schools, websites?

McMansions are too costly in terms of money and relationships

In another article about McMansions in Australia (and I have been seeing more and more of these  – perhaps due to the recent news that the country has the largest new homes on average), one writer suggests McMansions cost too much and have a negative impact on relationships:

Australians live in the world’s biggest homes but new research shows our trend to upsize our living space is reversing. The average size of new houses being built in this country is getting smaller as people start to realise that living in a McMansion does not make sense. While the financial implications of owning a large home have surely been considered, there are other costs that are not as obvious…

The reasons are obvious- it costs too much. Far from being energy efficient, the financial burden that comes with a bigger pad can weigh too heavily on a household already struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. There are bigger gas and power bills and mortgage repayments not to mention the hassle of having to spend time and money maintaining and keeping the whole thing clean … no wonder we are thinking again.

Another problem of the larger, have-it-all home is that we have less need to leave it to meet our daily needs. Social interaction is being replaced by home-based activity for our convenience. It is easier to get on the treadmill, ‘chat’ to someone on Facebook, play tennis on the wii and shop online instead of getting out into our communities.

There is no substitute for real communication and the lack of it can affect our sense of well-being. Mental health issues such as depression and the feeling of isolation that many people experience is the reason some programs are being developed, specifically aiming to get people out of the house, talking to others and active in their communities. ‘The Shed’ for men and ‘R U OK’ Day are a couple of examples.

The financial costs of McMansions are clear, particularly if you include costs beyond the price of the home and consider the impact on other areas like cars, roads, infrastructure, and filling/furnishing a larger home.

The relational impact of McMansions has also been covered by others, particularly since they seem to encourage more private lives. But, my mind jumped to the next step in the argument illustrated in this article: how small would houses need to be in order to encourage interaction even among family members? If a McMansion is roughly 3,000-6,000 square feet, it seems like it would be fairly easy for family members to avoid each other. But, if a home is 2,000 square feet, would families necessarily interact more? Perhaps if we went back to the era of Levittown sized homes, around 900 square feet, this could induce some interaction.

But even in smaller homes, there are other factors at work. At the end of the article, the writer suggests that perhaps the real problem isn’t the size of the home:

I am conscious of creating an environment where communication is encouraged and valued so we know what’s going on in each other’s lives. There are no computers, TVs or other electronic entertainment in the bedrooms. Our living space is used for meals, games, entertainment, homework and handstands. It’s a bit cluttered but it’s homely and there’s always someone to talk to.

Technology could play a role as could cultural ideas about the need for “time alone.”

In the end, a smaller home probably increases the number of times people have to run into each other but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have deeper, more meaningful relationships. There are larger issues at work here beyond the number of square feet a home has or whether the home has a porch close to the street.

An emerging portrait of emerging adults in the news, part 3

In recent weeks, a number of studies have been reported on that discuss the beliefs and behaviors of the younger generation, those who are now between high school and age 30 (an age group that could also be labeled “emerging adults”). In a three-part series, I want to highlight three of these studies because they not only suggest what this group is doing but also hints at the consequences. A study in part one showed that there is an association between hyper-texting and hyper social networking use and risky behavior. A study in part two showed that teens and college students today are more tolerant than previous generations but less empathetic.

Another interesting aspect of the lives of emerging adults is living alone. While this is common among the middle-aged, the proportion of emerging adults living alone is growing:

The stats are arresting. In this country, approximately 31 million people live alone, and one-person households make up 28 percent of the total, tying with childless couples as the most common residential type — “more common,’’ Klinenberg pointed out, “than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, and the roommate or group home.’’

Those who live alone are mostly middle-age, with young adults the fastest-growing segment, and there are more women than men. No longer a transitional stage, living alone is one of the most stable household arrangements. And while one-person households were once scattered in low-density rural settings, they’re now concentrated in cities. “In Manhattan,’’ he said, “more than half of all residences are one-person dwellings.’’

I’ve seen a number of commentators attempt explanations for this: this is part of becoming an adult today, television shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother glamorized the social life in the city (though these shows tend to show roommates living together), outrageous housing costs push younger people into odd living arrangements.

But couldn’t this trend toward living alone be linked to the two prior studies we looked at? If a lot of social life occurs through texting or through social networking sites and emerging adults are more tolerant but less empathetic, then living alone makes some sense. Emerging adults still have a social life – but this social life may look quite different as friends are found and communicated with through technology or social outings rather than through closer ties (such as living together).

And what if living alone or being alone more is the outcome for younger generations? How might this impact society? Such arrangements may be good for self-actualization (or not) but there will be consequences. What will “community” look like in several decades? If these three studies were all the evidence we had, we might conclude that emerging adults like to be social but also like to keep people at an arm’s length.

It is hard to draw conclusions from three studies that are reported in the news – but here is the emerging portrait: social interaction is changing. It may be easy to dismiss this new interaction as bad or wrong but we need more information and research on this particular topic. We need more measurement of depth or quality of relationships. Out of these three studies, we have two measures of interaction quality: the prevalence of risky behaviors (though this is only an association or correlation) and levels of empathy. We could be asking other questions like how many students in college today make arrangements for single rooms in dorms or would prefer to live in single rooms? How many students who study abroad actually are able to fully understand and appreciate a new culture versus just being able to see the differences two cultures?

All of this will be interesting to watch in the coming years as emerging adults  obtain the power to shape society’s values regarding interaction and community.

Watching social interaction in the bouncy castle/moon bounce

A New York Times parenting blog explores how children interact with each other in a bouncy castle/moon bounce. Within a short period of time, the interaction moves from pure mayhem to the forming of powerful tribes:

Initially, the children bounced in random joy. They screamed and flailed about. It was pure mayhem, only rarely interrupted by a call for a parent to “watch this” and “look at this.” There was little collaboration among the children at this stage…

For as the first wave of youthful energy burned off, the children settled down and started to recognize the other. They tentatively reached out, jumping together as they held hands. It was simple collaboration accompanied by squeals of delight…

Then came the teams. Neanderdad was surprised to see kids in his children’s age group start build alliances. Three or four tikes would bounce together and exclude the other kids from their area. Those kids would, in turn, form their own factions and stake out territory as well…

After the small teams came the bouncy tribes. As all the territory inside the Bouncy Castle became claimed, conflicts between teams developed.  As a result, smaller groups merged to make themselves stronger. This co-opting processing progressed until only two large tribes remained…

When things seemed be getting a bit too heated, Neanderdad and other fathers were forced to step in and break up the door monopoly and disband the teams. Interestingly, once the conflict was defused, the children on both sides suddenly seemed to lose interest in the Bouncy Castle.

What is most interesting to me is that these are young kids working through patterns of interaction. Very quickly, they band together and stake out territory. Is this a real life version of Lord of the Flies? Would this sort of behavior hold true across cultures? Where exactly do children develop this process?

Next time I see one of these moon bounces in action, I may just have to look more closely.

(An odd side note: the title of the blog post is “the sociology of the Bouncy Castle” while the second paragraph suggests the author is turning “an anthropological eye on child’s play.” Sociology or anthropology? Perhaps both – but this doesn’t help the perception among some that the disciplines are the same.)