Lorde observes NBA game as an objective observer

Music star Lorde attended a recent Chicago Bulls game and sent these tweets while at the game:

i am at a bulls game this is so intense how does everyone in this room not have a stress ulcer

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

i am such an outsider to the world of sport but i feel very proud of all playing

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

the cheerleaders are doing synchronized movements to small pieces of drum-based instrumental music

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

in the break they rolled out a red carpet on the court and a man did some tricks with his dog

— Lorde (@lordemusic) March 18, 2014

This presents an intriguing opportunity to compare how the average American sports fan would view things opposed to an outsider. For sports fans, it is easy to think of all they see as “natural:” the players just do what they do, the fans respond in certain ways, and the stadium experience is fairly similar across the United States. However, it is easy to forget that all of this “natural” behavior or knowledge is all learned. The whole American sports/entertainment package has a fairly set course from sports talk radio to how it is presented on television to how it is experienced live.

In her first experience at a NBA game, Lorde was simply describing what she saw. None of it is wrong and she is making “common sense” observations that might make little sense to non-fans. Why would there be a man with a dog doing tricks during the break? Why are stadium experiences in the US so intense (loud, constant videos)? Why do cheerleaders do what they do? The average sports fan may not even have good answers to these questions; those things happen because that is the way it has always happened. Of course, that is not true: sports experiences can differ widely based on contexts and history.

In this way, an outsider can bring needed perspective to a social norm many of us just take for granted. Is Lorde’s view of the NBA game more objective than those who have lots of basketball knowledge and experience?

Two videos of walking in sync with strangers

I’ve used a YouTube video of some students walking in sync with strangers several times in my Introduction to Sociology class. While the video has just over 7,500 views (of which I’ve probably contributed at least 10), it is pretty good compared to a lot of other YouTube breaching experiment or breaking social norms videos.

Here is another take on the same scenario: a more professional short film on walking in unison with strangers.

It happens often enough: you’re going down a busy street and all of a sudden you find yourself walking at the exact same pace as a stranger and … uh oh, time to speed up or slow down.

This phenomenon is masterfully captured in Walking Contest, a new short film from artists Daniel Koren and Vania Heymann. In the video, shot entirely on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, Koren avoids walking next to strangers by treating it as a race. But he ultimately questions why we react so strongly to this phenomenon in the first place. Is it because it seems rude, unsafe, or just too awkward?

Both videos do something interesting: they adopt some sort of ruse or mask that helps make walking in unison with a stranger, not a normal behavior, easier. The more professional video suggests walking together is a contest. The student video shows those intentionally breaking the norms wearing sunglasses or headphones so they presumably can plead ignorance at walking in unison with others. These techniques echo some of the early findings from breaching experiments with Garfinkel and his students where it was hard, sometimes even physically so, for people to intentionally break social rules.

Will citing the Kindle location, and not the page number, become the norm?

Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise contains an interesting bibliographic twist: he sometimes cites Kindle locations, not page numbers. Here is an example: footnote 42 in Chapter 8.

McGrayne, The Theory That Would Not Die, Kindle location 46.

Silver doesn’t do this for every book though he does sometimes say a book is the Kindle edition if he is giving the full citation. Is Silver on to a new trend? Will readers and scholars want Kindle locations?

I think we’re probably a long ways from this becoming standard. The problem is that it requires having all of your books in Kindle form. Ebooks are popular but I’m not sure how far people are willing to go to replace all of their older books with Kindle editions. (Particularly if you are dealing with more esoteric published material.) I could see this happening more for new books which are more likely to be purchased in Kindle form. Or perhaps we are headed for a world where everyone has Kindle access to all major books (a subscription service? An expanded Project Gutenberg?) on their phone, tablet, or computer and looking up a Kindle location becomes really easy.

Perhaps this won’t really matter until I see it in a student research paper…

Measuring audience reaction: from the applause of crowds to Facebook likes

Megan Garber provides an overview of applause, “the big data of the ancient world.

Scholars aren’t quite sure about the origins of applause. What they do know is that clapping is very old, and very common, and very tenacious — “a remarkably stable facet of human culture.” Babies do it, seemingly instinctually. The Bible makes many mentions of applause – as acclamation, and as celebration. (“And they proclaimed him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, ‘Long live the king!'”)

But clapping was formalized — in Western culture, at least — in the theater. “Plaudits” (the word comes from the Latin “to strike,” and also “to explode”) were the common way of ending a play. At the close of the performance, the chief actor would yell, “Valete et plaudite!” (“Goodbye and applause!”) — thus signaling to the audience, in the subtle manner preferred by centuries of thespians, that it was time to give praise. And thus turning himself into, ostensibly, one of the world’s first human applause signs…

As theater and politics merged — particularly as the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire — applause became a way for leaders to interact directly (and also, of course, completely indirectly) with their citizens. One of the chief methods politicians used to evaluate their standing with the people was by gauging the greetings they got when they entered the arena. (Cicero’s letters seem to take for granted the fact that “the feelings of the Roman people are best shown in the theater.”) Leaders became astute human applause-o-meters, reading the volume — and the speed, and the rhythm, and the length — of the crowd’s claps for clues about their political fortunes.

“You can almost think of this as an ancient poll,” says Greg Aldrete, a professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin, and the author of Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome. “This is how you gauge the people. This is how you poll their feelings.” Before telephones allowed for Gallup-style surveys, before SMS allowed for real-time voting, before the Web allowed for “buy” buttons and cookies, Roman leaders were gathering data about people by listening to their applause. And they were, being humans and politicians at the same time, comparing their results to other people’s polls — to the applause inspired by their fellow performers. After an actor received more favorable plaudits than he did, the emperor Caligula (while clutching, it’s nice to imagine, his sword) remarked, “I wish that the Roman people had one neck.”…

So the subtleties of the Roman arena — the claps and the snaps and the shades of meaning — gave way, in later centuries, to applause that was standardized and institutionalized and, as a result, a little bit promiscuous. Laugh tracks guffawed with mechanized abandon. Applause became an expectation rather than a reward. And artists saw it for what it was becoming: ritual, rote. As Barbra Streisand, no stranger to public adoration, once complained: “What does it mean when people applaud? Should I give ’em money? Say thank you? Lift my dress?” The lack of applause, on the other hand — the unexpected thing, the relatively communicative thing — “that I can respond to.”…

Mostly, though, we’ve used the affordances of the digital world to remake public praise. We link and like and share, our thumbs-ups and props washing like waves through our networks. Within the great arena of the Internet, we become part of the performance simply by participating in it, demonstrating our appreciation — and our approval — by amplifying, and extending, the show. And we are aware of ourselves, of the new role a new world gives us. We’re audience and actors at once. Our applause is, in a very real sense, part of the spectacle. We are all, in our way, claqueurs.

Fascinating, from the human tendency across cultures to clap, planting people in the audience to clap and cheer, to the rules that developed around clapping.

A couple of thoughts:

1. Are there notable moments in history when politicians and others thought the crowd was going one way because of applause but quickly found out that wasn’t the case? Simply going by the loudest noise seems rather limited, particularly with large crowds and outdoors.

2. The translation of clapping into Facebook likes loses the embodied nature of clapping and crowds. Yes, likes allow you to mentally see that you are joining with others. But, there is something about the social energy of a crowd that is completely lost. Durkheim would describe this as collective effervesence and Randall Collins describes the physical nature of “emotional energy” that can be generated when humans are in close physical proximity to each other. Clapping is primarily a group behavior and is difficult to transfer to a more individualistic setting.

3. I have noticed in my lifetime the seemingly increasing prevalence of standing ovations. Pretty much every theater show I have been to in recent years is followed by a standing ovation. My understanding is that at one point such ovations were reserved for truly spectacular performances but now it is simply normal. Thus, the standing ovation now has a very different meaning.

Analyzing gendered uptalk on Jeopardy!

As part of a household that regularly watches Jeopardy! via the magic of DVR, I was intrigued to read about this sociological study of uptalk on the show:

Linneman’s study involves issues deeper than how game show contestants talk—specifically, the implications uptalk has for gender identities. According to his article, “The primary sociological controversy surrounding uptalk concerns the fact that women use uptalk more often than men do, and some interpret this as a signal of uncertainty and subordination.”Linneman found that both gender and uncertainty played a role: “On average, women used uptalk nearly twice as often as men. However, if men responded incorrectly, their intonation betrayed their uncertainty: their use of uptalk shot up dramatically.”

The use of uptalk is not merely an academic concern, as Linneman discovered with one of his results.

“One of the most interesting findings coming out of the project is that success has an opposite effect on men and women on the show…The more successful a man is on the show, uptalk decreases. The opposite is true for women…I think that says something really interesting about the relationship between success and gender in our society, and other research has found this too: successful women in a variety of ways get penalized.”

Uptalk’s sometimes-negative connotations bring up the subject of how women speak, a provocative issue.

While this isn’t an earthshaking finding, two things are very interesting here:

1. It is a reminder that language usage and speech patterns reflect larger social forces. While individuals may have unique ways of expressing themselves, language and expression is also learned behavior influenced by others.

2. Selecting Jeopardy! as the research case for this particular phenomenon is clever. While uptalk is related to perceptions of a lack of confidence, the contestants on the show should not have as much reason for nervousness as others might have about being on TV. In order to make it on air, they have to be smart enough to pass a qualifying test and then they have to pass an in-person audition. In other words, the contestants, males and female, are bright people. Granted, being in front of a camera is a different matter but these contestants aren’t caught completely unaware nor should they be fully perplexed by the questions they are trying to answer.

The intersection of Chinese bridal couples asking for cash, Facebook, and protests

This could be a poster story for globalization: on Facebook, a Hong Kong bride asked for money from wedding attendees and this has attracted protestors to the wedding.

That’s the prospect facing one Hong Kong couple, who infuriated hundreds after the bride’s Nov. 2 Facebook post went viral.

“I’m not opening a charity….If you really only want to give me a HK$500 [US$65] cash gift, then don’t bother coming to my wedding,” she wrote earlier this month, according to an article Thursday in the Wall Street Journal China.

The bride’s identity and wedding venue were identified by social media users, and a protest was organized via Facebook. Nearly 1,000 have claimed they will attend.

A spokesperson for the hotel where the wedding will be held said they plan on honoring their contract with the couple.

Though giving newlyweds cash is a traditional Chinese custom, sociologist Ting Kwok-fai told The Wall Street Journal that Hong Kong weddings have grown increasingly extravagant in recent years. Engaged couples feel pressured to minimize the cost of the affair, he said, and in this case, the bride may be seeking to recoup some of the costs of the wedding.

Multiple social forces are coming together here in a new kind of way: traditional social norms, new technology and interaction on Facebook, and more public concerns about inequality and conspicuous consumption. This reminds me of the classic 1929 work of the Chicago School of sociology titled The Gold Coast and the Slum. While studying neighborhoods just north of the Loop in Chicago, Zorbaugh discussed the social interaction between some of the wealthiest Chicagoans and some of the poorest Chicagoans. While the two groups certainly knew about each other through walking in or passing through neighborhoods or reading news in the newspaper, there was little direct social interaction. For example, some of the wealthy socialite women tried to start aid groups to help these nearby poor neighborhoods but could not get much participation from the poor neighborhoods.

Today, some of these barriers are reduced because of Facebook and other technology. Again, there is likely not a whole of physical social interaction between those with a lot of money and those without. In Hong Kong, you can walk down Nathan Road in Kowloon and find the some of the world’s most exclusive brands. If you turn off the road several blocks to the west, you are among nondescript apartment complexes with little glitter or glamour. Yet, these new technologies allow for more awareness and more reactions which could then coalesce around social action. The socialite wedding announcement in the prestigious newspaper 50 years ago that would have drawn less attention has now turned into Facebook-announced weddings that can quickly become very public.

Waiting in line across cultures

Waiting in line works in different ways across the world:

Different societies, of course, exhibit different queuing cultures, according to sociologist David R. Gibson of Princeton University. Here are some of Gibson’s observations, anecdotal and otherwise:

* “The Brits are famous for their lines Southern Europeans much less so.”

* “A friend from Israel tells me that Israelis fall into the queuing-challenged category.”

* “Sometimes there are other procedures for determining who gets served first. I once had a student from Pakistan who told me that in mixed-sex lines, women get served first … and old men second, out of respect for their seniority.”

* “In high school lunch lines social status, especially tied to athleticism, sometimes trumps order of arrival.”

This may seem like a more inconsequential social norm but people spend a lot of time waiting in line. I remember being struck by the waiting in line procedure for the BART in San Francisco. Unlike Chicago where the trains stopped at different points and people massed around the doors to board with little regard for who was first, the trains there stopped at marked spots on the platform and people lined up respectfully on these spots and waited their turn. Or think about merging in traffic when lanes are reduced; this is a form of waiting in line where drivers can act very aggressively. Or think of some of the current debates about health care; do Americans want to have “wait lists” for medical procedures as some claim will happen with nationalized medical care? Or some of the somewhat controlled chaos that ensues when Americans line up at midnight for Black Friday sales. During my experience last year lining up several hours before midnight at Best Buy, we spent more than three hours in line (over one outside the several, around two inside the store waiting to check out and/or order on-sale items) just for some consumer savings.

If I were asked to describe American patterns for standing in line, I’m not sure I could really describe it. Generally first come, first served. Most of the time people really do not like the idea of others cutting or budging in line. We generally don’t like waiting in line because we think our time is really valuable and that organizations should work more efficiently to meet our individual needs.