Tim Hutchcraft | The Socjournal

    January 25th, 2012

    In my introductory Sociology courses, I teach my students about social norms and customs, often without applying the ideas and concepts to my own life.  For one, real life is different than a text book, right?  However, perhaps there is more to the story.  Perhaps I am afraid to determine the weakness within my own small society which explains why the death of my sister has dissolved the glue which bound me together with my family.  While I have conducted much study on how the family structure works and influences people in following generations,  I think my family is guilty of breaking certain normative values, which society and popular media, have dictated to us for years.

    Symbolic Interactionists feel that behaviors are inherent based upon the social cues learned from those important figures in one’s life.  For example, the way we celebrate Christmas is a prime example of how we perpetuate behaviors, better known as traditions, during certain times of the year.  No matter how Scrooge-like I am, I still look forward to certain aspects of the Christmas season, aspects which have been commonplace in my family for more than three decades.

    While the typical celebrations are no longer pertinent in our lives, we struggle to determine new norms for our social unit.  While we can no sooner revert back to past experiences and habits, except in memory, we must move forward to determine how we change our symbolic gestures toward one another for the future.

    I am well aware of the fact that our family is not unique in the fact that we not only lost a loved one, but in our isolated state, it feels as if we have experienced an event of which others cannot relate.  The celebrations of holidays, a social expectation which encourages feelings of discontent by their very nature, take on a difficult and sadly dark tone when one must face them without an ever present force no longer with us.

    My sister, of course, was this force. I would always consider her to be the architect of any celebration.  Any time, any place, anywhere, my sister would come to the rescue with a cake, a gift, and a decoration.  With her assistance, Christmas would see mountains of gifts, cookouts would see a virtual buffet of food, and birthdays would be made complete with cards and the expected ice-cream cake.

    For more than 10 months, I have wondered how all of these situations would differ after her death.  Would life really go on without our Conni?  Would we find things to celebrate from now on?  The answer is yet to come, as we have not met the one-year mark since her passing. With only the memories to sustain us, my family has remained in a state of anomie for some time, unsure how to act, or how to re-craft our perceptions of holidays, togetherness and our interfamilial relationships.

    I suppose this article could explore the differences between historical acceptance of death, and that of today.  However, it was not the intent.  While I started this article in hopes of discussing more about how we look at the holidays, it turned into a personal discussion of how I view them.  While I cannot apply the idea of our personal interactions to a general audience, I felt I could write a short article on how they can be interrupted on a personal level.  This article became less of an informative view of society and special occasions, and more of a tribute to a life cut short.

    And, I must say, I’m ok with that.

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    He Said, She Said (At the Speed of Light!)

    May 31st, 2011

    The first article I wrote for the SocJournal set the tone for my general opinion in regards to social media and online “friends.”  I discussed the concept of cyber “friends” with a dear friend of mine when he offered up a “lesson learned” story which had recently taken place.

    To steal a phrase from Estelle Getty of The Golden Girls fame:  Picture it, an innocent conversation happening between a coach and an adult student.  The coach comments upon a Facebook message written in regards to their previous meeting.  The subject is unimportant, but the implications are far-reaching.

    A series of messages posted on an electronic “wall” followed, and quickly sparked outrage and hurt.  What started out as simple, yet exaggerated message turned into a rant which attempted to strike out and hurt the perceived aggressors.  Yet, the attack not only did damage to the reputation of the poster, but it also spread malicious words to those who had little to do with the original transgression.

    I assume rumors have been around as long as human communication itself.  While today we tend to read blogs detailing the sloppy actions of celebrities, we also crave to know the ups, but especially the downs, of people with whom we are more familiar.  While everyone loves an underdog, they love someone falling flat on their metaphorical faces even more.  Why then do we in modern society get taken in by rumor mills?  Why do we wish to spread malicious gossip about our friends, family and coworkers in order to attempt to gain acceptance?

    Rumors are, in my opinion, a bizarre side effect to socialization.  In order to maintain a peaceful society, members must be able to share common experiences, feelings, emotions and actions.  The spreading of rumors is most definitely a collective action which helps two or more individuals relate.  When we see an article outlining the exploits of a drunken celebrity, we are given the chance to hold ourselves up to the standard of the rich and famous and, in some cases, come out the better party.  While this may not be the exact motivation in every instance, to me it rings true.  For people who wish to escape spending their life as a “have-not,” it is all too refreshing to see the rich and powerful fall.

    Moving back to more local matters, it seems that the cascade of rumors my comrade was engulfed into appeared to die out.  Even with the best of intentions, we cannot help but get caught up in a frenzy of gossip.  And of course, once this goes to the internet, it is almost like a digital wildfire waiting to spread to as many unsuspecting victims as possible.  Of course, if you really want to know something crazy, I heard a great story about the guy at the next desk…

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    Are you my “friend?”

    April 24th, 2011

    For more than fifteen years I have been just to the right of the “cutting edge” in technology. Coming from a small town, internet service was something only a few families had in 1996, and the term “Social Media” would still be years away from becoming part of my vernacular. Since this time, I seem to be just behind the trends in internet connectivity.

    Cut to 2011, where international superstars like Justin Bieber are born from self-recorded YouTube videos, and anyone with a video camera and a certain amount of shamelessness can become a viral video sensation, or better yet, a meme. The connections people make through social media are great for touching base with old friends and sharing the work of unknowns like Bieber. However, as friendships have been a popular social construction for many years, we must wonder if society can adapt and change to the new definition of “friend,” and a completely new way of defining a society.

    Websites like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace were created in order to help connect people around the world connect to those with similar interests or backgrounds. This is true in almost any interpersonal relationship, as similar socioeconomic factors are often what bring people together. However, these relationships have often been fostered through direct contact, either through written word, telephone calls or personal visitations. If this model for friendship and social interactions has withstood the past millennia of human interaction, how can it be maintained through impersonal communiqué as posted on public social media sites?

    While it would be terribly dramatic to state that MySpace and Facebook have destroyed the age-old idea of an interpersonal and social relationship per se, obviously a certain change has taken place. Rather than connecting face to face, or voice to voice, our connections are mediated. We see the means of communication that sustained our personal relationships deteriorating rapidly. While email was certain to replace the hand written letter for reasons of convenience and cost, the art of written communication has dwindled to a few lines of prose posted for public consumption, coupled with planate smileys.  This not only negates the sincerity of the message, but it also takes away the ability to connect on a one-to-one basis with the recipient.

    In order to understand the personal value of a friend, we must look at the institution of friendship as less of a social construct and more of an intangible good which can be valued based on varying factors. While many people use the word “friend” with different intent depending on which regard it is thrown out, we see that sites such as Facebook are built upon the ability to “Friend” someone. The process of “Friending,” as it is called, is nothing more than clicking a link in order to create an electronic connection. People may extend this web friendship to those who are close to the individual, those who are merely acquaintances, and those who are strangers. It is the consideration of the latter two choices which boggle the mind at times. How can we consider someone a friend, a term of social engagement and relationship, when we have not spoken for years or, conversely, never met? Most people certainly do not extend the same benefits and privileges to internet pals as they would their “real-life” friends, but why do we still accept the term as appropriate? Why do we take advice from strangers when we would not from those close to us in the flesh? In a sense, Internet connectivity has created different tiers of friendship, thereby forcing the individual to assign importance to the individuals with whom they share connections.

    While my opinion of social media is obviously skewed against the practice, I feel I am clearly in the minority of people in my age range. All of my friends have had Facebook accounts for years. People constantly send me emails asking to connect on Facebook to share. What do they want to share? Well, I’m not sure. However, the trend to flock to these sites has yet to show  decline. We recently saw Hollywood produce a movie called “The Social Network,” which was based on Facebook’s founders. One need only go to any online news source to see the Winklevoss twins, supposed cofounders of Facebook, telling us of their legal battles to get a piece of the Billion-dollar action for themselves.

    While these social networks will probably not go anywhere soon, they will eventually be replaced by something newer and more popular. Of course, by this time, I might have just convinced my friends that “Happy Birthday” posted on MySpace isn’t quite as heartwarming as the old fashioned handshake and personally delivered Hallmark card.