Social Media As Small Town

A lot of 20th C American fiction was about a small-town boy leaving his oppressive upbringing. It is one of those themes that combines truth and untruth. Small homogeneous communities have pluses and minuses. David Foster recently posted about how the internet in general mimics those small-group interactions, and social media accentuates those negatives.

Gavin Longmuir gave examples of peer-pressure groups that believe in Political Correctness, in contrast to the rest of of the society, which is less in sympathy with it. Academia, the media, the politically active, the bureaucracy.  I would add in students, which while part of academia, are not who we usually think of when we use that term.  Those groups have a strong tie-in with each other that might not be immediately apparent, and that is the social competitiveness of youth. Bear with me for a moment on that. That high school students care deeply about what is fashionable and who is cool is well-known. There is something about this that is developmentally normal, as each age cohort must learn to get on together to take on responsibility in the future. This used to be more limited, as children coming of age did not spend so much time exclusively with each other.  They were in larger families, and those families were together more (not always a good thing, but generally so). They had more contact with extended family, multigenerationally. They worked at jobs earlier, went to churches, and had more contact with physical neighbors, all putting them in contact with people of different ages more than is common now. As the years of education increased, children spent increasing time with each other. Since, say, the 1950’s, high school and college students increasingly have their own world.

And they have money, or parents who will spend money on them for things like, oh, college. Suddenly there are lots of people who care what the opinions of 16-26 year olds are. High-turnover entertainment targets that group: music, movies, video games, youtube, sports. Political activists are disproportionately young. Unless they can get jobs doing activist work, they stop having time once they get jobs, spouses, or (gulp) children.  Even for Trump rallies, lots of people who might go just can’t, because
Tyler has a doubleheader that day, or work is really busy just now.  I wish I could find the article I read years ago by an ex-environmental activist who believed that environmentalists got extra exercised about peers having children, not just because of the ZPG extra drain on the earth’s resources, but because experience had taught them that they would now stop having enough time to volunteer for The Cause.  Politicians in campaign mode need to hire lots of people at temporary, low-paying jobs, and that means a steady supply of young people.

You might remember Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful line* to Bill Simmons I quoted a few weeks ago, when Simmons got nervous and tongue-tied about discussing an all-time NBA White Team. “You’re not afraid of millennials, are you Bill?” Large categories of people are afraid of millennials.  Their jobs are tied up in it.

Let me elaborate a bit on academics.  I think how much they care about the social and political opinions of juveniles varies considerably.  In one sense, nearly all have to care about students choosing their school and their classes. While many could get jobs outside the academy, others would be hard pressed, depending on area of expertise. Administrators, we have been learning, are even more dependent on a college expanding, and on the political/cultural environment.  While it appears on the surface that these authority figures – deans and teachers – are shaping the opinions of students, they are in turn dependent on them. There are people employed by colleges who went into the field because they liked School, were good at School, and want to stay in School.  It is a version of bright little girls who like school saying they want to grow up to be teachers.  It’s something they can see, they understand the culture, it feels safe. School is what they know.  They might see women doctors and nurses in real life and want to do that, but they mostly see women lawyers, real-estate agents, scientists, and small business owners in pictures and in movies.

Cal Newton describes some interesting differences between blogging and tweeting. I would add that while Twitter is more vicious and prone to mobbing, it is also generally funnier. Facebook also offers more opportunity for humor than blogging.  This is because they are more like conversation, and whatever wittiness we have is wired more for conversation than for writing.  Writing humor is hard, and it is precarious, as even a few years later it just might not catch the audience.  My father loved Pogo.  I thought it was okay.  My father-in-law saw nothing funny in The Far Side – couldn’t see the point.  It is a rare humorist who can please beyond his own generation, and rarer still one who can extend beyond two generations. It is a rule of the theater that people will always laugh at sex, food, and money jokes, but even those seem fraught with peril now. Laughter is becoming forbidden.  Wry amusement is preferred.

But social media can still produce moments of real laughter, because it is more like conversation. Thus our addiction, to enter a vast world of people being funny. Even at that, though, it is mostly funny to younger people, perhaps 20-35.  Others enter in, and some of those younger funny people are also appreciated by seniors like me; but there are diminishing returns as one gets away from the core group.

The cost is high.  The core laughter cohort is also the core worried-about-coolness cohort, and there is a sizable group of older people who have to care about this deeply as well. They are often the people who are still stuck with one foot in adolescence. Twitter, Facebook (Instagram, Snapchat less so) are a magnified outrage of people who are still trying to find a place in the world, petrified they will be ostracised and found wanting.  Therefore, they punish their competition, perennially finding those to cast out.  Irony: it is only at university, and in a few academic disciplines that there is discussion about the importance of The Other, and “othering” people. Considered in the light of living in a Mean Girls world and needing to cast competitors into the outer darkness, one can see why the topic would seeming gripping and be seen as an important description of Real Life.

I should add that social media seems to empower personality disorders, especially borderlines.  One of the core understandings of those with BPD is their fear of abandonment and annihilation. That can add acres of rage to a mob.

 *No, really

19 thoughts on “Social Media As Small Town”

  1. The surest laughs in Vaudeville were slapstick routines- pratfalls, banana peels, exploding cigars, Three-Stooges-type-mallet-to-the-head followed by a honk, etc.

    In that sense, Twitter with all its vulgarities and banalities is just old hat.

  2. lots of people who might go just can’t, because
    Tyler has a doubleheader that day, or work is really busy just now.

    My grandchildren are all the children of my two sons. My three daughters have no children, which is a commentary in itself.

    As a grandfather and as a member of the city planning commission in the small city I lived in for 40 years, I have watched changes in how children are raised.

    I have previously described my own childhood in Chicago.

    My first days at school did not go well and I finally did something about that around the third or fourth day. I had been punished by the nun for some infraction I can no longer remember. I was walking to school the fourth morning when I heard the bell ring and realized I would be late. What to do ? I simply turned at 78th street before I reached the school and walked into Krause’s. I walked up to Hug who was working in the nursery and asked if I could help him. He said, “OK” and I stayed until I heard the bell ring at noon, then walked home. The school was next door to the nursery and Hug never asked me about why I was there. My mother was none the wiser as the nuns had not missed me and may have thought I decided to just drop out. Anyway, I never went back to kindergarten.

    My children grew up in Mission Viejo, a small city in Orange County CA. They walked to school in the early grades but I later moved to the beach city of Capistrano Beach and drove them to a private school in San Juan Capistrano. Public schools were deteriorating in the quality of education and I could afford private schools.

    Years later, I spent a few years on the city planning commission of Mission Viejo after I moved back there from the beach. The neighborhood school concept had not done well in the intervening years. That planned city had been built with homes clustered around an elementary school. The streets were not a square pattern like Chicago but curved in a circular pattern around the central school.

    The problem was that, by 1990, the homes around the school tended to be owned by older couples whose children were grown. They stayed in the same homes that had appreciated in the inflation of then 1970s and 80s so that younger couples could not afford them. As a consequence, all children were driven to school by the parents and the schools were the source of traffic jams every morning.

    There was also a contributing factor of fear of abduction or injury to children walking to school. The concept of child abduction became a problem with the printing of “abducted” children’s photos on milk cartons in the 80. Most of those abductions were by non-custodial parents as divorce because so much more common but the scare might have been a factor in the developments of “helicopter parents.”

    In addition, families are smaller and the “hen with one chick” phenomenon might be a factor. My generation was smaller than the one before us because so many men were gone in the War for years. My school friends had few siblings. My father had nine and my mother had four.

    My younger son is a fireman and is gone three days a week. His wife runs a successful marketing business from home. When their children were small, her sister babysat for her during the day, even though she was at home. My older son is a trial lawyer an d his wife is a college professor. They have had a full time nanny. His children are still young.

    The older grandchildren are consumed with sports. The parents spend every weekend at the children’s games. None of the children are old enough to drive yet. They are a bit unusual as the children can walk to school. They recently moved them to charter schools, however, after bad experiences with “Common Core” curricula.

    The house price inflation is worse than ever with the neighborhood mostly older residents.

    Their kids, when not involved with sports, do spend an awful lot of time on their iPhones. I give them educational gifts for birthdays and Christmas and wish they spent more time reading and doing the sort of things I did as a child but those days are gone. Can anyone imagine giving a child a Chemistry set or a BB gun ? I asked my son about a BB gun for his son but was discouraged. His son has fired my AR 15 and his wife plans to take shooting sessions but the .410/.22 combination I got for my 9th birthday is out of the question.

  3. Mike….not sure I can find the link, but there was an article recently saying that young surgeons in training have very poor manual skills…and attributing this to too much time in the virtual world and not enough in the physical world.

  4. I would not be surprised. We used to assume that young surgeons would be adept at manipulation of the robot devices that seemed to be coming along.

    In my own case, laparoscopic surgery prolonged my career a few years as it does not require one to bend over the patient while performing the procedure. My old back injury eventually ended my career at age 55 but the last five years involved 1000 cases of laparoscopy cholecystectomy and standing upright looking at a TV screen. I taught some courses on laparoscopic surgery and was aware that many surgeons, even though experienced in conventional surgery, had trouble with the two dimensional world of the laparoscopic procedure. There is no depth perception except what the brain can reconstruct. Such things as manipulation of instruments require some ability to visualize spacial relationships. The long thin instruments go through a tube-like port that has a seal to keep CO2 in the abdomen, which is inflated. When the surgeon moves the hand to the left, the instrument on the TV screen moves right. It is a bit like an oarlock.

    As far as manual dexterity in general, I found the women surgeons, who were coming along late in my career as a teacher, tended to be rough with tissue. That was a surprise as we assume women are good at fine motor skills. It may just have been a phenomenon of early adopters. Maybe they felt a need to be macho, or something.

    The last really skilled surgeon to come out of the training program I was in was about 1978. Several after that, were less dextrous.

    I don’t know the reason why. When I applied, the only faculty member who asked me about manual dexterity was the father of a roommate who was an older and very, very good surgeon. He was also in private practice. The full-time professors seemed less interested in that sort of thing and several I got to know were not very skilled.

    I would expect the worst surgeons would be high rankling military surgeons, like the one who took seven hours to do Happy Rockefeller’s mastectomy.

  5. The problem was that, by 1990, the homes around the school tended to be owned by older couples whose children were grown. They stayed in the same homes that had appreciated in the inflation of then 1970s and 80s so that younger couples could not afford them.

    That was definitely the case in Chicago until the recession hit.

    I was having this discussion with Jeff Carter — on Twitter, by the way, you can make good use out of social media — about property taxes in and around Chicago. In many places, property taxes have doubled in the past 10 to 15 years while property values have remained relatively stagnant.

    Where I live, because of a lucky break developing free land from an air base closing, property tax revenue per student has doubled from 20 years ago, but the number of students has remained exactly the same.

    It isn’t so much that homes are priced too high now, it’s that tax burdens combined with feeble wage growth has locked out young buyers.

    And I would go one step further about your point concerning smaller families and say that now all families are being discouraged. Young people are funneled by higher education, student debt, government taxes/regulations, and mass media conditioning to move to centralized urban areas and become dependent on the state.

  6. “Young people are funneled by higher education, student debt, government taxes/regulations, and mass media conditioning to move to centralized urban areas and become dependent on the state.”
    Yep. And there’s more. If you want to get health insurance, you have to work for a big company–small businesses and entrepreneurs pay through the nose. Political power is now purely population based, which means urban interests dominate, so their residents and businesses get preference, etc., etc., etc.

  7. f you want to get health insurance, you have to work for a big company

    That is an interesting thing. Obamacare was expended Medicaid and that is the population that likes it.

    The GOP Congress is the source of its troubles. They have done nothing since the tax cut. McCain really hurt them.

    As far as home inflation, Los Angeles is the epitome. I looked up the other day, the small house I bought in 1969 for $35,000. Its is a pretty house and was more expensive than the other house nearby that we made an offer on. The other house was $19,000 and I made the mistake of using VA financing in the offer, which charged the seller three points. The seller got another full price offer and took it.

    The house I bought for $35,000 in 1969 is currently valued at $1.2 million.

    My son and his wife bought their house, a typical tract house in Mission Viejo, about 20 years ago for about $385,000. It is now worth over $1 million.

  8. The house I bought for $35,000 in 1969 is currently valued at $1.2 million.
    Similarly, the house my aunt and uncle bought for $8,000 in the early 1950s and sold for $45,000 in 1975, is now worth close to $1.2 million.

    My cousins could purchase property in the 1980s at still affordable prices, but it appears to me that their children are priced out until they inherit. Ah well, when granny dies and her house in the hills is sold, that will be a windfall.

  9. The house next door to my son’s was bought be a young couple but her parents gave them the down payment. That was a few years ago when it sold for about $450,000. It’s smaller than my son’s but we looked at a house in that neighborhood, that size but with a pool, three years ago and it was $707,000. It sold the first weekend for the asking price. He is a high school coach but the parents put a big down for them. That is about the only way anymore for a young couple to buy in what was once a middle class bedroom community.

    I got him started in 1991 by giving him the down on a condo on the golf course. It was before they got married and during the last real estate recession.

    They sold that condo a few years later, when she was pregnant, for $250,00 and bought the house with the equity down.

    Real estate in CA feels toppy to me. Like a bubble.

    The Tucson house, with 1.3 acres of land, was $350k. It would be millions in Orange County if you could find the land.

  10. Those changes in house prices serve as symptoms for much more than the mere 50 to 100 fold increase in the number of dollars. Once in a while, when revisiting the home of my youth in SoCal, I muse on the math of prices. This fun exercise invariably leads me to realize that the symptom aspect also serves to conceal a great deal. Maybe like a scab on a festering wound.

    I never have heard, not once, never ever, any politician talk about what drives the majority of the number increase. Very rarely do I read any aware discussion of the relation between numbers of monetary units and time spent to gain them. For instance, consider that during the period that SoCal house prices increased 50 fold, the price of stamps increased 18 fold, the pay rate of entry level unskilled labor 15 fold (and the pay rate of going from working thru college to having a skilled profession with some degree of experience increased 50 fold plus). Meanwhile, technology has provided options that, at relatively small expense, dramatically improve living conditions.

    When thinking through all of this, I try to discern what change has happened to the number of hours one has to work to support the same lifestyle.

    One can glean from, eg, the descriptions in this thread many of the factors involved. SoCal, eg, has climate and proximity to beaches and mountains, has advantages of concentration that, negative trade offs such as traffic notwithstanding, make its life attractive. Thus people freely choose to live there despite the extra cost. This supports the housing price increase. So also does the Hispanic immigration, even excluding what part of it is defiantly unlawful.

    And, meanwhile, that immigration drives up competition for other resources. Even excluding the silliness of Calif’s $upport of immigration, which most certainly increases the cost of living there, the increases of competition would still exist.

    But none of the above mentions what I think central in thinking about that change in numbers of dollars: government printing of money.

  11. When thinking through all of this, I try to discern what change has happened to the number of hours one has to work to support the same lifestyle.

    I have concluded that I was richest as a resident in Surgery at LA County Hospital in the late 60s. I earned about $17,000 a year, plus I earned about $4k working after hours in emergency rooms.

    My house payment was $204/month.

    My new 1968 Mustang convertible was $3050. and the car payments with $50 down was $95 / month.

    When I finished my residency in 1971, the car was paid off and I had $1500 in the credit union.

    I had been a scholarship student through university and medical school. When my father died in 1969, I paid his taxes.

  12. House prices in LA were quite reasonable until ~2000. What’s happened to make houses entirely unaffordable for the vast majority of people there is actually a very recent phenomenon.

  13. Roy Kerns: “But none of the above mentions what I think central in thinking about that change in numbers of dollars: government printing of money.”

    Agreed. Now let’s take it one step further — why do the Best & Brightest in our Political Class print money?

    In think it was Walter E. Williams who pointed out that we can consume only what we have first physically produced. Printing money does not produce any real goods & services — but in the short run it does allow those with access to the printed money to claim a larger share of the limited physical production. The major player with access to that printed money is — of course — the government itself, which suits the Political Class to a tee. If government was compelled to limit its expenditures to the resources it is able to extract through taxation and sale of government assets, there would be no need for money printing. And the Political Class would have to face reality and make real choices about prioritizing expenditures.

    The Political Class around the world is spending more than it is taking in, almost without exception. Getting back onto the straight & narrow would necessarily involve a lot of pain — a lot of “Climate Change” conferences in exotic pleasantly-warm locations would have to be cancelled. So the Political Class will keep printing money until events inevitably pull their cold dead fingers off of the printing presses.

  14. Speaking of housing prices in Southern California, have you gone to your local BevMo (California liquor and beer retailer) lately, to shop for brewed beverages (i.e., beer, ale, stout, etc.)? Six-packs are now four-packs that sell for the price of 12-packs, or, perhaps, even a cheap 24-pack. Meanwhile, out on the sidewalk, “homeless” (i.e., under-medicated or overly self-medicated) people are camped-out, while auto traffic rushes by, which, on the Westside of Los Angeles, includes an over-abundance of Porches, Maseratis, Lambourginis, Ferraris, Aston-Martins, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Land Rovers, and, of course, Teslas. Neighorhood homes (not those in the “hills” above Wilshire and Sunset Blvds) all go for $1.2 million and up, and that’s for the small 1940s-era tear-downs, which will become over-sized mini-mansions, complete with powered driveway gates and fenced micro-yards, because, you gotta have a power-gate and a fenced yard. In the good-old days of my youth, back east, we rountinely ignored yard fences; we just climbed over them. Nowdays, kids are too indolent to climb yard fences, and besides, someone would call the police and have the parents arrested.

    Orange County, CA? Now 100% Democrat congressional districts, thanks to some after-the-fact vote-goosing. Get out while you still can.

    I dream of a spread in North Dakota.

  15. I dream of a spread in North Dakota.

    We moved to AZ in January 2017. I had had a house in Tucson going back to 2005 but it was in a gated community which is smart when you are only there weekends and vacations.

    Now, we have an acre and are in the foothills where there is no flooding and nice sunsets.

    The house after some upgrades.

  16. Mike….not sure I can find the link, but there was an article recently saying that young surgeons in training have very poor manual skills…and attributing this to too much time in the virtual world and not enough in the physical world.


    I started noticing the poor manual skills of the new scouts in the troop I was Scoutmaster for about 13 years ago. There was a stark gap in manual dexterity between the new scouts that year and the ones we got in before 2005. they almost all had a hard time learning to tie knots and properly use a knife. Then about 3-4 weeks later, I had a thank you card for a donor that I wanted the boys to all sign. ALL of the boys who had manual dexterity problems could not write in cursive. They singed their names in big 1st grade style block letters. I asked them if they knew how to write in cursive and all of them looked blankly at me. The only one of the new boys who actually signed his name in cursive was the only one who had no manual dexterity problems. He was a transfer student from another state.

    Later, I asked one mother who was also an elementary school teacher about this and she told me that almost all schools in the state (Illinois) had stopped teaching cursive writing as it was considered both obsolete and too time consuming (her term was “drill and kill”). I instantly made the connection between the poor manual skills and no cursive writing training. The constant practice in learning cursive developed the fine motor skills in children’s hands, so that most kids were not as clumsy in learning new skills.

    BTW…The local schools have re-implemented the teaching of cursive in the last 4 years.

  17. The lack of motor skills in kids began a while ago. My older son (a lawyer, which might not be a coincidence) has no ability to work with tools.

    My other son, who is a fireman, has a better ability to use tools. I gave him most of my tools a few years ago, as I was selling my house. Now, with a new house, I have bought a bunch again but not the power tools or the nail guns.

    When I was a kid I first hit my thumb with a hammer at about age 5. Working with tools was natural. I got a toy tool chest and work bench when I was 5.

    Kids today are far more likely to play video games and spend time staring at iPhones than playing with tools. There are no chemistry sets and I did a blog post on Erector Sets ten years ago.

    It’s still possible to find them but read the comments.

    What a nightmare. What moron wrote 8+ on this box. Neither my 10 or 12 year old could even begin to do those set with constant adult help and guidance. I will probably never buy anything from this company again. I defy you to find an average 8 year old who can build one without intense adjult supervision. I should note that I generally subtract 2-4 years from the product age for my children for most projects or board games. My kids taught themselves how to play Civilization the board game for crying out loud. WHAT AN AWFUL TOY AND PROJECT. Both of my sons were frustrated to tears before she decided that it should go in the recycling. Why would I give this to another family at good will.

    I was building Erector sets at age 5. I think a lot (although I have not tried these sets) of this is the loss of manual skills.

  18. I got my first Erector set at 5 or 6. I wasn’t that good at first, especially compared to my Dad, an engineer. He built several memorable toys that lasted for a long while but were eventually turned into something else. I also got better with practice, the point all along. We also built models, some very badly, dug holes in the back yard and shot tin cans with wrist rockets because we couldn’t use our 22’s in town. Probably several counts of felony child endangerment. I’ve made a living for the near 60 years since building/repairing/designing different sorts of machinery.

    The rule in our school district was buses only for students more than 2-1/2 miles from school, everyone else walked. Parents driving children to school was so rare that I don’t remember seeing it except occasionally during bad weather and certainly never experienced it. no snow days either, though the time I used snow shoes to make it through 2-3′ drifts there were a lot of absent. My walk to kindergarten was 1/2 mile. I walked home for lunch until I was a sophomore and the short lunch period wouldn’t accommodate the mile and a half distance.

    Mike K.’s experience working in 3D from a 2D image is similar to the trouble I have with getting people to interpret Orthographic Projections (the common 3-6 view drawing). It’s something that takes practice and may be a dying art. 3D renderings can’t convey the same information.

    My own cursive is poor, I letter my hand written documents and notes like a drawing but don’t seem to have problems with dexterity.

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