Posts Tagged ‘networks’

Inventing the Social Network

What did people do before they networked?

Maybe they pulled strings, used connections, kept good company, took advantage of protectzia, or deployed guanxi. “Networking,” as in “making use of a network of people,” did not even appear in English until the late 1970s. “Network” itself usually meant a television broadcasting system such as NBC; the notion of a social network was essentially unknown. Today, most Americans understand a social network as a set of Internet contacts—and perhaps more subtly, per the movie of that name, as a comment on Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who may not have gotten so far without his connections.

The concept of a social network emerged from sociologists’ and anthropologists’ efforts in the 1960s and early 1970s….. See the rest of this post at the Boston Review here…..

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Maybe you noticed the well-publicized, bathetic Atlantic Monthly cover story on whether Facebook is making us lonely — wait, let me check, uh, no— although economic distress may be.

Or perhaps you saw Sherry Turkle’s N.Y. Times essay publicizing her book, Alone Together, which argues that our mini-screens are stopping us from really talking to each other anymore (no systematic evidence on this either).

It looks like we are having a small resurgence this month of the old meme that communications technology — indeed, modern life — is making us lonely. It’s back to ’80s, back to ’50s, back to ….  Anyway, the folks at Boston Review asked me to discuss the loneliness scare. And I do, at this link.

If you find that essay interesting, come back to the blog for a bonus: a special, short report on new findings that make us rethink the claim that more Americans became friendless in the last couple of decades.


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American Ties (II)

The American family has changed greatly in the last couple of generations – some call that change a “breakdown” and others prefer a term like “evolution.” For one, the family starts later; that is, Americans marry and have their first children at an older age they used to. For another, the family is smaller, with fewer children. The decline in family size largely took place in the ‘60s and ‘70s and then leveled off. Fewer children born since the 1960s means that today’s adults have fewer sibs, aunts, uncles, and cousins than Americans did 40 years ago. A rough calculation suggests that the average American today has about 25% fewer blood kin than the average American of the 1970s had.

A.F. Burns, U. of FL.

But what most people mean when they say the family has changed, broken down, or evolved is less about the quantity and more about the quality of family ties – something about how much people are involved with kin, rely on kin, care about kin. That is a lot harder to measure than simple numbers, but there are fragmentary survey data. And they suggest a complex picture of change and continuity.

(Disclosure: This post is part of an occasional series drawing from my new book, Still Connected: Family and Friends in America since 1970. Further details can be found there.  A previous post focused on friends and confidants.)

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