Tag Archives: technology

    about the author

    Margaret K. Nelson is in the sociology and anthropology department at Middlebury College. She is the author of Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times.

    Mediations

    Hollywood Sperm Donors

    Sociologist Margaret K. Nelson explores how Hollywood has portrayed the use of assisted reproductive technologies. She argues that these new technologies have the potential to transform the nuclear family as we know it; however, popular films glorify romantic love and traditional family structures.

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    about the author

    Piotr Konieczny is a sociologist who studies new media. This article was supported by Hanyang University. His course on understanding Wikipedia can be found here.

    Pedagogies

    Rethinking Wikipedia For The Classroom

    Sociologist Piotr Konieczny focuses on the issue of Wikipedia’s reception in the world of academia: in the background of slowly growing acceptance of it as an educational tool, why is a significant portion of the researchers and instructors still uneasy with it?

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    To learn more about Wikipedia and education, check out these online resources:

    In Brief

    The Lone Wolf Terrorist

    Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnev, the brothers who are suspected of detonating two bombs during the Boston Marathon last year, killing three individuals and injuring countless others, represent a new form of terrorist: the lone wolf. In his 2012 work, Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism, criminologist Ramon de Spaaij shows that such terrorists act alone in conceiving and carrying out the attack, and do not belong to any organized terrorist group. According to de Spaaij, changes in the organizational structure of terrorist groups produces lone wolves. Increasing pressure from counter-terrorism agencies across the globe have made terrorist groups less hierarchical, smaller in size and savvier.

    New technologies have also altered the structure of terrorist groups, enabling them to operate in more covert ways, according to scholar George Michael in his 2012 book, Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance. The website for Al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine provided Tamerlan Tsarnev, for example, with information on how to carry out independent attacks. Tsarnev also created a YouTube channel that featured jihadi fighters and extreme Islamic clerics, furthering the messages of extremist groups with which he had no formal affiliation.

    Lone wolf terrorism permits individuals who feel insignificant to prove their capacity to alter the normal workings of society, according to sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer (Terror in the Mind of God, 2003). They certainly pose a challenge for national security agencies, which must use new strategies to identify and capture them before they strike.

    about the author

    Theresa Morris is in the department of sociology at Trinity College. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America.

    Trends

    C-Section Epidemic

    How can we explain the exponential increase of the cesarean section in the U.S. in recent decades? Drawing from 130 in-depth interviews with women, obstetricians, midwives, and labor and delivery nurses, sociologist Theresa Morris explains the epidemic that affects the lives, health, and families of every woman in America.

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    Further Reading

    Check out the The New York Times review of Theresa Morris's Cut It Out and then get the book.

    In Brief

    #onstrike

    #829When low-wage workers from over 50 cities across the United States took to the streets last August to demand better wages, improved working conditions, and the right to unionize, they relied on social media to make their case. The actions are now known as the #829 strikes, after their Twitter hashtag.

    Organizers helped spread the news of the strikes through such Twitter handles as @lowpayisnotok. And Working America, the non-profit community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, used Tumblr to compile photographs from strike locations across the United States.

    Anthropologist Jeffrey Juris, in an analysis of the Occupy Movement in Boston in American Ethnologist (May, 2012), shows how social media can make activism easier, and encourage a greater diversity of participants. But social media may not be as effective as other online tools, such as listservs, in helping forge organizational networks that sustain movements over time, according to Juris.

    Hoping to avoid some of the challenges Occupy faces, the organizers of #829 are focusing more narrowly on wages, working conditions, and unionization. Social media can’t substitute for savvy organizing.

    In Brief

    Second Life’s Second Life

    ©2013 Linden Lab

    ©2013 Linden Lab

    Experts have voiced concerns about digital addiction and social isolation among online gaming enthusiasts. But virtual platforms, such as Second Life, which offers its users custom designed, computer-simulated 3-D environments, have proven to have useful everyday applications.

    By distributing information and providing services to at-risk veterans through audio, video, and text communication, the Department of Defense uses Second Life to help those battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Veterans who exhibit PTSD symptoms, who are fearful of social stigma, no longer need to suffer in silence: they can interact anonymously with service providers and with one another through avatars, or customizable digital self-representations—virtual alter egos.

    Weight loss program participants also use Second Life. Health researcher Debra Sullivan and her colleagues monitored a group of individuals who were trying to lose weight. Their 2013 article in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that face-to-face participants lost more weight initially, but Second Life participants were more successful in keeping the weight off. During the weight maintenance phase, researchers found that the Second Life-only group experienced an additional 4 percent loss in weight.

    Finally, educators have used Second Life to enable what researchers Palitha Edirisingha, Ming Nie, Mark Pluciennik, and Ruth Young call “border crossing from virtual world to physical world.” In a 2009 issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology, they reported that “In-world socialization had led to real-world network building” among college archaeology students.

    As digital technology continues to extend its global reach, these successful applications show that virtual behavior can have beneficial real-life results.

    In Brief

    Apps for Autism

    TOBY Playpad by Autism West

    TOBY Playpad by Autism West

    Apple’s application marketplace boasts over half a million apps, ranging from games to productivity tools. Now, the store also offers apps for autism.

    In fact, there are currently over 200 apps for autism, according to speech pathologist Lois Brady. Some apps, like TOBY Playpad, help caregivers teach children early learning concepts. Others, like Proloquo2go and TapToTalk, help users overcome difficulties with speaking and communication. AutismXpress helps users identify emotions. And one app, called Look in My Eyes, helps individuals practice eye contact. Some suggest the technology has revolutionized autism treatment.

    Technology has transformed how we diagnose disorders, understand illness, interact with medical authorities, and even relate to our own bodies. In a 2010 article in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, sociologists Monica Casper and Daniel Morrison argue that these transformative technologies include vaccines, ultrasound machines, artificial joints, genetic mapping, and even electronic medical records.

    Some suggest that these technologies help drive medicalization, the process through which personal problems are defined as medical concerns. But sociologist Andrew Webster, writing in Current Sociology in 2002, argues that technology is not necessarily expanding medicine’s domain. By “open[ing] the medical black bag,” he writes, technology may in fact loosen doctors’ control over treatment.

    While some therapists incorporate apps into their treatment, one doesn’t need to consult a doctor or obtain a prescription to benefit from them. Clearly, they allow consumers to take medical treatment into their own hands. But apps aren’t for everyone. Nor can everyone afford these technologies. And some people, in the end, prefer to interact with a good old-fashioned human being.

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    about the author

    Margaret Austin Smith is in the sociology program at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the leader of an undergraduate writing group that focuses on students’ experiences of effective pedagogy.

    Feature

    Teaching to Distraction

    The classroom is a social space, and how students experience and perceive that space shapes how they approach their classrooms and what they do in them. Margaret Austin Smith uses ethnographic data of college students’ classroom experiences to demonstrate the degree of importance understanding students’ ways of knowing the classroom has on the effectiveness of teaching and learning relationships.

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    about the author

    Andrea Press is in the sociology and media studies departments at the University of Virginia. She is the co-author of The New Media Environment.

    Mediations

    What Would Jefferson Do?

    Sociologist Andrea Press discusses the recent firing of President Teresa Sullivan, the first woman and first sociologist serving this role at the University of Virginia, by Helen Dragas, the first woman rector directing University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors. She analyzes the role of gender in these events and also examines the importance of social media in relation to facilitating faculty governance.

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    Recommended Reading

    To learn more about Teresa Sullivan's firing at the University of Virginia, Andrea Press recommends the following resources:

    In Brief

    Go to Harvard–Free

    Students now have the opportunity to attend Harvard—without playing the high-stakes admissions game, or even paying a cent.

    In May 2012, Harvard and MIT, along with a corporate partner, unveiled non-credit MOOCs (“Massive Open Online Courses”). This joint venture, which will offer free public online courses, is just one of a number of similar recent collaborations between select academic institutions and their corporate affiliates.

    Encouraged to venture beyond faculty-assembled resources, students compile, debate, and synthesize knowledge using the MOOC platform, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, SecondLife, YouTube, and Google Groups. Within these networked learning spaces, the knowledge base evolves continuously, promising a more flexible and enriching experience than in traditional closed online courses. Education researcher Lynore DeSilets suggests that MOOCs cater to “free agent learners.” She says this new generation of self-directed learners “leverage emerging communications and collaboration tools to create personal networks of experts” (Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 2011).

    The debut of MOOCs follows a trend toward open access scholarship, which proponents say will increase visibility of faculty research and the rankings of their institutions, and result in “greater distribution [and collaboration] of scholarship as well as some return to the public for funding its production,” according to scholar Annette Vee, in the 2011 CCCC-Intellectual Property Annual. But as critics charge, by offering MOOCs, elite schools draw students away from non-participating competitors, further widening the prestige gap between different rungs of universities. They also contribute to the corporatization of the university, particularly through distance learning initiatives. “These relationships place corporate sponsors in a powerful position to affect research agendas,” warns social sciences researcher Risa Lieberwitz (Public Interest Law Journal, 2002-3). Corporate intermediaries (such as Udacity) are eyeing to profit by playing matchmaker for headhunters vying for learners.

    By catering to market-driven demands, and potentially threatening academic freedom, perhaps this “democratization” of education exacts too great a price?

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