Saturday, December 27, 2008

Catch-up Time

Over the next few days, I plan to post on articles and topics that I wanted to call out from the rest of the year, but for one thing or another--lack of time, usually--just never got around to. Some of them were topics I wanted to expand on and the entries just never left the ground (really, the notebook). Most of them will be from the recent months and weeks, as they are fresher in my memory. Here goes:

New York Magazine is just fantastic. They always have really interesting articles featuring really interesting trivia, often about New York. Case in point: One out of every apartment in Manhattan is occupied by only one person; the number is one in three when you add in all the other boroughs. Jennifer Senior's December 1st cover story on loneliness doesn't offer much new insights other than those statistics, but reinforces a lot of existing theories on the nature of community (note: I did a lot of research in college on this topic, especially dealing with community vis a vis the internet, so it wasn't new to me). What I especially loved was that the article reaffirmed a lot of my anecdotal evidence regarding single life:

[Eric] Klineberg, the NYU professor who is writing about living alone, points out that single people are partly responsible for the vibrancy of New York’s public life: “We know form marketing surveys that single people go out more than couples,” he notes. “They’re more likely to go to restaurants, to bars, and to clubs. A lot of people who live alone say it’s very hard to enter their apartments and stare at the walls when there’s so much going on outside.”

Conversely, married people—women especially—have smaller friendship-based social networks than they did as single people, according to [sociologist] Claude Fischer.
The article goes on to say that that the reason why many single people feel lonely is when they are surrounded by other couples--and that family neighborhoods in particular are the places that have the highest rates of social isolation, especially among the elderly. Asynchronous environments breed loneliness; that's why it's better for one's livelihood if they aren't exclusively around others who are in a different stage of life.

Weak ties (acquaintences and people you are one or two degrees separated), the internet, and of course, New York City (and cities in general) get quite the boost here. But that's fine; the overarching idea is that people--connection--are what matters, and that getting out of the house and interacting with others will boost your mood. The internet bridges the public and the private, and often facilitates this.

I look forward to David Carr's column every week, and he rarely disappoints. While he has written many that I could talk about endlessly, his recent entry on how the media essentially created Black Friday opened my eyes to the symbiotic relationship between advertising and the media--something I all too often overlook.

I orginally had not planned to read the Times Magazine's cover story on John McCain the week before the election, citing time constraints and not much interest, but it turned out to be way better than their Obama cover the previous week. "The Making (and Remaking) of John McCain" ended up showing how important public relations and message-managing is--and how the McCain camp's infighting and lack of direction killed their campaign. The death knell is spelled out:
The campaign was in the throes of an identity crisis by June 24, when a number of senior strategists gathered at 9:30 a.m. in a conference room of McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington. As one participant said later, the meeting was convened “because we still couldn’t answer the question, ‘Why elect John McCain?’ ” Considering that the election was less than five months away, this was not a good sign.
If the people running John McCain's campaign cannot answer that question, then he is doomed.

Speaking of that long-ago election, remember that Wall Street Journal story on Obama's thinness? Apparently the reporter took some of her quotes from a Yahoo message board. Ouch. Certainly not the only time this year that a reporter got into trouble for going to dubious online outlets for sources.

I wrote a lot about the Journal's coverage of the election, especially how voters decide on a candidate. I had wanted to add another entry to that list, on their September 4th article, "The Biology of Ideology". It's the old nature vs. nurture argument: are even voting patterns predetermined? That's one heck of a scary idea. I was very skeptical of this idea and hated the article back when I first read it. I took a more pragmatic approach, of convince us why you're worthy. Tom Friedman summed it up five days later:
If you as a politician connect with voters on a gut level, they will follow you anywhere and not fret about the details. If you don’t connect with them on a gut level, you can’t show them enough details.
I wondered why it was ok for newspapers to openly assume Obama was going to win the presidency, as many non-opinion pieces used "when", instead of "if", in referring to anything after the election. Guys, that's why people say the media is in the tank for the dude. Lay off. Turned out Clark Hoyt at the Times agreed with me.

I felt though--and vaguely remember coming across something along these lines--that people tend to vote in step with the environment they find themselves in. In my social life, my friends and I (generally) read the same media, or at least the same types, have similar opinions, and come from similar backgrounds, so of course we tend to vote similarly. This is true all over; I wondered how hard it would be to separate from the pack.

1 comment:

John said...

So what did we learn from all of these articles? That the media both has more power (in terms of subtle influence) than previously realized. People will believe anything they hear on TV (especially if it is corroborated elsewhere, as with retailers on Black Friday) and if something isn't true when the story runs it can become true within a week. It's more than "history is written by the winners," it's "winning is a self-fulfilling prophecy written by historians."

Well, that's what I got out of these.