21 posts categorized "Todd Schoepflin"

April 18, 2013

Social Interactions

Todd sBy Todd Schoepflin

There I was, sitting on a bar stool, having a beer and shooting the breeze with my brother-in-law Jim, and watching people bowl together. I don’t get out much, so it was eventful just to hang out at a bowling alley for a few hours. But a surprising interaction occurred that night. A woman, who appeared to be drunk, touched my face as she walked by me and said something about my eyes that I think was intended as a compliment.

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April 09, 2012

Waiting and Social Interaction

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

In our fast-paced society, waiting is not something that people like to do. For people who rely on public transportation, waiting is built into everyday life. But if your daily routine doesn’t involve a lot of waiting, it takes you away from the rhythm of life.

Put in a situation where you have to wait, maybe you don’t mind it for a bit. You might like a few quiet moments to yourself. Maybe you meditate while you wait. Perhaps you get reflective and write a poem. But there’s so much to entertain us while we wait, like listening to music, tweeting, or exploring for a new app. I wonder if anyone truly likes to be alone with their own thoughts for an extended period of time.

Recently, I had an interesting experience with waiting. I waited, and waited, and waited some more at a hospital with my wife on a day when our son had surgery. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but notice what people were doing while they waited. And it occurred to me that waiting involves a lot of social interaction.

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September 15, 2011

At the Party

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

The neighborhood was nicer than mine, so I was a little class conscious upon arriving to the housewarming party my friend at work had invited me to. I'm still getting used to housewarming parties. Am I supposed to bring a gift to congratulate his movement up the ladder? What's an appropriate gift? A welcome mat? A vase? A decent bottle of wine?

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June 16, 2011

Why Can't We Have a Straight Pride Parade?

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

Occasionally, when talking about sexual orientation in my Sociology courses, a student will ask “Why can’t we have a straight pride parade?”

It hasn’t happened a lot, but enough students have asked the question to make me want to offer a response. I want to point out that the question tends to come out of nowhere. It’s not as if I lecture on the history of gay pride parades, or offer a sociological analysis of gay pride parades, which might open the door to such a question. Rather, the question gets asked during general discussions of sexual behavior. The question tends to surprise me, so I haven’t yet offered a consistent response in class.

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May 26, 2011

Sociological License Plates

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflinimage

I have a strange hobby. I take pictures of license plates that I find interesting. You’d probably call them personalized license plates, but I call them sociological license plates. What’s so personal about a license plate that you want everybody to see? A specialized license plate is kind of like a tattoo on your car. In my view, people customize license plates to communicate something about themselves. In that sense, I consider such license plates to be form of impression management.

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April 28, 2011

Dude, You're a Fag: An Exemplary Ethnography

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

I just finished reading an awesome book: Dude, You’re a Fag, by C.J. Pascoe. I’d heard of this book for a while (it was published in 2007), but didn’t know anything about it until recently. What in the world did the title mean, I wondered? Turns out that Pascoe spent a year and a half doing ethnography at a high school in California in order to “write a book about guys” (That’s how she described it to the students). clip_image001

Pascoe gained access to the high school by writing the school district office about her research topics and requesting access to the students. She was granted permission to come to the school and conduct interviews with students. So Pascoe made her intentions and motives clear before she began her ethnographic research. (Some ethnographers conceal their purposes as researchers and deceive the people they’re studying--generally because they don’t want people in a setting to alter their usual behavior by virtue of being watched).

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April 01, 2011

Technology in My Lifetime

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

It’s amazing to reflect on the technology I’ve encountered in my lifetime. I think back to my childhood when I’d go with friends to the mall arcade and play Galaga and Pac-Man. Most of my friends and I owned Atari back then. We’d play Frogger and Donkey Kong for hours on end.

By the time I was in middle school I had a 13-inch TV and a phone in my bedroom. So I had my own space to watch TV and call girls. But privacy was limited in those days: if anyone else in the house wanted to make a call, they’d pick up another phone and suddenly interrupt the conversation. My parents and brother shared the phone line, so someone usually had to wait to use the phone. It was an exercise in patience, and communication with peers was neither immediate nor constant.

The 13-inch TV worked long enough for me to bring it to college in 1990. I remember watching Cheers in my dorm room and the early years of The Simpsons in the recreation room with other freshmen. My freshmen year in college was the first time I wrote a paper using a computer. It was also the year I began using e-mail, mostly to send notes to my new girlfriend.

I kept in touch with people from high school by writing letters and postcards. It was a way of saving money because most phone calls then cost extra for being phone%20-%20then“long distance.” It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I bought my first compact disc--so long, cassette tapes! Grunge and hip-hop were the music of the day. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg were favorites on campus and in bars.

None of us had cell phones, so social life was usually unplanned. Although I could reasonably guess where I could find my friends if I wanted to meet them, there was no way of being sure where people were hanging out. Plans you made earlier in the day often changed. So a lot of times you just showed up at a house party  or bar and hoped to see familiar faces.

I got my first computer in 1995 and brought it with me to graduate school. I began using the Internet on a regular basis, but the web was only a baby then. I have no recollection of favorite websites in those days, and surfing the web took forever because there weren’t high speed connections. By the time the 1990s ended, I still didn’t have a cell phone.

Fast forward to 2011. It’s hard for me to grasp all the technology we have in the 21st century. Aside from television, Facebook is probably the most powerful technological force in my lifetime. It’s incredible to me that people document their lives on Facebook. I watch in amazement from a distance; I still don’t have a Facebook page.

phone%20-%20now I have enough distractions in my life (television being at the top of the list) so I’ve avoided Facebook. But I definitely understand its appeal. Facebook seems to be proof that we truly are social beings. We thrive on being connected to others and being part of a crowd. People can’t wait to share their latest picture or status update. Whenever my wife tells me to look at something interesting on her Facebook page, I see my peers posting pictures of their children and offering every little detail of their lives. Facebook really has blurred the line between front-stage and back-stage. And Facebook has already secured an important part in history, especially if we consider the part it played in the recent uprising in Egypt. An Egyptian family even named their baby Facebook in recognition of the site’s role in the protests.

We also have the bizarre world of Twitter. I’m not sure what to make of Twitter, but if I had to explain it to someone from another planet, I guess I’d say celebrities seem to love it and everybody (famous or otherwise) has a chance to broadcast their thoughts or whereabouts in 140 characters or less. I use Twitter to post links to songs that I like (or old pop songs that amuse me, like this one) and to try to say something clever once in a while.

On a daily basis I take advantage of technological luxuries like a flat screen television, a cell phone, the netbook I used to produce this blog, and satellite radio. I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper; I read my news online. I don’t spend a lot of time in bookstores because almost any book I could ever want is available at Amazon.com. Instead of going to record stores, I use iTunes. I used to go to Blockbuster to rent videos; now I get them through Netflix.

I often think about what’s coming next with regard to technology. What are the future forms of communication? How will technology continue to change the ways we interact? How will it influence what we consume? How will it influence our work? What will be the next Facebook? The next YouTube? What comes after Skype? What will replace text messaging? How big can televisions get, anyway? How small can computers get? How fast can they make the Internet?

Most of us have no clue about the answers to these questions, but anyone reading this blog surely is impacted by technology. How is technology a force in your life? Do you always embrace it or try to limit its power? Finally, how do you imagine it will change in your lifetime?

March 04, 2011

Silence and Denial in Everyday Life

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

Silence and Denial in Everyday Life is the subtitle of a powerfully insightful book, The Elephant in the Room by sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel.  I came across this gem a few years ago and it has since become one of my favorite books.

Surely you’ve heard the phrase “elephant in the room,” which refers to something obvious that is being ignored. It can be a problem or controversial issue that is overlooked for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment, shame, fear, or because the subject is taboo. As Zerubavel explains, silence is a practical way of avoiding painful or controversial issues, and so we might “look the other way” instead of confronting a problem or discussing a delicate matter.

But why else do people remain silent in the face of controversial issues? According to Zerubavel, one answer is norms about remaining silent or ignoring information. For example, think about sayings in our culture about keeping quiet like “Bite your tongue,” “Button your lip,” and “Silence is golden.”

Other sayings that tell us we shouldn’t seek out information: “Ignorance is bliss,” “What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” “Look the other way,” “Turn a blind eye.” There are also common expressions to discourage us from getting involved in matters that supposedly don’t involve us, like “Don’t rock the boat” and “Mind your own business.” elephant in the room cover

Zerubavel uses the example of the policy for gays and lesbians in the military that was enacted during Bill Clinton’s first term as President: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Not asking and not telling doesn’t mean there aren’t gays and lesbians serving in the military! It’s a perfect example of ignoring an obvious elephant in the room. As you may know, this policy was recently repealed.

Here’s a scenario as another example of an elephant in the room: Suppose three couples get together who’ve been good friends for many years. Two couples have happy and healthy children but the third couple has no children. It is evident from conversations over the years that the third couple wants to have children, but it is not exactly known why they don’t. Has there been a miscarriage? Can they not get pregnant? Would they consider adopting? As the two other couples’ children run around and laugh and play, tension hangs in the room. The absence of children for the third couple is a sensitive matter. What, if anything, should be said?

It is possible, Zerubavel suggests, that we learn to be quiet about serious things and to be tactful about trivial things. For instance, what do you do if a co-worker you don’t know very well has their fly open? Do you say anything? If an acquaintance has food stuck in their teeth, do you tell them?

Although these are trivial matters, there are norms about being tactful in handling (or ignoring) them. It might be the case that being polite about not so serious things teaches us to be polite about very serious things. This is not to say that anyone who ignores someone’s open zipper will automatically ignore a substantially serious matter; it is only to say that norms in non-serious situations may carry over to serious ones.

Think about all the times you’ve been told gossip and the conversation ends with a reminder like “This stays between us” and “This doesn’t leave the room.” Could it be that, in effect, we are trained to ignore things or keep our mouths shut when it comes to significant and serious problems? Do you feel like a good friend is drinking way too much lately but you don’t say anything? Are you concerned that another good friend is unsafe with regard to sexual activity but you mind your own business? Do you ignore signs that a family member is suffering from an eating disorder?

If so, are you subscribing to the notion that “Some things are better left unsaid”?

In cases like this we might feel like it’s not our place to get involved. But if it’s not our place, whose place is it? Is it possible that we’re too concerned with minimizing conflict and keeping social interaction smooth? I’m not suggesting we always open our mouths because, in reality, some things are better left unsaid. There are times when “loose lips sink ships.” But there are also times when things are better said. For instance, like this campaign says, drinking and driving should never be the elephant in the room.

In a very powerful point, Zerubavel reminds us that silence, in some cases, is consent. If we don’t say anything, we essentially condone improper behavior and the person responsible for it might view his or her actions as acceptable. He gives the example of a woman who pretends not to notice that her husband is molesting their daughter. As he says, her silence enables the abuse because it conveys approval. Zerubavel uses the phrase “conspiracy of silence” to describe this type of situation.

Silence prevents us from confronting (and consequently solving) problems and controversial issues. Breaking a conspiracy of silence can start with an acknowledgment that an issue (an “elephant”) is present and will not go away by itself. This is why, as the author explains, breaking silence can be a moral act.

In the beginning of the book, he provides a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. is appropriate because he exemplifies the importance of not keeping quiet in the face of inequality and injustice. Indeed, civil rights leaders usually don’t look the other way and they actually do rock the boat.

And society is better off for many a leader having challenged the status quo. We can’t forget the fact that disrupting the existing order is a key ingredient in facilitating social change. The quote is so powerful because it implies that it’s not enough to not be a bad person. The so-called “good people” who don’t say or do anything about cruel behavior or longstanding social problems can be thought of as tacitly condoning the misdeeds of others and accepting the consequences of unsolved problems.

We aren’t powerless in the face of disturbing situations or intimidating societal problems. People who engage in protests are an example of people who don’t look the other way. And some people do tackle problems and troubling issues, such as an employee who confronts company wrongdoing (a so-called “whistleblower”). For example, The Insider is a movie about a scientist who takes on the tobacco industry because he knew nicotine is more dangerous and addicting than the industry claimed. Another example of someone who does not ignore an elephant is a person who organizes an intervention to deal with a family member’s drug addiction. Watch any episode of Intervention and you’ll see it isn’t easy to break the silence about a family member whose life has spiraled out of control.

Of course, not all of the examples I mention are equivalent. A couple who has trouble getting pregnant is obviously very different from a man who molests a child. How we respond in troubling situations (and whether we say anything) will often depend on a variety of factors. Furthermore, we can’t protest all of the world’s problems all of the time. But the common point in the examples is that we may too often err on the side of silence. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to button our lips. Maybe we should take a more active role in fighting the problems that surround us.

There’s so much to learn from reading The Elephant in the Room. It’s one of those books that can change the way you think, and it might even change the way you act.

January 28, 2011

Deviant While Driving?

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

A few years ago while walking through my neighborhood I was surprised by a vehicle I noticed in somebody’s driveway. It was a hearse that was meant for personal use. How did I know that it wasn’t being used in a professional way? The words “Keep Honking, You’re Next” were painted on the hearse. Because this is a family-friendly website, I doctored the picture to eliminate an expletive, but I’m sure you can guess what it is. I was fascinated by the notion of someone driving around a hearse for everyday transportation. It got me thinking: Can the car you drive make you deviant? clip_image002

I like to show this picture to my students and ask whether they would drive the hearse. I ask this knowing that not all of my students have cars, and one might think that a student would take any car they could get. I even ask if they would drive it if it was given to them for free. Typically, in a roomful of forty students, two or three say they would drive it. Then I ask them to consider what their parents and friends would say. I do this to get them thinking about the reactions they would receive. It’s essential to take reactions into account when trying to determine if something is deviant.

Even if offered a free hearse, I think most people would refuse, partly because they’d be afraid of the reactions they would encounter. Put me in that group. If I couldn’t afford a “normal” car and someone offered me a free hearse, I’d decline. I couldn’t deal with the stares I’d receive.

I don’t know how common it is for people to drive a hearse as their daily mode of transportation, but I actually happened upon another hearse during a recent visit to my parents’ house. Parked on my parents’ street was a hearse with a Ghostbusters magnet! Who in the world was driving a hearse in my old neighborhood, I wondered?

My father, who knows everybody’s business on the street, told me it belonged to my friend Bill. I grew up next door to Bill, and I’ve known him since I was five-years-old. I don’t see him much anymore because he lives a few hours from where we grew up. So I caught him by e-mail to inquire about his hearse. I told him I wanted to write about his hearse as a possible example of deviant behavior. I explained that sociologists generally don’t use the word “deviant” as an insult. Rather, we use it to indicate unconventional behavior that may generate negative reactions. I asked him several questions:

1. Of all the vehicles to drive, why a hearse?

2. Have you encountered any negative reactions while driving it? For example, a stare or a dirty look?

3. What would happen if you picked up someone for a date in the hearse? Has this happened? What was the reaction of your date?

4. What do friends and family members say about your hearse?
5. Have you driven it to work? What were some reactions you received?

Bill replied that he was looking for a car to use in the winter. He has a Camaro that doesn’t handle the ice and snow. His plan to buy a “regular” vehicle (a Subaru) fell through. So, with a $1,000 budget, he searched Craigslist and found the hearse. He liked that it was a Buick LeSabre—he once owned one so it brought back fond memories. When he mentioned to his parents that he was thinking about purchasing a hearse, his mother said “Oh honey, don’t buy a hearse.” But the bottom line was that the car ran well and he could afford it, so the deal was done.

clip_image002[5]Bill acknowledged that the thought occurred to him that it was a weird vehicle to drive. But he likes the space it has to offer—he described it as a pickup truck with a cab on it, just a little creepier. He’s already thinking ahead to funny things that he can do for Halloween next year.

And, as a friend suggested to him, it would make for an awesome tailgating vehicle at a Buffalo Bills game (Trust me when I tell you that people bring all kinds of unique vehicles to the parking lots outside the Bills stadium. There’s a huge party scene in the parking lots before every Bills game). Overall, Bill views it as a practical multi-use vehicle; easy to move stuff and perfect to have during mountain-biking season. “The fact that it was used to transport corpses does not bother me,” Bill said, “I once dated a girl who became a mortician.”

As far as reactions, Bill did notice a woman stop in her tracks and stare the first time he drove it to work. While driving, two people have given him thumbs up. Several people have stopped him in parking lots to chat with him and quote lines from Ghostbusters. Three people have actually offered to buy the hearse (One of them likes to purchase unusual vehicles, including an old school bus). Two friends have made comments like “Every guy wants to own a car like this. And you can certainly pull it off.” One of his brothers loves it, his mother is now okay with it, and his father likes it. His nieces and nephews like it too (That doesn’t surprise me considering that children are less confined by convention compared with adults). In answer to my question about dating, he said that a woman he’s dating has friends who think its “cool as hell” that he drives a hearse.

Given that Bill has received many positive reactions, I had to question my assumption that driving a hearse is deviant behavior. Maybe driving a hearse isn’t as deviant as I initially thought it was. After all, if one’s behavior is met with approval rather than disapproval, then we are not in the deviance arena. I offered Bill a theory about some of the positive reactions he received: maybe it’s the case that some people actually respect the choice of an unconventional vehicle. Could it be that conformists have a certain amount of respect for nonconformists? That’s where I fit, anyway. For the most part I’m a “play by the norms” guy who likes it when someone else steps out of line (within reason, which is a subjective judgment).

With a few days to think things through, Bill sent me a message with an example of a negative reaction. He called a repair shop to make an appointment for a 1987 Buick LeSabre but didn’t mention it was a hearse. When he arrived for the appointment, the guy said “You didn’t tell me it was a dead person machine.” Also, when one of Bill’s friends takes the hearse to do some maintenance to it, he drives on back roads so that no one sees him.

Hmmm, I guess it’s a matter of mixed reactions, a lot of which are positive. I would conclude that driving a hearse is mildly deviant. It’s certainly a

long way from serious forms of deviance. I’d have to interview a lot more hearse drivers in order to learn about their experiences and to form a stronger opinion. I still think most people would be reluctant to drive a hearse and those who do will eventually encounter disapproval from others. Let’s put it this way. Suppose there was a deviance scale, with 1 being barely deviant and 10 being extremely deviant. I’d score driving a hearse as a 3. How about you?

I want to restate that sociologists don’t use the term “deviant” as a pejorative. Although “deviant” has a negative connotation in common usage, that’s not what sociologists intend when they apply the term. Both as a sociologist and as Bill’s friend, I don’t think he’s a “freak” for driving a hearse. But I bet some people do (for instance, strangers who might think that but don’t say anything to him, in which case he’s not aware of their reactions). Well, what do you think? Would you drive a hearse?

January 14, 2011

When Our Baby Was Born

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

When I was young I thought a man paced in a hospital waiting room until his wife gave birth. The image in my head was of a new father passing out cigars to celebrate the birth of his child. But my wife has given birth twice now and I’ve yet to spend any time in a waiting room.

For both births I was in the delivery room for the entire time, except when I was asked to step out briefly so that the anesthesiologist could administer something to my wife to relieve the pains of labor. That’s one of the rare situations when it’s acceptable for someone to yell “GIVE ME THE DRUGS,” which was my wife’s catchphrase during our son’s recent birth. Christmas came early for us in 2010, when our son Mack was born on December 10. This blog serves as a sociological reflection of the experience.

One thing that stood out to me was how technology played a significant part on the day of his birth and during the first days of his life. In the delivery room I had a ton of nervous energy. Let’s face it, there’s not much a husband can do during labor except to encourage his wife and do his best to comfort her. There were hours of waiting around before the birth actually happened.

So aside from talking to my wife, I spent some time sending text messages to my brother and a good friend. It was pretty much a way of killing time and sharing my enthusiasm and happiness. When our first son was born in 2007, I don’t recall sending any text messages at all. In fact, if memory serves, the phone I had at that time didn’t even send text messages. For a long time I had no interest in texting and resisted using it as a form of communication. By 2010, however, I succumbed to the texting culture in which we live. So there I was sending text messages while anticipating a major moment in my family’s life.

There’s no way I can adequately describe the miracle of birth. There are no words I can type to do it justice. Let’s just say it’s amazing and mind blowing to see the birth of a baby. Tears of joy spilled out of my eyes when the delivery was successful and our baby had joined the world (this may be one of the few times it’s socially acceptable for a man to cry). The nurse asked me to cut the umbilical cord. I tried to refuse because scissors and newborn flesh seemed like a really bad combination. But the nurse insisted and so I performed the duty.

We called our friends and family to announce our good news, sent some text messages, and, of course, we posted pictures on Facebook. The picture you see is one we put on Facebook, and in response some Mack
people wrote “he’s handsome”--obviously a gender specific term. I think it’s safe to say the same baby in a pink outfit would be called pretty rather than handsome.

Other people wrote to say they liked his name. Would they tell us if they didn’t? Isn’t it a norm to say that someone’s new baby is beautiful and that you like their name? (By the way, remember when Facebook was only for college students? Things sure have changed. My 65-year-old father uploaded pictures from his digital camera onto his Facebook page before we posted pictures on my wife’s page).

Leaving the hospital the first time after the baby was born, I felt different compared to when our first son was born. When our first son was born I felt a dramatic change come over me, and I thought other people could sense it, as if somehow they knew I had just experienced a life-changing event. It was as though there was a sign on my forehead that said “New Father.” This time I felt a different sensation. It was like someone pressed the reset button, and suddenly my wife and I were back to the world of miniature diapers and overnight feedings.

We received gifts—lots of gifts—and it was interesting that some of the gifts were handmade, such as blankets and winter hats. That’s not something I’d expect in a society in which everybody is so busy all of the time. Gift cards are so popular in our society because they make gift-giving an efficient process. Don’t get me wrong, we were happy to receive those too! But nothing compares to the personal touch of a gift made by someone you know. Family members brought over food that they cooked, and that was also a nice personalized touch.

As I write this, our baby is two weeks old, and our first Christmas with him was awesome. A new baby is better than any gift you could find under a tree or in a stocking. Now, if only babies came with manuals, they’d be much easier to figure out! But with uncertainty and anxiety comes adventure and surprises. Babies truly are amazing and have a unique capacity to turn your life upside down.

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