In my newest article for The Daily Muse, I show how some of the arguments we’re having about gender divisions in the workforce call upon ideas that prevailed as soldiers were returning home after WWII (you know, before the bulk of the feminist revolution took place). Please read it here.
In 2011 Americans spent $33.5 billion online. That’s a 15% increase from 2010, according to comScore. Any increase in spending, whether online or in stores, is a sign of an improving economy, which is surely something to celebrate. But brick and mortar retailers aren’t thrilled.
Store owners complained in December that holiday shoppers are increasingly using retail stores to check out a product before going home to buy it online. In other words, their retail stores are becoming showrooms for e-commerce giants like Amazon.
And this is exactly what Amazon wants. In fact, before the holidays Amazon actually gave shoppers a discount if they went to a retail store and left without buying anything. If a customer went to a store like Best Buy or Target, used the Amazon Price Check App to compare prices to product on Amazon, and then later purchased the Amazon product, they receive up to 15% off.
Retail stores argue that the shift to online shopping isn’t just bad for their balance sheet, but it’s bad for the community. Drawing up nostalgic images of families heading downtown in their Sunday best, retailers, and many other people out there, believe that local retail stores are the foundations of the neighborhood.
Retail stores are certainly a part of the local economy, but if they were replaced by, say, locally owned restaurants, gyms, dry cleaners, etc, would the community actually suffer? Is shopping as a social enterprise (and I mean social as physically being with other people, not as in social media) a part of local culture that is worth protecting? And what would be the consequences if we didn’t protect it?
I’m a big proponent of supporting local business, and I’m also employed by an e-commerce company, so it’s an interesting question to me. Does physical group buying (ie shopping with friends), strengthen a community, or does it simply reinforce materialism? Does spending create a local culture, and does consuming with friends actually strengthen a relationship?
As buying becomes more solitary and, paradoxically, more social (and here I mean as in social media), we’ll have to decide whether physically shopping in a retail store is a cultural tradition that we’re willing to maintain. And that will mean walking away from our laptops, despite the incentives of free shipping and no-question returns.
‘Tis the season for making resolutions we’ll willfully forget by February. Gyms are packed. Sidewalks are illuminated by new, white running shoes. Confused looking people wander the aisles of Whole Foods. I am just as guilty of this as anyone, but a recent story by a fellow Daily Muse writer has inspired me to create anti-resolutions, things that I am definitely not going to do in 2012. You should do the same. It’s invigorating.
- I am not going to drink less coffee. I get excited every night about going to sleep because I know that when I wake up, I will have coffee. I know it has too much caffeine, I know I put too much sugar and soy milk in it – that’s what makes me like it.
- I am not going to spend less time on Facebook or Pinterest. These two mediums provide a free, fast, and essential mindless activity for me every day. Despite all my rumination about the effects of social media, I’m not giving it up.
- I am not going to get outside more. During the spring and summer, I am an outdoors enthusiast. I walk around my neighborhood. I shop in open-air malls. I sit on my back porch and drink wine. In other words, I appreciate nature. But during the winter, outside is my enemy, and that’s not changing.
- I’m not going to stop giving my husband a hard time about the amount of stuff he owns and stores in our home. I love him. I do. But there’s just so many screwdrivers. And saws. And t-shirts. And CD’s from the 90’s. And so much sports equipment. I’m working on it.
- I’m not going to work a normal 8 hour day. My most productive time is the hour (or two) after the majority of people leave. It’s not convenient to get home at 8pm (or so), but I took the Gallup Stengths’ Finder test and my #1 strength is “Achiever.” I can’t escape it.
Here’s to a happy, safe, and realistic New Year!
This holiday season I’ve spent quite a few hours shopping online and browsing in stores. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t bought a few things for myself, and I’ve come across some clothing trends that I just don’t care for, ie infuriate me.
Let me preface this by saying that I realize that I am not a fashion expert. A few times a week I manage to put together an outfit that looks “cute,” and the rest of the week I get by on jeans, sweaters, and shirts I’ve had for 5 years. That being said, I am a sane human being, and I know crazy when I see it.
So, in no particular order, here are some inexplicably popular trends that I am wholeheartedly opposed to:
1. “Cropped” Clothing, or, as I refer to them, “Doll Clothes”: This trend is frustrating. You see a pretty sweater folded on a retail shelf, pick it up, only to discover it is approximately one-eighth of the anticipated size. If I were trying to dress one of my breasts or an American Girl replica of myself, this trend would be fantastic. But I am required by law to dress my whole body, so I’m going to need more than half a shirt.
2. Huge, Long Dresses: The antithesis of doll clothes is the huge and baggy version of the maxi dress (seen here). How can two opposite trends be equally as popular? Even models look odd in this type of dress– like they entered a contest to sew a polyester wind sock, but then lost all their clothes and had to wear their unsuccessful craft home.
3. Old Couch Patterns: The last thing I want is for any part of my body to evoke images of overstuffed furniture, but the Old Couch Pattern does just this. Prints reminiscent of hand-me-down sofas are showing up in pants and tops, making the youth of America look like the Von Trap Children, donning comfortable clothes made out of any fabric Maria could find in that stale old mansion.
4. “Ironic” Items: Attention fashion designers–sometimes it’s not ironic, it’s just ugly. I understand and appreciate the fashion industry’s goal to create edgy, forward-thinking, out-of-the-box trends. (In fact, I’d like to personally thank the designer who, many years ago, woke up one morning and realized, “I can belt anything.”) But just because a piece of clothing is unexpected does not mean it is attractive or worth buying. This, for example.
Back in July, when I announced to my friends and family that I was looking for a new job, many of them responded like so: “Leaving your job?” they gasped, “in this economy?”
This economy has become the national catchphrase. It’s used as a replacement for actual discussion of the complicated economic crisis we’re in and/or slowly climbing out of and/or setting up shop in, depending on who you’re speaking to.
This economy is used by the local news to explain almost everything. Bumper to bumper traffic on the beltway? This Economy. A mayor sexually harasses a woman and gets away with it? This economy. A bear breaks into a local woman’s kitchen? This economy let him in.
This economy has transformed into the formal equivalent of “HOLD! Whatever you are doing, don’t change anything. A bunch of old dudes in Washington are working on it. Do not move.”
But things weren’t changing for me a few months ago, and stasis didn’t seem like a smart option.
So I started looking for jobs. And I found one. And I adore it. I work for a company that, despite this economy, is rapidly growing, treating its employees with respect and rewarding them with awesome perks and fantastic benefits.
Of course, job searching in this economy is tough. It reminded me of dating: lots of pointless searching followed by rejection, and also the internet is there. But I did end up with a wonderful job.
Here’s how I did it:
- I made applying for a job my second full-time job. All job applications, all the time. I forced myself out of bed at 5:30 every morning, applied to jobs until I went to work, and spent most of the evening doing the same. Between July 29th and September 28th, I applied to almost 100 jobs, and wound up with a grand total of 7 interview requests. I actually interviewed with 4 companies (declined the other interviews), and received 3 job offers.
- I cleaned up and developed my online identity. I un-tagged Facebook bikini shots, updated my LinkedIn profile, and started tweeting. I used Twitter wisely, to direct traffic to my blog and become involved in the marketing/social media/writing portion of the Twittersphere. I also followed my potential employers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to learn more about how they used social media and casually (or not) mentioned it during my interviews.
- I tried to stand out with innovative resume additions, like a link to my blog, links to my stories on The Daily Muse, and a Prezume.
I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but I would encourage anyone out there that’s looking for a job to leverage social media and online tools as much as possible. With so many people on the job market, it’s important to show your creativity and separate yourself from the masses.
My sister is pregnant (hooray!), and I found out that her baby is a girl (even better!) via this ultrasound:
Yes, you just checked out the labia of a tiny, unborn child. Pervert.
I currently have more than a few friends and family that are pregnant or trying to be pregnant. Every time I turn around someone else is refusing to have a drink with me. As a result, I’ve become quite skilled at examining ultrasound images and feigning recognition when someone says, “Do you see the profile?”
In all honesty, the technology behind the ultrasound has made this easier and easier. It’s pretty rare that, at least after a few hints, I can’t identify fingers, toes,or a spine.
Mothers and grandmothers with grown children will tell you how much the technology surrounding pregnancy and childbirth has changed (if you’re in your late twenties, like me, your grandmother never had an ultrasound and could have been unconscious during delivery). Many couples opt for 3D ultrasounds, provided by third party vendors charging a hefty fee, which provide unbelievably detailed pictures of your unborn baby.
It’s no surprise that the technology, specifically the ability to know so much about your baby before you meet him or her, has changed the way we talk about pregnancy, motherhood, and babies. With this new and accurate prenatal information, parents are more likely to refer to their unborn baby by name, speculate on his or future personality, and create an identity for him before he or she is physically in the world.
I’ve written before about the impact of media, social media, and technology on the way we think about the world around us, and I find it particularly compelling that children born today will be born into a world that is already steeped in social media. In fact, because so many parents post ultrasound photos and baby pictures on Facebook, announcing their children’s entrance into the world and chronicling it with daily photo updates, (which will only be enhanced with Timeline), children born today will always have a virtual identity, beginning with day 1 (or week 12).
How will my niece’s childhood be different than mine or her mother’s because of social media? How will being born into Facebook (which, were it a country, would be the third largest nation in the world) affect her development? Will taking over her Facebook account when she turns 13 (or the age that her parents deem appropriate) be a new right of passage, just as important as learning to drive or getting a cell phone?
As I’ve said before, I don’t support a doom-and-gloom outlook of social media, and so I am not implying that modern childhood will be worse, less rich, or less grounded. But I do think that being born with both a physical and virtual identity is a cultural phenomenon worth investigating.
I know the photo is a little dark, so allow me to elaborate. It’s a shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store’s main thoroughfare. I had to drive around it.
I know what you “benefit of the doubt” people are thinking right now. Maybe the wind blew it into the road! Maybe its wheels went haywire and it rolled–independently–from the cart corral into the middle of traffic! Surely no one would do this!
But, someone did. In fact, several people did. I witnessed a family load their groceries into their trunk, watch as their shopping cart rolled away from their Honda Odyssey, and proceed to climb into the van and drive away.
I don’t understand this willful ignorance of how your own inconsiderate actions–however small–can affect those around you.
Maybe this lack of awareness is a blessing. As the van’s sliding door closed automatically at about 4 inches per minute, allowing the children in the backseat to watch the shopping cart come to a halt several feet from the sidewalk, they looked bored, but happy.
I, on the other hand, tend to over-think the consequences of the tiniest actions. If I take off my socks in the middle of the night and fling them onto the floor, I imagine my husband getting up, slipping on the socks in the dark, falling violently, breaking his neck or injuring his back, and by the time I get up to put the socks into the laundry basket, I’m considering the logistics of adding a wheelchair ramp to the front of the house.
While the evidence isn’t always as photogenic as the shopping cart incident, I see instances of inconsiderateness every day: littering, smoking two feet from the building’s only covered entrance, texting when you should be paying attention to my compelling Powerpoint presentation.
You’d think that people would be more considerate now, given the increasing ease of connecting with and influencing other human beings. Just a few decades ago, the average American kept in touch with far-off folks via letters and an occasional road trip, but the scope of their everyday interactions was much smaller: local friends, local family.
Today the internet and social media allow us to keep in touch with hundreds of people. We can watch our high school friends grow up, do business with colleagues on the other side of the globe, and find distant relatives online. We can view the intimate details of strangers’ lives online, creating a sense of empathy for someone we might otherwise disregard.
Yet the ability to communicate with other human beings more efficiently and more frequently has not made us more aware of those around us. Your grandparents and parents might argue that it has made us more selfish and more aware of our own needs instead.
I don’t have an insightful conclusion here. Maybe my observation is geographically biased, maybe Silver Spring, Maryland just has a high concentration of jerks. But there must be some way for us to translate the “it’s a small world after all” effect of social media into “return your damn shopping cart, lazy.”
Hallmark’s new line of job loss cards has reminded me how much I hate greeting cards.
With the exception of a few hilarious cards I’ve received throughout my life (I do love those cards with the 1950’s ladies with sarcastic captions), I’ve never received a birthday, holiday, or congratulatory card with a message that has moved me.
Of course, it would be difficult for Hallmark’s prose to emotionally affect me, considering that I never actually read the card. If I open an envelope to find a pastoral scene superimposed with lacy script, I immediately ignore those words and move to the second page of the card. I’m interested in reading the words of the friend or family member who sent me the card, not those of a stranger who was paid to write it. The stranger isn’t really wishing me a happy birthday, isn’t familiar with my kind heart, and couldn’t possibly know whether or not I have “earned it!”
Many people find themselves in the card aisle debating between a handful of hackneyed messages because they aren’t confident in their own writing ability. But even a novice writer can successfully compose a sincere note. As an experienced purchaser of “blank inside” cards, I can give you a few pointers:
If you’re going to quote, choose a quote that’s meaningful to you: Are you tired of people telling you to dance like no one is watching or to live, laugh, and l0ve? So are your friends and family. Instead of using these tired quotations, do some research and find one that is personally relevant to you. Write it on a card, explain why you think it applies to the present occasion or for the receiver of the card, sign your name–voila!– a heartfelt card.
Stay focused. When you’re writing to someone that you share a history with–a friend, a sibling, a parent–it’s easy to become verbose. Write sincerely, but simply.
Don’t stress. Many people tense up at the thought of expressing themselves in writing. Remember that you are writing on a paper card, not a headstone. Chances are this is not the first nor the last opportunity you’ll have to write this person.
After my now-husband proposed to me, my grandma sent me a handwritten note on a blank-inside card. On the front of the card were two fairies in fall-like colors, gazing longingly at one another from opposite boughs of a tree. On the inside were two full 5×7 pages of marriage advice. My grandma was happy for me, but she did not mince words: I had just made an important commitment and I better be prepared. An excerpt:
Marriage is a serious commitment. “Love” is very important, “best friends” is necessary.
Take that, Hallmark! She wrote that for free.
Remember Reading Rainbow? It was a television show…about reading. Even though I was quite young when this show aired (we both premiered in 1983), I remember watching it and thinking, “There is something odd about this. Shouldn’t I be reading books?”
But Reading Rainbow had the right idea. The 1980’s were a great time for children’s television: Fraggle Rock, Inspector Gadget, He-Man and She-Ra all debuted in the 1980’s. The founders of Reading Rainbow decided to leverage the increase in children’s television viewing to promote reading, instead of throwing their hands up and concluding that television was literature’s nemesis.
Goodreads, a social networking site that allows people to share what they’ve read and view what their friends have read, followed Reading Rainbow’s lead. Founded in 2006, it jumped on the social media train just a couple of years after it started picking up serious steam. The logic behind Goodreads is essentially the same logic behind the Facebook “like” button. (In fact, you’ll soon be able to connect your Goodreads profile to your Facebook profile.) We are more interested in the recommendations of our friends than of strangers, and so if my friend has read a book, I might be interested in reading it too. Building off of the power of a good suggestion, Goodreads has made headlines in the last few weeks after it launched a Netflix-like recommendation system.
Goodreads takes advantage of the most popular features of social media, including “The Legitimization Effect.” There’s something very satisfying about closing a book (or reaching the last screen on my Kindle) and then clicking “I’m finished” on Goodreads. It simultaneously gives me a sense of accomplishment and lets me brag about being a fast reader (in your face, world!).
The site is also spot-on in making it easy for users to buy, buy, buy (something that Facebook hasn’t always been great at). When a Goodreads user finds a book she likes, she can quickly click on clearly visible links to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and eBay (among others) and even compare pricing without leaving the Goodreads site.
Even though Goodreads, like any business, has a commercial purpose, it is using new media to promote reading and the appreciation of literature, an idea that me, and around 6 million other Goodreads users, are firmly behind.
It seems like every time a news story airs about the damaging effects of excessive online activity, people get all fire and brimstone on social media. Yes, it’s true, we shouldn’t be spending all day every day on Facebook, stalking people we barely know or posting every move we make. But Goodreads is an example of how more traditional forms of learning and media, like literature, can peacefully and symbiotically coexist with new media.
I’m not a big fan of Family Guy. I realize that some find it hysterical, timely, cutting edge, and I respect that, but I’m not in love. Mostly because I think ironic reference is only funny in moderation.
Here’s an example of an ironic reference from Family Guy:This is a classic, oft-quoted scene. It’s funny because the Kool Aid man's surprise entrance quickly reminds us (the twenty and thirty somethings that watch the show) that the Kool Aid man did say "Oh yeah!" on those commercials all those years ago. We find it funny, and we’re satisfied because we “get it.” Perhaps the problem I have with Family Guy isn't a result of the references themselves, but of their effects in the real world. Because of Family Guy’s pervasiveness in pop culture, everyday individuals--particularly the show's enraptured followers-- have started giving ironic reference a try in conversation. The problem is, talented writers craft Family Guy’s jokes, and most everyday people are not writers. Or talented. Or funny. Here’s an example of real-life ironic references gone bad. Me: I think I'm going to try to nab one of those cookies from the executive meeting this morning. My Coworker: Okay, Donovan. Gonna nab it and throw it into the end zone? Me: What? My Coworker: Donovan McNabb. You said Nab. So I called you Donovan. Get it? Me: I'm not hungry anymore. The tendency to try to implement ironic reference in everyday conversation is propelled by the way social media, the internet, and instant access to information are changing the way we think. When we search on Google or jump from one video to another on YouTube based on links and recommendations, it’s easy to quickly transition from one disparate topic to the next. The internet is like a rabbit hole that we leap into head first, forgetting a few feet in exactly what we were looking for. When Family Guy compares two completely different scenarios to suggest a similarity between them (the definition of a metaphor!) it's the absurdity of their differences that makes us laugh. This clip is an example of standard family guy simile.The set up of most ironic references conform to the same pattern used in the Kermit the Frog clip. One of the characters makes a statement ending with “like the [something completely random]” and then the scene cuts to a different time and place so the viewer can see the completely random scene enacted. Because we're engaged with the visual of the scene and find it funny to see an icon from our childhood, typically known to be sweet and rainbow-loving, cast as a threatening racist, we laugh at this ironic reference without thinking about how it's related to what Peter just said. By the time the Kermit scene ends we've probably forgotten what Peter just said. We don't need to retrace our steps to find the connection. But when real-life people try ironic reference, we don't have all these visual cues or, usually, the effortless transition. And no one likes backtracking, trying to find the connection, only to discover that it's not funny anyway. To wrap it up á la Family Guy, check out this podcast from On The Media, which is tangentially related to what I've been talking about.