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Healthy living

by Eszter Hargittai on June 21, 2020

This post is about health, weight management in particular. Friends have been asking me to write up my experiences so here it is. It is a personal story and offers no social analysis other than to acknowledge that living healthy is by far not the cheapest option out there, which is of course a problem.

A little over a year ago, my doctor told me that I was pre-diabetic. I had been steadily gaining weight for several years. I didn’t feel good in my body anymore, but wasn’t managing to do much about it. Knowing that my weight gain was having medical repercussions was the final push I needed to start making significant changes. I set out to lose 25* lbs (~11 kg) in three months and eventually lost 30 in four (for illustrative purposes, the books on the right equal that weight). I know many people struggle with similar issues and several friends have asked me to tell them how I did it so I decided to write up some details. I purposefully waited a year to do so as I only wanted to report back if I managed sustained change. I did. I started on June 21, 2019 and I’m 28 lbs below what I was then consistently hovering between that and 30 lbs down (such fluctuation or even a bit more is common).

As a caveat to this post, I want to say that this is not meant as weight-shaming or body-shaming. Everyone has their own story and their own health, this is mine.

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by Eszter Hargittai on May 23, 2020

Four years ago, some of you wondered whether there would really be that much of a difference between a Clinton and a Trump presidency. Imagine.

Sweden’s Covid-19 experiment didn’t work out so well

by Eszter Hargittai on May 10, 2020

As some of you may know, Sweden tried a different approach to the Coronavirus pandemic by avoiding a lockdown and major closures. Did it work? Not so much.

While unfortunate for Swedes, it does offer a helpful example for other countries to address those skeptical of whether lockdowns were necessary. In the graph below, a few countries for comparison in terms of reported cases per population. In case you’re wondering whether this is just about reported cases, note that Sweden is also among the worst now in terms of fatalities by reported cases and deaths per population.

Do you have favorite resources for country-specific stats? If yes, please share in the comments! My source for the above info is the helpful site. I have also been following Switzerland’s situation here.

Researching the pandemic

by Eszter Hargittai on May 1, 2020

As a social scientist who studies digital media uses, it seemed like I couldn’t sit back and watch the pandemic unfold without throwing myself into a related research project. I held off for the first week of our lockdown in Switzerland, but after several conversations with members of my research group about whether they were interested (I made clear it was completely optional not knowing how everyone would cope with the situation), we decided to take the plunge. Now, 5.5 weeks later, we have survey data from three countries (USA [n=1,374; Apr 4-8], Italy [n=982; Apr 17-18], Switzerland [n=1,350; fielded in three languages; Apr 17-24],) and have started putting some of our results out there with lots of publications in the works.

We explore numerous relevant domains from how people are feeling during the pandemic (about their home situation, their worries) to how much they understand the health aspects of the virus, where they are getting information about Covid, how they are using social media related to it, whether their work situation has changed, their confidence in various players handling the situation, and more.

Today, I share with you a piece that Elissa Redmiles and I co-authored in Scientific American about whether Americans would be willing to install a Covid-tracking app and how this may vary by who is distributing the app. Elissa is a top-notch expert in privacy and security issues, and we are now working on additional surveys that dig deeper into the question of app take-up (she’s started posting some of those results on her Twitter feed).

We find that two-thirds of Americans would be willing to install “a tracking app that could help slow the spread of the Coronavirus in your community and reduce the lockdown period [..] knowing that it would collect your location data and information about your health status.” But who is distributing the app matters. (See more in the piece.)

Compared to the 66% of Americans who are willing to install such an app, the figure is 72% among the Swiss, and 78% among Italians. There are significant differences in willingness if “the federal government” distributes the app (US: 20%, CH: 54%, IT: 53%). More on the Swiss case in a forthcoming oped with which I’ll update this post when it’s out. [UPDATE (posted May 2, 2020): The Swiss piece is out in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung here. (Click here to see it in its newspaper form.)]

My team is now working on another US survey to field next week (in addition to surveys with Elissa I mention above). It’s been fascinating doing research on the pandemic, but also exhausting. Nonetheless, we made the right decision by taking the plunge. Researching this situation makes me feel like I’m contributing in the way I can: exploring the role of digital media in how people are coping with this insane situation.

A big shout-out to my employer, the University of Zurich, for supporting this work!

Top 3 books of 2019

by Eszter Hargittai on December 22, 2019

I almost never make New Year’s resolutions, but I did in January 2019: read a book a week for 2019. This weekend I finished my reading challenge with Jose Antonio Vargas’s Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (I recommend it!). While book reading has always been a part of my life, as an academic who reads a lot for work (mostly in journal article form), book reading for fun hasn’t always fit in. I wanted it to be more prominent in my everydays and I’m glad that I achieved that. I only counted books that I read from cover to cover, there are certainly others I browsed and read parts of, but they didn’t count for my challenge. I included very different genres as my interests are eclectic, but the most prominent was memoirs and biographies (I am not a huge fiction fan so there were only a few of those on my list). Here, I want to share my top three overall favorites; another three that you are unlikely to have heard of, but that I found very much worth reading; three that were the most disappointing; and three art books I enjoyed. While I have an insane “would like to read” list already, I very much welcome your recommendations for 2020 (when I’ll even have a semester of sabbatical in the Fall so I definitely plan to get at least as much reading in).

Overall top 3

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson – A fascinating story told in an incredibly engaging manner about the young woman, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who led the largest French resistance network during WWII. This book is now among my all-time favorite books.

Educated by Tara Westover – You’ve probably heard of this book, it’s been very popular, and deservedly so. The author was raised in a very religious family in Idaho that did not believe in public education. The family dynamics are insane and intense. It’s often a tougher read than I expected due to the difficulties she faced beyond what you may imagine going in.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond – Based on the author’s sociology dissertation, this is an important story about major housing challenges in poor urban America. The research is first-rate, the writing excellent. (If I want to get academic, I’ll note my one critique: a lack of discussion of what role digital media may have played in people’s lives. The absense of this in the book is jarring to someone like me who studies the use of information technologies. Jeff Lane’s the Digital Street addresses that angle as does the work of Will Marler, a graduate student at Northwestern whose dissertation I am advising, but not specifically about housing challenges. I would have liked to see some of this in Evicted.) An refreshing aspect of the book is that it offers concrete policy recommendations at the end.

Top 3 you probably haven’t heard of
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Saturday art blogging: making art with the help of AI

by Eszter Hargittai on December 8, 2018

Remember those days when you would discover a Web site and completely lose track of time as you got sucked into its amazingness? I hope you have some time, because I am about to point you to such a site.

The video below is purely for the purposes of showcasing multiple images at once not because I think such a video is particularly interesting in and of itself. The generated individual images are. My hope with the video is for you to get a sense of what’s possible with the Deep Dream Generator. You upload an image and then select one of their available styles or upload another image to serve as the basis of the style that will be applied to your main image. Needless to say, the possibilities are endless.

I show you the styles I used below the fold and give you some additional rendered examples from other base images. [click to continue…]

Saturday art blogging: patterns in Islamic art

by Eszter Hargittai on December 1, 2018

In my senior year of college, I took what must have been the most talked-about course offered at my school: a year-long introductory art history class, “Art 100”. It has since been discontinued, sadly, but also understandably, as it was taught by the entire art history faculty and its coordination must have been overwhelming. The benefit to students was that we got to learn about all materials by experts in it. It was a fantastic and beloved class, in some cases life-changing (see one example of this). Numerous friends in my house (Smith’s name for dorms) had taken it and we had countless conversations about the class (and to my chagrin now as a professor, some also about the profs, but for what it’s worth, they tended to be about our admiration).

One of my favorite sections was Islamic art. I hadn’t known much about it and found the patterns in architecture mesmerizing. When I was in Doha almost a decade ago, I very much enjoyed the tour of the Museum of Islamic Art where lots of patterns greeted us both in the architecture (see above) and the pieces on display (see below and here). Given these positive experiences, I was pleasantly surprised this week to stumble upon the Web site Pattern in Islamic Art, which offers a very nice collection that I wanted to share with you. The slideshow pages take a few seconds to load, they are worth it.


Saturday art blogging: learning about art through jigsaw puzzles

by Eszter Hargittai on November 24, 2018

A few years ago I started doing jigsaw puzzles again. I found my way back to this hobby when I realized that putting together jigsaw puzzles of art pieces could teach you a lot about a painting. In addition to very much enjoying exploring paintings, I also make paintings (mostly acrylic and watercolor) so understanding an artist’s technique is of great interest to me both as a lover of art and as a maker of art. When you are working on putting together a 500 or 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, you become intimately familiar with every part of the image. By having to look very closely at each piece, and having to identify patterns and links across puzzle pieces, you notice things about a painting you may well miss otherwise. Sure, many people likely recognize Van Gogh’s special brush strokes, but you get a much more heightened awareness and appreciation for what the artist did when trying to piece together their work from such distinct elements. I highly recommend working on jigsaw puzzles of art pieces you like or want to learn about more.

To avoid confusion, I should note that the two photos represent two different puzzles. The top one is from a Van Gogh piece, the bottom from a Klimt piece.

Saturday art blogging: the Art Institute’s digital collection

by Eszter Hargittai on November 17, 2018

Recently, the Art Institute of Chicago updated its Web site, which included making available – under a Creative Commons Zero license – over 50,000 of its images. This is very exciting especially since the images are in high resolution. This means that you can zoom in and see the pictures in considerable detail like I did with the image posted above, a section of Monet’s Cliff Walk at Pourville, posted in full below. Given the Art Institute’s exceptional collection, this is a tremendous resource for art lovers, students, educators, and beyond.

Saturday art blogging: public art in Turku

by Eszter Hargittai on November 10, 2018

I love public art. I love stumbling upon sculptures while walking around in a city. I only got to spend about 36 hours in Turku, Finland and most of it was rather dark (and/or foggy) plus I was inside for my talk and meals for a good chunk of the time, but I still got to experience some surprises. Pictured to the right is Posankka, a cross between a pig and a duck, that its artist Alvar Gullichsen apparently created as a commentary on genetically-modified organisms. I spotted it across the highway as I was walking around the University of Turku and had to get closer to investigate. It looked cute from afar, not so much from closer. It seems to elicit a lot of sentiments in people and now greets visitors to Turku as they enter the city. (Originally it floated on water.)

This was not the creepiest piece I saw in Turku, not to suggest that I usually measure sculptures by the amount of creepiness they elicit. That just happened to come up here a couple of times. The little girl to the left wins that award from me. It reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it and online searches didn’t help. I’m more of a fan of other pieces I saw around town. But not being a fan does not mean I don’t enjoy stumbling upon a piece. As I noted, I get a kick out of being surprised by such works when I explore a city. What’s some of the more unusual public art you’ve seen? I’d love to see examples if you can point to them.

For more on what public art I found walking the streets of Turku, click here.

Saturday art blogging: Magritte in Lugano

by Eszter Hargittai on November 3, 2018

This isn’t the first exhibit dedicated to René Magritte and it won’t be the last (one just ended a few days ago in San Francisco), but it’s the one I got to see yesterday while attending a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, and thus inspires this weekend’s art post. I have already been to the Magritte Museum in Brussels, but nonetheless had plenty of works to see here that I had not encountered before. The pieces are presented in chronological order grouped by style. One thing I really like in such exhibits is when the work of those who inspired the artist is on display as well. A piece by de Chirico right next to Magritte’s paintings makes his influence on the artist very clear.

Magritte may be most known for his Surrealist pieces, but he created art in lots of other styles. For example, he had an Impressionistic phase, although apparently due to a lack of positive response, he abandoned it fairly quickly. He also did quite a bit of work designing advertisements.

This exhibit features several of his curtains pieces, including a large bronze sculpture:

The MASI Lugano has a beautiful view of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains, which is a gorgeous backdrop for the sculpture. See more of the pieces on display at this exhibit in my photo album.

The exhibit runs through January 9, 2019 and is a pleasant 15 min downhill walk from the Lugano train station. Lugano is just over an hour from Milan and just over two hours from Zurich by train.

Sunday photoblogging: Death Valley

by Eszter Hargittai on October 28, 2018

I have no doubt that you have seen better pictures of rainbows and probably even double rainbows. What’s noteworthy about this photo is that Death Valley gets about 60mm (less than two inches) of precipitation a year. Compare that to the annual average of Los Angeles at 380mm (15 inches) or Phoenix at 200mm (8 inches). Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. The chances of a double rainbow in this part of the world are extremely small so while my first reaction was: “Why does it have to rain precisely when I’m here?” this approach soon shifted to “Wow, what a beautifully rare occasion.” Most of my other photos convey what you’re more likely to expect from the area, you can see some of them here.

Saturday art blogging: South End Open Studios in Boston

by Eszter Hargittai on October 27, 2018

I went there for the open market, I stayed for the open art studios. It was a warm Fall Sunday and I was excited to check out the street fair at SoWa Open Market to look at local artists’ creative goods. That experience was fine, but, perhaps due to my rather high standards thanks to the numerous excellent street fairs in summer Chicagoland, it did not inspire me too much. This may have been partly due to the fact that such art fairs tend to showcase designs of the geographical locality so my having no emotional connection to Boston left me rather detached. Or I am reading too much into it and the works were just not that exciting.

What really got me engaged instead were the dozens of art studios open to visitors to browse. I looked at all sorts of paintings and photography, but my favorite was Brian Murphy‘s wire art, an example of which illustrates this post. Not only did I like the shapes of the wire sculptures that in many cases were quite expressive, but the artist infuses humor into many of his works through their captions. I spent quite some time browsing his various pieces, some surprising in their simplicity, others impressive in their complexity. Next time you are in the Boston area, I recommend checking out these studios if they happen to be open when you are there. It’s conveniently accessible with public transportation.

The sign of the piece pictured here reads:
Brian Murphy, While Alice Was Ready To Admit He Was A Rather Amazing Egg She Feared The Mess He Would Make When He Inevitably Fell, Wire Sculpture, $200

Research that is most relevant to my scholarship tends to get published in journals and I have ways of keeping up with such work. I have a much harder time fitting in reading academic books. They don’t tend to be directly related to my research so there is rarely any urgency in reading them as they are unlikely to inform my work directly (although, of course, could easily inform my work in more indirect ways). Lots of books get published on the social aspects of digital media that may not need to be cited in my own writing, but I am nonetheless curious to read simply because they are of interest to me more generally. I’d like to know how others fit in such book-reading. Are there specific regular time slots you set aside for this? If yes, how often? Has your approach worked?

I started a book club as part of the Digital Society Initiative at my university as a way to get myself to read at least a few books a year. This way I set aside several hours leading up to the book club meeting, but I don’t think it’s realistic to do that every week. Or is that what I should be doing? We read 4-5 books a year so 4-5 such slots on my annual calendar is not a problem. But this is way less than the structured time I’d like to spend on book reading. Please share your experiences even if they concern failed attempts, I’m curious to hear.

Commutes are one possibility, but my train ride to work is just 20 minutes, which is not enough to make that much of a dent. (I’m not complaining about my commute time, just recognizing that it’s not a ton of time for meaningful reading.) Evening hours I reserve for other types of reading or other activities (like making art).

As for the physical environment needed to read comfortably, I am all set there. I bought a very comfy chaise longue (IKEA’s Grönlid) for my office and it’s done wonders for making my way through readings of all sorts such as grant applications I am reviewing. But so yeah, with so many demands on our reading time (articles closely tied to research, student papers, colleagues’ work I’m commenting on, refereeing), how do I fit in more structured time for book reading?

Please support Equal Citizens

by Eszter Hargittai on October 22, 2018

Last year, I asked you to help support science. This year, I am asking you to pitch in to help end the corruption of U.S. democracy through a donation to Equal Citizens. Equal Citizens is pursuing several important projects such as fixing the Electoral College, ending SuperPACs, and ending voter suppression. There is tons of information concerning the specifics of how they are doing this on

Equal Citizens does not bombard one’s mailbox with constant requests for donations like some other organizations. Indeed, they haven’t done this kind of a campaign in a year. To help support them, I am hosting a fundraiser through Facebook where I have committed to matching up to $500 of donations. Won’t you add your support as well? You can do so through my Facebook fundraising page or directly through the Equal Citizens site. Thank you!