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It seems like we should have a Meta thread…

by Eszter Hargittai on October 30, 2021

.. or bad idea? I do want to point to this excellent piece by Ethan Zuckerman called “Hey, Facebook, I Made a Metaverse 27 Years Ago, It was terrible then, and it’s terrible now.” Read it for the great history, snark, and writing. In addition to being important and thoughtful commentary on Facebook’s Meta (yeah, yeah, I know), it’s also a fun trip down virtual life memory lane for those of you old enough (I suspect most of you) and geeky enough (presumably some of you) to have been there along the way.

Social media repertoires

by Eszter Hargittai on October 29, 2021

I’d like to blog more about my research, but not sure yet how to go about it (e.g., whether to write more about research already completed or about projects currently in the works or both.. feel free to voice your preference). Today, I’m posting a link to a paper that was just published (and is available open access so no paywall to battle): Birds of a Feather Flock Together Online: Digital Inequality in Social Media Repertoires, which I wrote with my friend Ágnes Horvát.

There is some work (not a ton, but a growing literature) on who adopts various social media platforms (e.g., are men vs women more likely to be on Facebook or on Pinterest, are more highly educated people more likely to be on Twitter or on Reddit), but as far as we can tell, no one has looked at the user base of pairs of such services. (I am always very cautious to claim that we are the first to do something as it’s nearly impossible to have a sense of all work out there, but we could not find anything related. Do let me know if we missed something.)

Why should anyone care who adopts a social network site (SNS) and what’s the point of knowing how user bases overlap across such sites? There are several reasons for the former and then by extension, the latter. I started doing such analyses back in the age of MySpace and Facebook finding socioeconomic differences in who adopted which platform even among a group of college students. More recent work (mine and others’) has continued to show differences in SNS adoption by various sociodemographic factors. This matters at the most basic level, because (a) whose voices are heard on these platforms matters to what content millions of people see and share and engage with; and (b) many studies use specific platforms as their sampling frame and so if a specific platform’s users are non-representative of the population (in most cases that is indeed the case) and the research questions pertain to the whole population (or all Internet users at minimum, which is again often the case) then the data will be biased from the get-go.

By knowing which platforms have similar users, when wanting to diversify samples, researchers can focus on including data from SNSs with lower overlaps in their user base without having to sample from too many of them. Also, for campaigns – these could be health-related, political, commercial – that want to reach diverse constituents, it is again helpful to know which sites have similar users versus reach different groups of people. Our paper shows (with graphs that I am hoping are helpful to interpreting the results) how SNS pairs differ by gender, age, education, and Internet skills.


by Eszter Hargittai on May 27, 2021

I’m rather unlikely to post about sports, but you have to watch this. I’m not even a baseball fan, which I feel a bit sacrilegious saying as I sit just a few miles from Wrigley Field, but unless you know absolutely nothing about baseball, you should watch this.

Another Covid book, this one about the digital context

by Eszter Hargittai on January 22, 2021

I’m joining John in going all in on Covid research. In the Fall, I signed a contract with The MIT Press for a book about the digital aspects of the pandemic’s early weeks. Scoping is tricky with an ongoing event not just in terms of topical focus, but also time span. I imagine we’ll be trying to make sense of what happened and how people experienced the events with what long-term implications for quite some time. I’m taking on the digital aspects of the first month or so. I’m basing the book on survey data I collected in April and May in the US, and in April in Switzerland and Italy.

It’s a digital inequality story whereby people in more privileged positions were able to pivot to online resources better, which may not be shocking, but worth exploring in detail given the extreme reliance on virtual communication in these times and many assumptions that such resources are readily available to all. There are also interesting nuances. Not all groups that one may expect to experience the circumstances negatively necessarily did so. For example, people with disabilities were more active on social media discussing the pandemic than those without disabilities. Whether this was a good thing or not is, of course, another question, one I plan to dig into through looking at knowledge about the pandemic and also people’s feelings of social connectedness. (This being a cross-sectional study, however, will limit my ability to comment on changes concerning survey participants’ specific circumstances.)

After explaining why a focus on the digital is relevant and giving some general social context as well as digital context of people’s situations, chapters focus on communicating during lockdown, how people used social media to connect about the pandemic in particular, what information sources people used for pandemic content and how this related to their knowledge about the virus, and who was able to pivot to working from home and what types of online learning people engaged in during this time. The book is about adults only so I will not be addressing things like how children’s homeschooling worked out.

This may be putting the cart before the horse, but I’m not sure how to think about the title. I’ve been playing with different ideas and would appreciate input. I started with Digital Survival: Who Thrives in Unsettled Times, but some reviewers of the proposal thought “digital survival” was too extreme. I’m not ready to abandon it as I do think digital connectivity has been very important and survival is not always used as a life-death distinction, but perhaps in this context it doesn’t work. What do you think? Or should I just go with Digital Inequality directly? I’m concerned that’s a bit jargony. (The book will be an academic trade publication.) Regarding the second half of the title, another approach is to foreground Covid instead of referring to unsettled times, but the idea is that the lessons learned would apply to other situations as well (e.g. political upheavals, natural disasters) so I don’t want it to sound narrower than necessary. I welcome your thoughts on this.

Positive note #10: book reading (non-fiction edition)

by Eszter Hargittai on January 1, 2021

I’m going to end this little series of positive notes I started ten days ago with sharing several excellent nonfiction books I read in 2020. Last year, my goal was to read 52 books. A year ago I had set as my goal for 2020 60 books, not because I knew we’d all be experiencing a lockdown, but because I was supposed to be on sabbatical in the fall and figured I’d be able to make more time for it. (I was indeed on sabbatical this past fall, but I did not “go” on sabbatical in that I just stayed in Zurich rather than my original plan of spending it at my alma mater Smith College in a special visiting position. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule that for fall ’23.) It turns out, during lockdown March-May I didn’t read any books at all. I can’t explain it, but it’s not how I coped. Fortunately, during the rest of the year I caught up. I already posted separately my resulting fiction recommendations, now for the rest.

I started 2020 with a tough, but very important and well-written book: Know My Name by Chanel Miller. This is the story of the woman who had been sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on Stanford’s campus. She goes through so much of what happened in the aftermath including lots of discussion of the crazy legal system that lets people like Turner move on with their lives while the lives they assault are forever changed. I believe this should be required reading on university campuses. It would be very hard for 18-year-olds to process (it’s hard to process at any age), but valuable.


While we are on the topic of sexual assault, [click to continue…]

End-of-year positives: fiction

by Eszter Hargittai on December 31, 2020

I decided to dedicate two separate posts to books, this one is for fiction. I usually don’t read much fiction so last year I wouldn’t have had enough to write about for such a post (and what I did read I didn’t like so wouldn’t have wanted to write about it). I still don’t have that much, the hope is that you’ll add your own. Like last year, this is not about books that were published in 2020, I am just sharing what I read in 2020 and recommend.

My big reading innovation this year, by the way, was listening to audiobooks. It helped me read more since I can still follow along comfortably at 1.5x speed, often even 1.75x or 2x speed, which is definitely faster than I read. Importantly, it lets me multitask so I can make progress on a book while cooking or working on a jigsaw puzzle (one of my pandemic sanity preoccupations although some of you may recall that this wasn’t a pandemic novelty for me).

This book is definitely not new, it’s even been made into a movie already (I haven’t seen it), but I only came across it this year: Still Alice by Lisa Genova (2007). It’s a tough topic, early onset Alzheimer’s in an academic. It’s beautifully written and the best fictional depiction of academia I have seen (but again, to be fair, I don’t see that much fiction). It did make me rather paranoid, but following up on the book I also read about things one can do to help delay onset (FWIW, solving crossword puzzles is not one of them).

[click to continue…]

Positive note #8: it’s recipe exchange time!

by Eszter Hargittai on December 30, 2020

Is there anyone who hasn’t spent more time in the kitchen this year than usual? Perhaps healthcare workers. I don’t eat bread so I skipped all the sourdough discussions, but I did end up trying all sorts of new recipes. I’ll just share one savory and one sweet, and am otherwise hoping folks will contribute their own favorites.

A Late Show with Stephen Colbert was my go-to daily entertainment watching the previous night’s episode around lunch time. I was so impressed by how he and his team pivoted to the lockdown. In one episode, he cooked a dish based on shallots with Alison Roman that sounded very intriguing since I like shallots, but few recipes ever call for more than a bit of it (or I don’t tend to know them, please educate me). I made the dish the next day and have made it a bunch of times since, it’s excellent. I substituted sardines for the anchovies, because I already had those at home and since it worked well for me, I’ve stuck with that variation.

For sweets, I tried a sweet potato casserole for the first time this Thanksgiving and was so impressed that I’ve made it twice since (and will definitely be making it again). It seems to be presented as a side dish, but in my book it’s definitely a dessert. I do recommend two modifications to that recipe though that I picked up on from reading the comments on the site: (1) half the white sugar (1/4 instead of 1/2 cup); (2) double the topping except for the butter. Commenters noted that it was too sweet otherwise and they were right. I forgot these modifications the last time I made it and it was indeed too sweet. It’s a straight-forward recipe and doesn’t even really require a food processor (I haven’t used one for it). Try it out!

Your turn, please share your finds (or oldies, but goodies if you prefer).

Positive note #7: tech tools

by Eszter Hargittai on December 29, 2020

It’s time to share your most helpful tech finds for the year, this time more on the software than the hardware side. My big find was a task management tool that is the mother of all task management tools. It’s called Amazing Marvin and amazing is indeed the word I use when I describe it to friends and colleagues. If there is one downside, it’s that its versatility makes it a bit hard to navigate at first, but the investment is worth it.

Let me take a step back and explain the problem I was trying to solve when I searched for a tool back in the Spring. The search was not necessarily prompted by the pandemic, but launching into a huge data-collection project a week into lockdowns certainly gave a nudge. I had never had a good system for keeping track of tasks, ranging from very specific small to-do items to components of large multi-year projects. I had tried several programs over the years, but none had met my needs, whatever those might have been. (Sometimes you don’t realize what works well until you try to get a program to do what you need and then it hits you that that missing feature is a must-have.) I was using a mix of approaches from putting some things on my Google Calendar to keeping emails unread until I had tended to them, etc. It was a sad patchwork of solutions that, frankly, left me wondering how I wasn’t dropping balls left and right.

Enter Amazing Marvin. [click to continue…]

Hobbies that have brought you joy

by Eszter Hargittai on December 28, 2020

(Are there hobbies that don’t bring joy?)

In this sixth installment of end-of-2020 positive notes, let’s talk about hobbies that have helped us get through this crazy year. I started the following a bit before the pandemic, but it proved to be the perfect distraction (except for those beginning months of global postal confusion).

A little less than a year ago, I signed up for two postcard exchange Web sites: Postcrossing and Postcard United. “Exchange” is not entirely the right word for it since you are sending postcards to people different from the ones sending you postcards so it’s exchange in a global sense, but not concerning the specific items. (In reality, on occasion such an exchange does happen, but it’s rare.) You might think the model wouldn’t work. After all, there is no direct incentive to sending out something nice since the person you are sending to is not the one sending you a card. Do people put any care into sending thoughtful cards then given that there is no obvious incentive to doing so? It turns out many do. On the user profile, it’s possible to signal what is of interest and many of the cards I’ve received (over 200 at this point) have addressed my stated likes such as cards (and stamps!) of turtles and modern and/or local art. Similarly, I try my best to send something the person has requested and have amassed quite a postcard collection to assist me in this.

With all the distancing that 2020 has involved, it’s been genuinely lovely to connect with people from across the globe. There are a great number of participants in East Asia, I’ve sent numerous cards to and received many cards from China, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. The hobby seems to be very big in Germany and Russia as well. Some of this is just a numbers game (countries with large populations), but it doesn’t seem to be entirely about that. Of course, the activity comes with its set of costs not least of which is the postage and so this will pose constraints on who can participate. There are accounts in places like Germany with more than 10,000 cards sent and received, in such instances we’re talking some major financial investment in the hobby. Not that many other hobbies don’t come with costs, but I do find that interesting.

The sites put limits on how many cards you can have traveling at any one time, which can be a bit frustrating if you’re ready to jump in full speed, but is also realistic from the site’s perspective to establish that a new member is serious and will continue sending out cards. This is why one would end up joining more than one site, by the way, that way you can have more cards traveling at the same time (and thus also be receiving more).

Through this hobby, I’ve learned some interesting tidbits about philately around the globe. I was not aware, for example, of so-called maxicards (examples here through an image search). These are special issue stamps with corresponding cards with the stamp on the front side of the matching postcard. They tend to look wonderful and I’ve enjoyed getting a few from various corners of the globe. (If you have one to spare, I’m interested! As far as I can tell, neither the US nor Switzerland issues them these days so I haven’t been able to buy them for trade. Please correct me if I am wrong.)

From social media I gather that lots of people picked up bread baking as a hobby this year. I skipped that as I don’t eat bread. Has anyone started new hobbies this year that have worked out well? (I realize some of the previous posts have covered some related topics and I will have a post dedicated specifically to book reading as well as art making, but feel free to post about those types of hobbies here as well.)

Working-from-home comforts?

by Eszter Hargittai on December 27, 2020

Fifth in this little end-of-year series I would like to exchange tips on how to make working from home suck less. This is mostly for those who work in an office type job. I suspect some of you have been doing this for years and perhaps then it was not a huge shift and may even work well. I, however, had not had a home office since graduate school (when my living room doubled as a study in my one-bedroom apartment). The sudden closure of offices was tough given zero office setup at home. It’s not that I hadn’t ever worked from home, it’s just that I had only done it by sitting on my living room sofa feet up on my coffee table, laptop in my lap (a laptop in a lap, imagine that). This was not sustainable for full-time work, however. I suffered on my definitely-not-for-constant-sitting dining room chair. It turns out that a lumbar cushion can make a significant difference. I use the Samsonite Memory Foam one and it has worked well. I have found the halfmoon-shaped one less effective. (Curiously, neither of these seems visible on Samsonite’s own Web site, I hope it’s not because they have discontinued it. It looks like lots of retailers have it though.)

Now, if you have the budget to go all out on chair supplies then I highly recommend the Herman Miller Aeron Chairs, but after ordering one in May (with which there was an administrative glitch so actually in) July, I only received it in November so I had needed other arrangements for much of the year. (I knew of the chair as it’s what I’ve been fortunate to use at work for about twenty years now.) I’m sure there are other more reasonably-priced ergonomic desk chairs out there that would also be much better than a dining room chair.

The other hardware arrangement was getting a monitor to supplement the laptop, which was a very good decision. The IT staff in my department was amazing back in March helping folks get set up especially for remote teaching. (Unlike many schools in the US that seemed to be on Spring break when lockdowns first occurred, at UZH we were told on Friday afternoon that starting Monday we’d have to be teaching online so there was some serious last-minute shuffling going on.) A friend convinced me to get a curved monitor and that’s been surprisingly helpful even though I had already had a rather large monitor in the office before.

In Zurich, we were allowed back in the office by June and I spent much of the summer and fall there so I didn’t have to keep innovating on my setup. However, as infections rose in the past few months, I started feeling uncomfortable going to the office so am again on the lookout for new ideas. I’ll have a separate post for software finds. In this thread, I’m especially curious to hear how folks made their physical home setup work well. And yes, I recognize my very fortunate position of having support for all these things and the privilege I have had of continuing a job I enjoy with ongoing support from my employer.

What music did you enjoy this year?

by Eszter Hargittai on December 26, 2020

If Tim Walters hadn’t asked me about music in response to the first post of my end-of-year list then I would have completely forgotten about it, which tells you how much I focused on it this year. Basically, after not listening to any music during the first couple of months of lockdown (not sure why), I realized it may do me good and I started listening to some albums from my college years (Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morissette). Later I started listening to audiobooks and that took up listening time so I have nothing for you by way of music recommendations. Hopefully some of you do so please share here. Tim, this is the thread for you. :)

End-of-year positive note #3: movies, series, video

by Eszter Hargittai on December 24, 2020

On this third day of kick-2020-to-the-curb-on-a-positive-note post series, I’d like to discuss video entertainment. Whether movies, TV shows, Web series, one-off YouTube clips, etc, I’m curious to hear what you enjoyed this year. It can be new or old, whatever you recommend. As we head into some quiet days, I suspect many of us can use some recommendations. To facilitate access, please note where something is available as these days that is no longer self-explanatory.

One of my favorite TV series is The Good Fight on CBS All Access (requires a paid subscription and I think is sadly only available in the US or through US VPN). Covid halted their production in the Spring so it was a short season this year, its 4th season. It’s a spin-off of CBS’s excellent The Good Wife from years ago. It’s very political (all-out anti-Trump) and very not-fit-for-network-TV. It centers around a majority African American law firm in Chicago filled with very smart and passionate lawyers.

A series new to me this year was Borgen on Netflix, recommended by a friend after I told him I was thinking of rewatching The West Wing. It’s a Danish political drama about a woman prime minister. The first episode didn’t grab me, but I tried another and after that I was hooked.

For films, I very much appreciated After Class, a Chinese short film I saw through the deadCenter Film Festival in the Spring. I’m not sure where you can access it, but it’s worth hunting down. (There are other films with that title, this one is directed by Charles Xiuzhi Dong.) I won’t say anything about it, it’s just 15 minutes and I don’t want to give anything away.

I rewatched the excellent 1945 (from 2017), a Hungarian film that takes place at the end of WWII in rural Hungary. I first saw it in a theater in Budapest in 2017 and it was gripping. Having just watched the trailer to post it here, I’m inspired to watch it a 3rd time. So yes, I recommend it highly! If your library has a Kanopy subscription, you may have free access there. If not, Amazon has it for sale (or included as part of Prime Video, it looks like – I don’t have Amazon Prime so I can’t double check that).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Stephen Colbert’s The (A) Late Show for delivering the news this year in a palatable way. (I’m not saying the news itself was palatable.)

What have you enjoyed this year?

Positive note #2: fresh herbs

by Eszter Hargittai on December 23, 2020

Yesterday, I kicked off the “Let’s end 2020 on a positive note” series, which I continue today with a very different angle (we’ll be back to other content types later this week). With Covid-19 imposing lots of restrictions on where we could go this year, many of us spent considerable time in the kitchen. This likely included some innovations. Let’s talk about fresh herbs in particular (I’ll have a separate post about more general cooking/baking finds). What is a fresh herb that you added to your cooking repertoire this year that you definitely plan on keeping long term? Or if you were already a fresh herb aficionado then feel free to mention what was not new per se, but brought continued joy.

I wasn’t big on fresh herbs in the past, my most consistent use was of rosemary sprigs as adding them to even the simplest dish of oven-roasted vegetables is already a great touch. My most exciting fresh herb addition this year was fresh thyme. I now have fresh thyme on hand all the time as it has proven to be so helpful in numerous dishes. Whether on chicken (my most common go-to meat) or veggies, it has never disappointed. I don’t even have a particular recipe to point to, it’s just been extremely helpful all around. Pictured: chicken hot dogs with apples, plumbs, sliced almonds and, of course, fresh thyme (you can spot it).

I’ll mention a failed attempt: fresh turmeric. Turmeric was the major spice addition to my cooking in 2019 so in 2020 I thought I’d go to the root directly. For me, this was not worth the trouble. First, it’s rather tedious to deal with. More importantly, it stains everything. So unless you want everything in your kitchen to look orange or are extremely careful, beware. I also find turmeric in spice jars to be quite effective so the trouble was not worth it to me.

What fresh herb did you enjoy adding to your cooking and baking this year?

Let’s finish 2020 on a positive note (or ten)

by Eszter Hargittai on December 22, 2020

For the last ten days of this insanity of a year, I am going to blog about various positive things and ask you to share your related experiences. They’ll concern new books you’ve read and liked, new recipes you’ve tried and recommend, etc.

I’m starting with an entirely self-serving category, which concerns the sharing of something you created (minus images, which will be a separate post). I was fortunate to get to do a lot this year and perhaps most exciting was putting the finishing touches on a new edited volume about digital media research.

My book Research Exposed: How Empirical Social Science Gets Done in the Digital Age just came out from Columbia University Press. It includes a dozen chapters of social scientists discussing the behind-the-scenes realities of doing empirical research using digital methods and/or studying the social aspects of digital media. The pieces cover a wide range of methods from analyzing millions of tweets to careful sampling for qualitative work, from recruiting hard-to-access populations for surveys and focus groups to using mixed methods for studying various groups. The authors are unusually candid about all the ups and downs they faced during their studies. It’s a very informative and engaging read.

The book is third in a line of related books I have published. There was Research Confidential: Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have (University of Michigan Press) whose title was inspired by a CT reader and whose cover design I crowdsourced here and elsewhere. Then came Digital Research Confidential: The Secrets of Studying Behavior Online from The MIT Press, which I co-edited with Christian Sandvig. And now we have Research Exposed, whose title was recommended by an anonymous reviewer so I don’t even know whom to thank for it.

In the strictest sense, the book is targeted at social scientists – across fields from communication to sociology, from political science to journalism studies – who want to understand better what methodological approaches from earlier are still very relevant and what new challenges and opportunities digital media bring to the table. It is certainly great for students – from upper-level undergraduate to graduate – but also for scholars at all levels wanting to understand doing research better. I would hope it would also be of interest to non-scholars who would like to have a sense for how high-quality social science gets done these days.

And now it’s your turn. What did you create this year that you are especially excited to share? This can be a published book, journal article, oped, blog post, tweet, podcast, video, etc. (I will have a separate post for sharing images such as photographs and drawings, paintings, etc. so perhaps hold off on those for now.)

We’re starting a new journal!

by Eszter Hargittai on October 8, 2020

Does the world really need yet one more academic journal? It does when there is an unmet need for disseminating certain types of work. Andy Guess, Kevin Munger (two political scientists) and I (a communication scholar/sociologist) are starting the Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media (link to temp Web site while the permanent one gets set up). The journal publishes quantitative descriptive social science. It does not publish research that makes causal claims. Descriptive work can be very important and also very resource-intensive to produce, yet notoriously hard to publish in existing outlets. We want there to be an outlet where people can free up the tremendous amount of information residing on their machines from data sets they have collected, but that they don’t write up and disseminate, because there is currently no place to do so. Thus our journal. JQD:DM is an open-access no-fee publication (for at least the first two years, ideally indefinitely). Check out the journal site for more on the motivation and more thoughts from Kevin on where he sees it fitting into the scientific enterprise.