Thursday, November 30, 2006

blogging: the new smoking?

There is this finding from some network analysis that smokers had the most interesting connections in a business organization--in the sense of having the interactional ties across different levels of the organization that made it more of a "small world"--because being driven onto the same huddled outdoor posts gave them various connections with fellow smokers that they would not otherwise have.* I've never smoked--despite strong familial patterns to the contrary, not one cigarette ever--so I can't vouch for the finding ancedotally.

Anyway, the point is that I've had more than one conversation in the last couple years where someone's name X has come up, and I say: "Sure, I know X." And the person asks, reasonably, "Why would you know X?" And some part of the answer, whether I articulate it out loud or not, is that the person either has a blog, has had a blog, or has commented on my blog, etc.. In other words, I've had interactions with people through blogging who, by usual mechanisms of social tie formation, I would have no especial reason to have any connection to.

I cannot be alone in this. Participation in blogging is relatively uncorrelated with what kind of sociology a person happens to do--more uncorrelated, I suspect, than smoking is nowadays--and where one is and has been located, so it lends itself toward forming intriguing ties. So, one gets the network benefits of smoking, without the icky carcinogenic aftertaste.

The other nice thing is the by-now-well-established pattern that, the present author excepted, the average person in sociology who has a blog or reads blogs seems to be more interesting and, well, "intellectually alive" than the average person who does not. (Don't tell the members of the latter group this, or at least don't attribute it to me, as they tend to be touchy about it and launch into the whole haughty "I have better things to do with my time [like watch television]" thing, etc., etc..)

* I should say I think this is an actual finding given the number of times I've heard people mention it, but I have no idea what the originating paper is.


Sister A said...

I can comment on the "smoking connections" and it's true. Smokers will talk to each other when huddled together. When I worked at P&G and quit smoking, the non-smokers sat around and read the paper or magazines. They were VERY boring! It was great to start again, so I could "visit" with my smoking buddies.

Brayden said...

Making connections with a variety of people in sociology was certainly not the motivation for me to get into blogging, but it's been one of the best outcomes of my blogging experience. I think there's a strong selection effect in the blogging world. Typically, but not always, bloggers are people who love writing, sharing/debating ideas, and who have an interest in things other than their narrow area of research. Bring them all together and you get a pretty interesting bunch.

Anonymous said...

is there some sort of clearinghouse where we can see a list of sociologists who blog, or, better yet, the blogs themselves?

Anonymous said...

While I think you have an interesting point here, and I have been blogging for about three years, as an aspiring sociologist (not one who is as established as yourself or some of the other folks who are blogging - I am actually on the job market at the moment for the first time), i wonder your take on how readily those of us without tenure should be willing to link our names to what we write extemporaneously online. Presently my blog is still the first result when you google my name (have tried unsuccessfully to change that at Google), but I am not sure how excited I am about that fact. There is more personal on there than professional in a lot of ways. Not that the two are entirely separate, but from time to time it might be a benefit to try to keep them as such. I'm rambling. Interested in any feedback. Thanks

jeremy said...

Anon: It's easy to kill your blog at Google. I've done it myself and had it nearly wiped out entirely, although I've since changed and allowed it back (although I may change again since I see my blog has taken over #1 from my professional site). If you need any help with it, e-mail me.

I certainly understand reticience about connecting your name to your blog while a student on the market. I think it's probably less a concern as an assistant professor than as a student on the market; I had my blog as an assistant professor, although my colleagues were largely unaware of it in its first two years. That said, it's not like it ever goes away, especially if you are someone like me who engages in much frivolity in posting, as it's not like you stop potentially being on the job market just because you have tenure.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am glad that I took up, that is, I mean, blogging! And I can quit anytime I want!

I agree though that there is some kind of personality quirk/characteristic/flaw that us bloggers are more likely to share--that at least WE think is interesting!

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about th job market ramifications of blogging unless you act like a realy jerk on there! It's not like, as a member of a hiring committee, I would have time to be delving back into the annals of Jeremy's blog if he were ever to apply for a position in my department (That's an open invitation, Jeremy, by the way!).

Winston said...

My experience has been that while smokers hanging around the designated areas may recognize each other, may chit-chat about unimportant things, they frequently do so without ever knowing names, especially last names. There's Ken from Marketing, Mary from who-knows-where, the guy that always has a pocket protector with 2 doz. pencils, the avid Red Sox fan, and the old man with a lisp that hates ducks.

There is definitely a clique phenomenon there, but one that is cloaked in varying degrees of anonymity, very much like blogging.

jeremy said...

Dan: Thanks for the invitation. You point to an interesting part of the fear of past posts coming back to haunt a person, which is that once you have a lot of them, the idea of someone hunting back through your archives seems increasingly implausible.

Winston: That's interesting. I know nothing of the inner culture of smokers, beyond what Sister A tells me.

Anonymous said...

I smoked for 17 years (and quit, yay!) and agree that smoking does lend commonality and inspires people to talk to each other where they might not have otherwise.

I'm about to start grad school for sociology myself. I'm not terribly worried about my blog for now, but I may want to get rid of it (or at least separate my name from it) before becoming a professor, because there does seem to be at least one source that thinks that blogging can negatively effect your career prospects.

I recall that Profgrrl once posted on this very topic (though she does not seem to archive at all). She linked to an article about it on the Chronicle of Higher Education's site. At the time, I could read the article without subscribing, but when I try searching for it now, I can't. However, if you go to the Chronicle's web site and simply search blogging, you'll see what I mean from the headlines of the search results. For example, here's an excerpt: