Search Results for: sociology

A Sociology of the Smartphone

Longreads Pick

Smartphones have altered the texture of everyday life, digesting many longstanding spaces and rituals, and transforming others beyond recognition.

Source: Verso Books
Published: Jun 13, 2017
Length: 29 minutes (7,433 words)

A Sociology of the Smartphone

Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Adam Greenfield | Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life | Verso | June 2017 | 27 minutes (7,433 words) 

 

Below is an excerpt from Radical Technologies, by Adam Greenfield. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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They are the last thing we look at before sleep each night, and the first thing we reach for upon waking.

The smartphone is the signature artifact of our age. Less than a decade old, this protean object has become the universal, all-but-indispensable mediator of everyday life. Very few manufactured objects have ever been as ubiquitous as these glowing slabs of polycarbonate.

For many of us, they are the last thing we look at before sleep each night, and the first thing we reach for upon waking. We use them to meet people, to communicate, to entertain ourselves, and to find our way around. We buy and sell things with them. We rely on them to document the places we go, the things we do and the company we keep; we count on them to fill the dead spaces, the still moments and silences that used to occupy so much of our lives.

They have altered the texture of everyday life just about everywhere, digesting many longstanding spaces and rituals in their entirety, and transforming others beyond recognition. At this juncture in history, it simply isn’t possible to understand the ways in which we know and use the world around us without having some sense for the way the smartphone works, and the various infrastructures it depends on.

For all its ubiquity, though, the smartphone is not a simple thing. We use it so often that we don’t see it clearly; it appeared in our lives so suddenly and totally that the scale and force of the changes it has occasioned have largely receded from conscious awareness. In order to truly take the measure of these changes, we need to take a step or two back, to the very last historical moment in which we negotiated the world without smartphone in hand. Read more…

The Sociology of Online Dating

Longreads Pick

A fascinating conversation with Michael Rosenfeld, a Stanford sociologist who has been conducting a long-running study of online dating.

Source: Washington Post
Published: Mar 23, 2016
Length: 12 minutes (3,190 words)

Putin’s Rasputin

St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square; Moscow, Russia. (Rickson Liebano/Getty)

Amos Barshad | An excerpt adapted from No One Man Should Have All That Power: How Rasputins Manipulate the World | Harry N. Abrams | 17 minutes (4,490 words)

 

In the lobby of a heavy-stone building in central Moscow, I’m greeted by a friendly young woman in a pantsuit who, she explains, is working “in the field of geopolitics.” She takes me to the security desk, where my passport is carefully, minutely inspected before I’m granted access. As we head upstairs the woman slowly whispers a joke: “This is what will save us from the terrorists.”

We walk down a long, high hallway that looks or bare or unfinished or forgotten, like maybe someone was planning on shutting down this wing of the office but never got around to it. There are linoleum floors, cracking and peeling, and bits of mismatched tile in the style of sixties Americana. Rank-and-file office clerks shuffle through, and no one pays attention to a faint buzzing emanating from somewhere near.

We stop in front of a heavy wooden door. Inside is Aleksandr Dugin.

The man is an ideologue with a convoluted, bizarre, unsettling worldview. He believes the world is divided into two spheres of influence — sea powers, which he calls Eternal Carthage, and land powers, which he calls Eternal Rome. He believes it has always been so. Today, those spheres are represented by America, the Carthage, and Russia, the Rome. He believes that Carthage and Rome are locked in a forever war that will only end with the destruction of one or the other. Read more…

My Unsexual Revolution

Illustration by Chloe Cushman

Diane Shipley | Longreads | July 2019 | 17 minutes (4,293 words)

In November 1998, I had sex for the first and last time. I was 19, my boyfriend was 21, and we’d been together for 10 months, long-distance. I was at university in Lancaster, a small town in the north west of England, and he lived in Essex, in the south east. I had a week off from classes, so I spent six hours taking two trains to stay in the sporadically-tidied house he shared with friends from work. On Wednesday morning, I walked to the pharmacy down the street to buy condoms and KY Jelly, shaking slightly as I handed over the cash. That night, with Ally McBeal on TV in the background, we lay on his narrow twin bed, kissing and touching each other before we slipped under the covers. I worried it might hurt, or feel awkward, or be over quickly, but it was great. Afterward, we ate chocolates, drank Coke, and swore we’d have sex all the time from then on.

We tried. Later that night; the next day; a couple of months later, on vacation in Florida. Each time, it was as if my vagina had snapped shut and no matter how hard he pushed or how vividly I pictured a tulip’s petals unfurling, nothing could convince it to open. Eventually, we gave up and went back to the heavy petting and blowjobs we’d each enjoyed, respectively, before. We were best friends, we were in love, we both had orgasms. In theory, I knew that penis-in-vagina intercourse wasn’t the only way to define sex. But it seemed like the most important, and I felt like a failure for not being a “proper” girlfriend; for being unfuckable.
Read more…

How I Became ‘Rich’

Illustration by Homestead

Stacy Torres | Longreads | June 2019 | 11 minutes (2,629 words)

On my first two trips to Hawai‘i I photographed things people who live there might consider mundane: red dirt along a paved road, sunlit hibiscus draped over a parking lot wall, blue-faced Zebra Doves so calm I almost tripped over them because they didn’t skitter away like the nervous pigeons back home in New York City. The only palm trees I’d ever seen before appeared on postcards, television, and luau-themed party decorations. In Hawai‘i I wasted no time filling my camera with pictures of real ones: swaying palms against a light-filled morning sky, baby palms trees in the midday sun, and full-grown trees wrapped in twinkling lights under an aspirin moon.

The first trip, in 2009, happened by accident. At least it felt that way. My then-boyfriend wanted to go somewhere tropical. I wanted to go somewhere interesting, though I had no inkling of the plan he was hatching when I mentioned Hawai‘i. I figured this discussion was just another of the fantasy trips we often took in our heads after watching the Travel Channel. Neither of us had passports or much money. But my boyfriend’s job as a New York City public high school special education teacher had wrecked him. For the past few years, half the teachers at his school left by year’s end. C. stood on the verge of quitting too. Instead, he started drinking on the train ride to work in the mornings. Then he took his tax refund and booked us a trip to paradise.

At first he refused to tell me where we were going. “Block off a week,” C. said. I’m going to need you not to be interrupted.” I pressed for details. After about age 12, I’d stopped liking surprises. By then I’d learned they could herald sudden bad news, such as when I awoke to find my mother applying antiseptic to a knife slice on my father’s temple after he got mugged coming home from work. Worry grew about some emergency lurking behind his request, a not unreasonable idea given the last few rocky years. Only after several days of persistent badgering, he divulged, “We’re going somewhere.” I grew more fearful. Where were we going? Why?

We didn’t go places, except the occasional day-trip to Philadelphia on a $10 round-trip Chinatown bus ticket. Sometimes we hopped an Atlantic City casino bus out of Port Authority. We got most of the bus fare back in a cash voucher to be redeemed at Harrah’s, but we dumped that and a few more bucks into the penny and nickel slots. Lucky Lemmings was our machine of choice. We always fooled ourselves into believing riches lay just one more pull away, and cheered when we hit a bonus game. The cute animated lemmings delighted us when they dived from the cliff, or trampolined off a lavender walrus’s back into caves marked with different credit amounts. If we got really lucky, the machine rewarded us with a lemming stampede, and they continued jumping in and out of the caves, green bills swirling and swooshing in their tracks, and manic jangly beeping ramped up as we racked up more credits. We never knew when to stop and usually returned home losers.
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Of Blackness and ‘Beauty’

Young Woman with Peonies by Frédéric Bazille, 1870 / The New Press

Morgan Jerkins | Longreads | January 2019 | 12 minutes (2,731 words)

Back in 2013, Miley Cyrus was in the hip-hop phase of her career, during which she consorted with rappers and attempted to twerk for more notoriety. The hit pieces calling out her cultural appropriation were ubiquitous. Everyone had an opinion on her new gimmick, including sociologist Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, who wrote an essay for Slate on the dangers of Miley’s now infamous MTV performance and inserted herself into the narrative by calling herself unattractive. The comments, some of which she included in her collection Thick: And Other Essays were “brutal.” White women were upset with her for believing that she was unattractive when in their eyes, she was the opposite, and black women were upset with her for what they assumed was self-hatred on display. Both groups, as far as McMillan Cottom was concerned, were wrong. Both were aghast that she would call the devil by its name in broad daylight. What she explains in one of the most compelling sections of Thick is that beauty is about capital and power. Predominant standards of beauty center the white female body, and as a dark-skinned black woman, she exists outside that kind of beauty. That’s not to say that she did not find herself beautiful by black standards, in the circles in which she travels — at the historically black institution of which she is an alumna, or Rudean’s, a legendary joint for black North Carolinians. However, beauty as we know it in Western civilization is exclusionary. It is not meant for everyone.

As a culture we have a tremendously difficult time with black women who are overwhelmingly honest about what the world has done to them. One of the first examples McMillan Cottom refers to is the SNL Weekend Update bit where Leslie Jones speaks of her desirability on a plantation vis-à-vis in the modern age:

“The way we view black beauty has changed,” Jones said. “See, I’m single right now, but back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I’m six feet tall and I’m strong, Colin. Strong! I mean, look at me, I’m a mandingo … I’m just saying that back in the slave days, my love life would have been way better. Massah would have hooked me up with the best brotha on the plantation. … I would be the No. 1 slave draft pick. Now, I can’t even get a brotha to take me out for a cheap dinner. I mean, damn. Can a b—– get a beef bowl?”

As McMillan Cottom points out, “It is full of personal pain that results from a structural reality that a woman like Jones — almost six feet tall, dark-complexioned, short-haired, black American — embodies.” Like McMillan Cottom, Jones was vilified by the public. People missed the point entirely. No one in white American culture enjoys it when a black woman lays bare her injuries. This entire section of the book gave me new language for a terrible, old feeling. While I am not dark-skinned, I have felt the pressure, like many other black girls and women, to adhere to a white female standard of beauty. Sure, I can look at my mother’s brown skin, or watch the black film canon for solace, but white female beauty is all-encompassing and terroristic. No one can walk can peruse the magazine aisle at a grocery store or flip through the options on a TV subscription service without being reminded that white women are at the center. Macmillan Cottom writes, “Beauty has an aesthetic, but it is not the same as aesthetics, not when it can be embodied, controlled by powerful interests, and when it can be commodified.” What better way to set the standard than through visual art?
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Land Not Theirs

VWPics via AP Images

Madison Davis | The Common | December 2018 | 31 minutes (6,125 words)

 

We are driving through downtown Columbus, away from the Greyhound station. I spent fifteen hours on a bus traveling from New York City to visit for Christmas, a holiday, my mother reminds me, that is not even about Jesus anymore. This is a thought she has reiterated over the years, yet it never prevented her from partaking in the holiday during my lifetime. The absence of a decorative tree and gifts reflected a lack of money, not a rejection of the commodification of religion.

As kids, we were encouraged to list our wishes for Santa, and even now in a post-Christian adulthood, I fantasize about the relief a Christmas miracle would provide. Because I have just a few weeks to come up with eight thousand dollars in order to register for spring classes. The most obvious resolution would be that I take the semester off, move back to Ohio, work hard, and live frugally so I can save enough money to return in the fall. But I know that the likelihood of returning to school after a long break is small, because most who leave do not return.

Read more…

Longreads Best of 2018: Crime Reporting

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in crime reporting.

Pamela Colloff
ProPublica senior reporter and New York Times Magazine writer-at-large.

The Disappeared (Hannah Dreier, ProPublica with Newsday)

When eleven high school students went missing in a single county on Long Island in just two years, law enforcement shrugged. Most of the teenagers who disappeared were recent transplants from Central America, and many of them were last seen heading into the woods, lured by the promise of weed. The Suffolk County police department responded with stomach-churning indifference, telling frantic parents that their children had simply run away.

Hannah Dreier chronicles an upside-down world in which one boy’s mother – an envelope factory employee who speaks no English – is left to piece together what happened to her son. Based on more than 100 interviews and voluminous public records, Hannah Dreier’s storytelling is as vivid as it is effortless. She builds upon an accumulation of damning details — like the fact that one Spanish-speaking mother, whose son was murdered, had to pay a taxi driver to interpret for her at the police station. (“He kept the clock running and charged her $70,” Dreier writes.) “The Disappeared,” which was turned into an episode of This American Life, is a devastating work of both relentless reporting and empathy.


Michael A. Gonzales
Contributor to Catapult, The Paris Review, and Longreads.

A Preacher, a Scam, and a Massacre in Brooklyn (Sarah Weinman, CrimeReads)

Fans of vintage New York crime stories will love Sarah Weinman’s brilliant Brooklyn-based tale, a sordid story that only gets worse the more you read. Weinman takes the reader into the mind and home of a con man named DeVernon LeGrand, a pretend preacher who kept a stable of women who dressed as nuns and begged on the streets. Of course, in true pimp fashion, LeGrand took most of their money. After moving his flock to 222 Brooklyn Avenue in 1966, things get worse for the crooked organization as it eventually becomes involved in kidnapping and murder. Although in the early 2000s I lived four blocks away from the scene of LeGrand’s various crimes for thirteen years, I had never heard of him or his house of pain and death until reading Weinman’s wonderfully written piece.


Jeff Maysh
Contributor to The Atlantic, Smithsonian MagazineLos Angeles Magazine, and The Daily Beast. Author of The Spy with No Name.

Jerry and Marge Go Large (Jason Fagone, Huffpost Highline)

I write about unusual heists from middle-America, so I was game for this Michigan lotto scam story from FOIA-bandit Jason Fagone. In crime writing it’s the characters who make for a good yarn, and I was all-in on this Mom and Pop who used brain-power to beat the system, and the odds.

The Man Who Captures Criminals for the DEA by Playing Them (Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, The New Yorker)

Why actor Spyros Enotiades told his story to Yudhijit Bhattacharjee I don’t know (there must surely be a bounty on his head), but the storytelling was extraordinary. Undercover capers don’t get better than this.


Jayati Vora
Managing editor at The Investigative Fund.

The Trauma of Everyday Gun Violence in New Orleans (Jimmie Briggs and Andre Lambertson, VICE)

This photojournalistic investigation into how gun violence affects black communities explores how living with that violence can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just like experience with war can. But unlike with returning veterans, gun violence-plagued communities don’t get the funding or mental health resources to help them cope.


Alissa Quart
Executive Editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Author of five books including SqueezedBranded, and the poetry book, Monetized. She writes The Guardian’s Outclassed column.

Could an Ex-Convict Become an Attorney? I Intended to Find Out (Reginald Dwayne Betts, The New York Times Magazine)

This is fantastic longform that embodies what I think social justice reportage should be today. It combines an under-heard, first-person voice with a gripping true story about one of the most crucial issues in America today, incarceration. Betts, who is a lawyer and a poet, also gives his tale an unexpected literary feel, with a comprehensive gloss on the sociology behind juvenile crime, prisons, jailhouse lawyers, and the limited social possibilities for ex-felons.

Omnipresence (Ann Neumann, Virginia Quarterly Review)

This multimedia criminal justice story is about how too-bright, all-night lighting in housing projects, and faulty design overall, contributes to a troubling level of surveillance in poorer communities under the guise of fighting crime. It makes something as basic as sleeping uncomfortable for thousands upon thousands of law-abiding citizens. I really like this story’s taxonomic, poetic style, as well as how architectural photographer Elizabeth Felicella gives the story a more formalist visual valence than your typical housing piece.


Tori Telfer
Author of Lady Killers and host of the Criminal Broads podcast.

Blood Cries Out (Sean Patrick Cooper, The Atavist)

In the book Popular Crime by Bill James, the author writes that the phrase “something terrible has happened” is “the best title ever for a crime book…those words turn the ‘crime story’ inside out by exposing the human beings standing on what otherwise appears to be a vast and grisly stage.”

We’re hardly ten percent of the way into the story in “Blood Cries Out” before someone uses those words to tell her husband that the unthinkable has occurred: there’s been a murder right across the road. And the vast and grisly stage? Small-town Chillicothe, Missouri, where two men have amicably farmed the same land for years, until one of them wakes up in the middle of the night with a bullet in his face and his wife dead beside him. The wounded man initially suspects his daughter’s abusive boyfriend, but then changes his story and accuses his farming partner, and then his farming partner’s son, which results in the sort of twisty and utterly corrupt legal process worthy of Making a Murderer part three.

The piece is full of letters and depositions and secret meetings and a lot of paperwork, but on occasion, it vibrates with poignantly biblical/Americana-esque undertones, from the title (plucked from Genesis) to lines like, “[the victim’s] murder was an attack on a Christian matriarch, a cherished local archetype. Similarly, [the innocent man’s] conviction represented the denial of an eldest son’s right to live and work on his father’s land.”


Sarah Weinman
Author of The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World.

The End of Evil (Sarah Marshall, The Believer)

I published a book and wrote a lot of my own pieces in 2018 — including one for this site — so, oddly, I didn’t keep as good track of longform reporting produced by others (podcasts, however, that’s a different story, but this is Longreads, not Longlistens). But I keep returning to Sarah Marshall’s “The End of Evil” because it makes fresh a story long consigned to easy tropes. Marshall, who also co-hosts the stellar podcast You’re Wrong About… and is one of my favorite true crime writers, gives voice to the myriad of women and girls Bundy murdered, shows him as something far less than an evil mastermind, and demonstrates why, with particular clarity, “the longer you spend inside this story, the less sense you can find.”


Catherine Cusick
Audience editor, Longreads

Checkpoint Nation (Melissa del Bosque, Texas Observer)

When Americans think of “the border” as a narrow and specific line, we neglect the legal reality that the term actually applies to a border zone, a much larger halo covering up to 100 air miles from any U.S. land or coastal boundary. The zone touches parts of 38 states, covering 10 in their entirety — and within that wide rim, anyone can be subjected to a warrantless search at any time. In this signature longform reality check, Melissa del Bosque digs into the history of how Congress vested U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with alarming, far-reaching powers to search and detain even long-term residents who’ve never committed a crime at surprise, “suspicionless” checkpoints.

Japan’s Prisons Are a Haven for Elderly Women (Shiho Fukada, Bloomberg Businessweek)

In a series of sweet, anonymous snapshots, Shiho Fukada talks to and photographs a growing cohort of Japanese seniors: “otherwise law-abiding elderly women” who have found a solution to the loneliness of aging in the reliable comforts of prison. Almost 1 in 5 women in Japanese prisons is a senior, Fukada reports, and 90 percent of them are arrested for shoplifting. From the simple things they steal (rice, cold medicine, a frying pan) to the circumstances they’re trying to escape (bedridden or violent spouses, invisibility, loss, and financial strain), the details of this story make structural inadequacies to meet the unmet social and healthcare needs of an aging population all too clear.

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.