Saturday, July 15, 2006

Maybe one is enough.

Perhaps the emotional needs of humans are being channeled through different avenues in our brave new world. As we broadcast our desires, interests, and opinions through blogs and forums, we narrowcast our proximal relationships to address issues of genuine intimacy--note the increase in the rate of spousal inclusion in the category of confidant. If the relative intimacy of relationships follows a power law distribution, the head (confidants) has become shorter, and the tail (shared interests, social partners, business acquaintances) has grown much, much longer--not because we have consciously sought to shrink the head, but because we can now more readily expand the tail.

link to original piece.

July 16, 2006
The Way We Live Now
Confidant Crisis

By ANN HULBERT

By now, I bet almost everybody knows somebody who has joined a social networking Web site like MySpace.com, with more than 90 million members, or Facebook.com, a college-based Web site that has become a high-school favorite, too. That means most people probably also know that “friend” is no longer just a noun, but a verb, one that entails minimal exertion: “to friend” a person involves an exchange of mouse clicks, one to request a spot on someone’s (often very lengthy) list of people granted access to his or her online profile, and a click in response to accept the petitioner. If you’re too old and busy to be logging on obsessively to this Internet social scene, you’re doubtless enmeshed in your own way, e-mailing far-flung acquaintances or anticipating the spread of free Internet telephone service.

Americans, in other words, aren’t exactly suffering from anomie. If anything, a surfeit of connectivity is the curse of the moment. (Take a trip in a nonquiet Amtrak car if you want vivid evidence.) No wonder a recent study, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades,” published in the latest American Sociological Review, made it into the headlines and onto “Good Morning America.” Here was surprising news that touched a nerve. Who would have guessed, in our gabby tell-all culture, that people interviewed in the 2004 General Social Survey would report an average of only two “core” confidants with whom they “discuss important matters,” down from the mean of three close ties elicited by the same question in 1985? Just as startling, given an ever more interwoven world, was the decline in the percentage of Americans — to 57 percent from 80 percent — who named at least one non-kin person as part of this inner circle.

The media, predictably enough, were spooked by the specter of “social isolation”: though we may bowl alone, we’re always ready to join a chorus of concern about fraying communities. But before rushing to conclude that Americans have simply gotten lonelier and more insular, why not consider another possibility? Perhaps, as the study’s authors themselves hint at one point, we’ve also gotten better at demarcating what constitutes truly intimate communing — expecting more of our confidants, we have, in effect, defined intimacy up. That is not exactly what you would expect in an era of constant communicating. Yet could it be precisely because we’re more plugged in to a disparate array of people who supply us with information when we need it, offer advice and keep us intermittent company, that our standard of genuine closeness has become more exacting? It’s not just that we’re too busy for more than a select few confidants. We may be choosier too.

Look at Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics,” or at junior-high-school cliques, and it’s clear that discriminating among degrees of friendship can be a daunting task. The most tenacious of taxonomists, Aristotle thought pleasure and utility counted for less than the rare commingling of virtuous character as the basis for friendship. Centuries of varying ideals and fears ensued. Are our close ties becoming shallower and more instrumental? How many are too many, and what is enough? Is friendship a matter of spontaneous sincerity, heartfelt reciprocity, mutual understanding, deep loyalty, moral obligation or shared passion — and can it last? In his new book, “Friendship: An Exposé,” Joseph Epstein quotes the German sociologist Georg Simmel already worrying a century ago that we moderns are destined to drift among “differentiated friendships,” missing out on an all-encompassing connection.

Turn from philosophizers to recent empirical surveys, and it’s clear the challenge of categorizing confidants remains as complex as ever. In January, just five months before the General Social Survey appeared, a phone survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project set out to assess the impact of Web involvement on real-world social networks. The study emerged with a notably big figure for what it termed “core ties”: a median number of 15 people with whom respondents said they had discussed important matters, with whom they were in frequent touch or from whom they got substantial help. Here was a three-pronged conception of core ties that roped in friendships across the Aristotelian spectrum, from the useful to the pleasurable and beyond, rather than distilling out just soul mates. Add in the median number of 16 weaker yet still “significant ties” that the Pew survey also counted, and the findings left Americans looking anything but socially isolated.

And now consider the fact that the General Social Survey finds that on average, individuals have only two close confidants. As we puzzle over what the decline means, perhaps we should be reassured that Americans seem clear-eyed about their connections. The study’s low figures may be stark testament that we value a deep bond when we find it and aren’t fooled when we don’t. When one-dimensional, functional relationships are ever more accessible, the desire to be known and to know another from all sides and from inside out may be lodged even deeper — and may thrive closer to home. A century ago, another philosopher surveying a modernizing world, George Santayana, had already concluded that “the tie that in contemporary society most nearly resembles the ancient ideal of friendship is a well-assorted marriage.” The General Social Survey data suggest an inner core that isn’t oppressively clannish but invites rising equality and diversity, narrow though it is. The percentage of people who include a spouse in their circle of closest confidants went from 30 percent in 1985 to almost 40 percent two decades later. And in 2004, 15 percent reported at least one confidant of another race, up from 9 percent in 1985. While to friend has become a frivolous verb, to bond might prove to be one that Americans are taking, if anything, more to heart than ever.

Ann Hulbert, a contributing writer, is the author of “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children.”

The context dependence of evolution.

Steve Jurvetson contends that evolved systems suffer from subsystem inscrutability. Of course, because context is king. Once the subsystem becomes context-dependent, that is, once its relationship with its context--the larger system that incorporates it--alters the nature of its function, which for all practical purposes occurs the moment it comes into being, its function becomes as much as a byproduct of the context as it is a product unto itself, and it cannot be removed without changing its function. Only the simplest of subsystems--those which essentially function autonomously to generate output with disregard for input--can be transferred from one complex system to another.

link to piece.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Is there anybody in there?

An excellent review in the Economist of the evolution of advertising business models as facilitated by the Internet.

Right now Google is operating under the premise of "If I am looking for something, that's the best time for it to find me."

The key now is how to convince people to spend more time looking.

link to piece.

The parsing of gratification?

What if one's sense of gratification comes from denying gratification of the self?

Enjoying life to the fullest may simply come down to framing.

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Self-control is the key to success

- David Brooks, New York Times Service

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

AROUND 1970, psychologist Walter Mischel launched a classic experiment. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn't ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows.

In videos of the experiment, you can see the children squirming, kicking, hiding their eyes -- desperately trying to exercise self-control so they can wait and get two marshmallows. Their performance varied widely. Some broke down and rang the bell within a minute. Others lasted 15 minutes.

The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores. They got into better colleges and had, on average, better adult outcomes. The children who rang the bell quickest were more likely to become bullies. They received worse teacher and parental evaluations 10 years later and were more likely to have drug problems at age 32.

The Mischel experiments are worth noting because people in the policy world spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve education, how to reduce poverty, how to make the most of the nation's human capital. But when policymakers address these problems, they come up with structural remedies: reduce class sizes, create more charter schools, increase teacher pay, mandate universal day care and try vouchers.

The results of these structural reforms are almost always disappointingly modest. Yet policymakers rarely ever probe deeper into problems and ask the core questions, such as how do we get people to master the sort of self-control that leads to success? To ask that question is to leave the policymakers' comfort zone -- which is the world of inputs and outputs, appropriations and bureaucratic reform -- and to enter the murky world of psychology and human nature.

Yet the Mischel experiments, along with everyday experience, tell us that self-control is essential. Young people who can delay gratification can sit through sometimes boring classes to get a degree. They can perform rote tasks in order to, say, master a language. They can avoid drugs and alcohol. For people without self-control skills, however, school is a series of failed ordeals. No wonder they drop out. Life is a parade of foolish decisions: teenage pregnancy, drug use, gambling, truancy and crime.

If you're a policymaker and you are not talking about core psychological traits such as delayed gratification skills, then you're just dancing around with proxy issues. The research we do have on delayed gratification tells us that differences in self-control skills are deeply rooted but also malleable. Differences in the ability to focus attention and exercise control emerge very early, perhaps as soon as nine months. But there is no consensus on how much of the ability to exercise self-control is hereditary and how much is environmental.

The ability to delay gratification, like most skills, correlates with socioeconomic status and parenting styles. Children from poorer homes do much worse on delayed gratification tests than children from middle-class homes. That's probably because children from poorer homes are more likely to have their lives disrupted by marital breakdown, violence, moving, etc. They think in the short term because there is no predictable long term.

The good news is that while differences in the ability to delay gratification emerge early and persist, that ability can be improved with conscious effort. Moral lectures don't work. Sheer willpower doesn't seem to work either. The children who resisted eating the marshmallow didn't stare directly at it and exercise iron discipline. On the contrary, they were able to resist their appetites because they were able to think about other things.

What works, says Jonathan Haidt, the author of "The Happiness Hypothesis," is creating stable, predictable environments for children, in which good behavior pays off -- and practice. Young people who are given a series of tests that demand self-control get better at it.

This pattern would be too obvious to mention if it weren't so largely ignored by educators and policymakers. Somehow we've entered a world in which we obsess over structural reforms and standardized tests, but skirt around the moral and psychological traits that are at the heart of actual success. Mischel tried to interest New York schools in programs based on his research. Needless to say, he found almost no takers.

A meme with a bullet.

What makes a meme sticky, and more importantly, worthy of sharing? Some irreverent (and not so irreverent) observations from the resident media curmudgeon at Slate.

link to piece.

It would be interesting to see the gender breakdown amongst those sharing the article--suspect it is almost entirely unilateral. If one wants a meme to disseminate, is it more productive to target it to the gender that is typically more adept at networking, and have the other gender learn about it purely via spillover?

The original Times article discussed in the Slate piece is here:

link to piece.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Globalizing the community.

The value of the community lies in fully leveraging the unique strengths of each individual. That is what mentoring enables--done properly, every person becomes a hub. It sustains the dignity of the senior and saves the junior from the casualties of inexperience.

The value of mentoring aside, the knowledge sharing capabilities of the Internet were made for this application--and because the credentials of the parties providing knowledge are established, the typical issues concerning trust are obviated.

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Euroscan

By Bruno Giussani

Going Global with Online Mentoring

An ambitious initiative sets out to change the face of online mentoring, using the latest low-cost or free Internet tools

Last winter Lucy Hooberman accepted a challenge. Five months later, from her house in London, she's trying to figure out how to best coordinate the 350-plus volunteers from around the world who have promised to mentor people from developing countries using the tools of the Internet.

The challenge was put forth by Chris Anderson, curator of the TED conferences. Anderson, a British publisher turned philanthropist who now runs TED as part of his New York-based Sapling Foundation, pledged $1,000 toward the most original commitment on Pledgebank.com, an innovative British Web site that helps organize groups of people around conditional pledges (i.e., "I commit to do this, but only if others will help").

Hooberman, whose day job is in New Media Innovation at the BBC, pledged to "mentor a minimum of two people in the developing world in the area of my skills base and expertise, for free, for a minimum of six months (in my free time), in person or via e-mail/Skype."" She added the following condition: "The mentoring connections will be established by a website and database that I am willing to take responsibility for creating—but only if 250 other people will mentor a minimum of two people in their skills."

A WAY TO HELP. Her pledge came at the end of 2005, a year that saw the G8 summit in Scotland, debt relief, the Live 8 concerts, Darfur, Bono's lobbying, and heightened media coverage of poverty. The year also, as Hooberman says, "gave us stark messages about global fragility": the tsunami, hurricanes, and earthquakes. "Humanitarian agencies could not always spend the money, and could not manage the amounts of volunteers who wanted to help out. But that did not stop the public's desire to help in some way."

Many people wanted to make their expertise, time, and experience available, so her pledge resonated with many: 350 people from all over Europe and around the world signed up before the pledge's closing date, offering a very broad set of skills. Even more joined afterward, and inquiries are still coming in.

In February, Hooberman hosted a gathering at the TED conference, an annual event in Monterey, Calif., that attracts top entrepreneurs and investors, Nobel-winning scientists, well-known architects and artists, and a crowd of high-profile innovators and doers. (Disclosure: I collaborated with TED in the past as a producer of their European conference TEDGLOBAL.) During that meeting, many ideas were offered on issues such as how to match mentors with mentees, how to offer both sides a safe and efficient environment in which to interact, what the practical and legal frameworks of the initiative should be, how to organize and distribute the work, and starting small versus starting big.

Kenya's Ory Okolloh made quite an impression, when she stood up and said, "If I'm here it's only thanks to my mentor" and told her story of getting from Nairobi to Harvard and returning to Africa with a law degree and the vision, tools, and intention to improve the state of her country. (Among other things, she is a blogger at www.kenyanpundit.com and just co-founded the political blog www.mzalendo.com .)

MENTORING PARTNERSHIPS. With a small group of "core pledgers," Hooberman has just about used her $1,000 to get the project started under the name Mentoring Worldwide, set up a blog to track its development and keep the discussion going (at mentoringworldwide.org), and has started defining the initiative and the mechanisms needed to make it work. "We want to do what we can from where we are, wherever we are: it is a personal and ethical response to living in an interdependent world; we want to build mentoring partnerships as individuals with individuals and institutions in the developing world," she wrote in her blog.

"Mentoring partnerships" is the operational concept behind Hooberman's project, and collaboration technology is the vehicle: This project will (and can only) run on principles of peer-to-peer collaboration, using cheap or free Internet tools (e.g., e-mail, Skype, blogs, wikis). But Hooberman isn't naive about the challenges.

"I'd love to think I could set this up without having to fund raise in the formal sense, and that we could develop through leveraging the know-how of the group as individuals and as a collective, but I don't believe that this will be a truly cooperative venture in that sense if we want to get it up and running soonish," she said gently during a recent meeting in London—meaning that most people, particularly the kind of people that go to TED, are very busy and only pledged to mentor, not to work on setting up the organization and mechanism.

IT TAKES ALL KINDS. While some will carry a bigger share of the project, at least in this initial phase, and the number of participants may decline over time, she has received a diverse set of offers of support: A world expert on peer-to-peer philosophy living in Northern Thailand, for example, did not pledge to mentor but offered a room in his house and access to an Internet-connected computer for local mentees. A busy advertising executive has delivered a range of logos for the embryonic organization. A U.S. software CEO is offering considerable time and resources to take the idea to the next stage. A techie is hosting the site and helping Hooberman figure out the best way to use the the newer collaborative Internet tools. This shows how multi-layered this project can become, tapping the resourcefulness of people eager to volunteer globally.

Mentoring is a long-established idea, and skills-sharing through the Internet has been tried before. But Mentoring Worldwide has a distinct character. In a recent blog entry, Hooberman wrote, "We are thinking big, but want to start small to test out a number of assumptions about what we can deliver and how, and what the expectation of our mentees might be."

Mentoring Worldwide might get going with only a fraction of those 350 volunteers, with a narrow target to start. But if Hooberman and her friends can figure out a clear and transparent process and a good plan for using those Internet tools efficiently, it may become a test bed not only for sharing knowledge, but also for exploring how to share knowledge, how new technology can (or can't) really help a new kind of international collaborative organization to start and function, how an unstructured group of well-intentioned people can (or can't) make something happen globally without getting lost in heavy bureaucracies.

TED conference talks available online.

TED is the well known technology entertainment and design conference that was founded by information guru Richard Saul Wurman (if you are not familiar with Wurman, he essentially coined the concepts of information architecture and filters) and is now maintained by media guru Chris Anderson, who originally launched Business 2.0 [not to be confused with long tail guru Chris Anderson]. Its main draw is the eclectic nature of the speakers invited, which theoretically leads to a witches' brew of knowledge cross-pollination. Whether this phenomenon actually occurs remains to be seen. Certainly there is little cross-pollination from a socioeconomic standpoint, given the several thousand dollar fee for attendance.

Witness the self-appointed intelligentsia:

link to page.

Staying put promotes information absorption.

If you move around a lot, consultants and jetsetters aside, your socioeconomic status likely precludes you from having much free time to stop and smell the airwaves.

It is no accident that big thinkers typically do so in positions of relative leisure and stability. Even those who are employed: Einstein was a patent clerk--not exactly back-breaking work (unless the chair upon which he sat happened to not be ergonomically correct; there are no biographic reports of lumbago to undermine this theory).

Not too many breakthroughs were first conjured in a coal mine.

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The Social Science Journal
Volume 43, Issue 2 , 2006
Pages 227-238

Length of residence and media usage

Robert H. Freymeyer

Department of Sociology, Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC 29325, USA

Available online 31 March 2006.

Abstract

This article uses data from the 2002 National Election Survey to investigate the relationship between length of residence and media use to consider whether recent movers might use the media as a source of information about their new communities. Results show that frequency of watching national news, watching local news, and reading a newspaper increases with length of residence. Additionally, respondents’ community involvement and sociodemographic characteristics influence these relationships. Older individuals who have more community interest and live in a place longer make greater use of available media. Better-educated individuals also read the paper more, but watch local news less. Thus, it seems, residentially mobile individuals tend not to use the media for information to aid their adjustment.

Article Outline

1. Statement of the problem
2. Data and methods
3. Plan of analysis
4. Analysis and findings
5. Conclusions
References



Residential mobility involves changing not just locations, but also social environments. These changes have a disruptive effect on many movers. Customs and norms appropriate in their place of origin no longer seem appropriate in their destination. Movers must learn about the ways of their new community. They need reliable information about conditions and opportunities in their new home. Media serve as one potential source of this information. Yet, although migrants need media for the information they provide, media use increases with community involvement, and community involvement increases over time. Longer-term residents, therefore, might be expected to use media more because of their greater community involvement. These competing forces suggest different predictions about the relationship between length of residence and media use. If recent migrants use the media as an information source, then media use should be higher for shorter-term residents. If, however, community involvement and interest shape media use, then media use should be inversely related to length of residence. This paper explores these competing views of media use.
1. Statement of the problem

Migration reduces friendship, kinship, and other associational ties (Kasarda & Janowitz, 1974; Sampson, 1988), as well as the influence that communities have on their residents’ attitudes and actions (Lee, Oropesa, & Kanan, 1994). Young people, in particular, frequently break family ties upon moving and develop ties to more impersonal secondary groups (Brown, 1988). Media, particularly local media, can assist new residents in connecting with new community institutions (Brown, 1988; Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974; Rumbaut, 1997; Shah, McLeod, & Yoon, 2001; Walker, 1999). The “uses and gratifications” approach to the study of media suggests that media are one resource that individuals use “to get information or advice for daily living, to provide a framework for one's day, [and] to prepare oneself culturally for the demands of upward mobility” (Katz et al., 1974, p. 20). Local newspapers, for instance, provide relatively comprehensive coverage of events occurring within a community. In fact, organizers of many public events want media to publicize their events (Oliver & Myers, 1999). Furthermore, local media aid in job placement and economic success (Putnam, 1995). Migrants interested in adapting to their new communities seem likely to use the media to aid this process.

Park (1929), one of the first sociologists to suggest media's integrative function, found people who read newspapers belonged to more community organizations. Newspapers replaced interpersonal, primary channels of communication that had operated in earlier, smaller communities. They transmitted important information, particularly for better-educated newcomers to aid assimilation.

Lazerfeld and Stanton (1949) changed the focus of media studies to a concern with “the gratifications that the mass media provide their audience” (Katz et al., 1974, p. 20). Walker (1999), building on earlier works, developed the informational approach to media studies emphasizing that audiences utilize media as an informational source to aid assimilation. Walker's work focused on immigrants who used information provided by media for successful adaptation. He examined Haitian immigrants living in Miami in the early 1990s. These immigrants had language and ethnic barriers greater than those faced by most internal migrants; yet, migrants who successfully assimilated used local media more.

Not all media have the same impacts on integration. “The uses and gratifications approach … assumes that uses of the media depend upon the sociological milieu of the audience: the structure of groups and context in which the audience is situated” (Carey & Kreiling, 1974, p. 227). Walker (1999), for example, found that both ethnic media and English-language media provided information for Haitian immigrants; however, those using English-language media, typically the better educated, had more success learning about their new culture and adapting to it. Furthermore, Baker (2000) reported the presence of Spanish media did not influence immigrants’ intention to seek naturalization. Listening to talk radio also had little bearing on political participation (Norris, 1996). So too in Britain, media had different impacts. Newton (1999) found that reading broadsheets had more influence on political mobilization than reading tabloids. Migrants likely use media that facilitate adaptation more than they use media that are less informative.

Of all media, television's impact on information transmittal/integration, perhaps, has been most debated. Much of recent debate grew out of Putnam, 1995 and Putnam, 2000. Putnam argued that increased television watching decreased social capital, defined as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (1995, p. 75). Similarly, Rumbaut (1997) suggested that television viewing had particularly harmful effects on immigrants’ children. These children's educational preferences and aspirations suffered from television watching.

Not all researchers have agreed that television has decreased social capital. In fact, Norris (2002), using data from the World Values Survey, found that countries with greater access to television had more social capital and social trust. Others have argued that the type of television watched, not amount, determined whether media's influence was positive. Uses and gratifications studies, for example, have found that seeking out information motivated individuals to watch the news (Poindexter & Conway, 2003). Additionally, watching news programs, particularly local broadcast news, positively related to community participation (Norris, 1996 and Shah et al., 2001). Watching public affairs programs also contributed to higher levels of social capital (Cappella, 2002). These types of shows should prove more useful to recent migrants seeking to learn about their new communities.

Newcomers, while they need information, may not have the necessary ties to their new community “to pay close attention to local issues in their daily newspapers and local broadcasts” (McLeod et al., 1996, p. 200). Migration disrupts involvement in many institutions and organizations (Putnam, 1995; Welch & Baltzell, 1984). Migration contributes, for example, to lower rates of political participation (Brown, 1988) and leads to more political independence (Gober, 1993). Migration also reduces religious participation (Bibby, 1997 and Finke, 1989; Wuthnow & Christiano, 1979). Furthermore, migration may disrupt media use, in spite of media's potential benefits.

Media have information useful for migrants. If migrants use media as a source of information, media usage should be higher for those who have recently moved. Movers, however, may not have enough involvement in their new community to recognize the value of media, particularly local media. Migration reduces social and political ties and newspaper readership (Poindexter & Conway, 2003). These reductions could lead to lower rates of use of all media among recent migrants. The first step of this research considers the relationship between length of residence and media use with data from the 2002 National Election Study.

Media's content and type also influence their use (Poindexter & Conway, 2003). Local newspapers and television news may provide more beneficial information to migrants than other media such as radio or television situation comedies (Kern, 1997 and Norris, 1996). This research considers three different kinds of media: newspaper reading, watching local television news, and watching national television news.1 “Newspapers and local broadcast news actively work to develop a local identity” (Shah et al., 2001, p. 471). Reading a local newspaper or watching local television news should have more potential benefits for newcomers to a community than watching national news (Oliver & Myers, 1999), although in times of crisis all television becomes important (Poindexter & Conway, 2003).

Two competing views are being proposed about the relationship between length of residence and media use. One view suggests recent movers have high levels of media use; they seek out information provided by media to become more involved. The second perspective argues that long-term residents use the media more since they have greater community involvement and this involvement stimulates media use. Much as the uses and gratifications model of mass communication suggests, context of the audience plays a role in media use (Carey & Kreiling, 1974); thus the need to examine community involvement's influence on media use. The second stage of this research examines how community involvement influences the relationship between length of residence and media use.

Education and related factors such as social class, income, and age also impact the use of various media (Peiser, 2000; Poindexter & Conway, 2003; Shah et al., 2001). For example, those who read a newspaper tend to be older, white, more affluent, and well educated, with education being the most important correlate even accounting for most of the racial difference (Norris, 1996, Stevenson, 1994 and Stone, 1994). Age has more influence on television news watching than does education: older individuals watch television news more. Many of these same sociodemographic factors affect migration (Weeks, 2002). The third stage of analysis introduces controls for relevant sociodemographic variables. Even with controls, Norris (1996) found that newspaper readership related to most measures of activism, although the relationships between some measures of activism and watching television news declined with controls.
2. Data and methods

Data for this study come from the 2002 American National Election Survey (NES). The Center for Political Studies of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducted the NES, under the general direction of Principal Investigators Burns and Kinder (2003). The 2002 NES sample consisted of 1807 respondents previously interviewed in the 2000 NES plus 921 new cases selected by random digit dialing. These respondents were contacted first in the six weeks before the 2002 November election. About 55% (N = 1,511) completed this pre-election interview. Respondents were re-interviewed in a post-election study during the month after the election. About 49% (N = 1,346) of the sample completed this interview. All interviews were conducted by telephone, and the sample was designed to be representative of the voting-aged population.

The NES asked respondents how long they had lived in the present community. Respondents reporting less than one year were coded as 0; those reporting between 13 and 18 months ago received a value of 1 (year), and those answering between 19 and 24 months were coded as 2, as well as those reporting two years. About 10% of the respondents reported they had lived in their current community all their life. These responses were assigned a value equal to the respondent's age. This measure has the reliability problems of any measure requiring memory of a past event. Perhaps, moving to a new place was a significant enough event that memory was reliable or that a verifiable record existed of the move date.

The NES also includes three measures of media use: (1) “How many days in the past week did you watch the national news on TV?” (2) “How many days in the past week did you watch the local TV news shows, either in the late afternoon or early-evening?” (3) “How many days in the past week did you read a daily newspaper?” These three measures allow for explicit comparison of the use of national news (e.g., question 1) with use of local news (e.g., questions 2 and 3). These measures also permit comparison between the print and broadcast media. Those using local print media would seem to have made the greatest attempt to obtain information about their new residence, but their reading may have been restricted by their transition to a new community or by low education.

As a measure of community involvement, the following question is used: “During the past 12 months, have you worked with other people to deal with some issue facing your community?”

The sociodemographic controls reflect factors related to media usage and residential mobility. Included are home ownership (0 = no, 1 = yes), marital status (0 = not married, 1 = married), age (in years), education (in seven categories), and race (0 = nonwhite, 1 = white).
3. Plan of analysis

The analysis considers whether recent movers made greater use of media than long-term residents to determine whether the relationship varied between media. Table 1 presents means and standard deviations for all variables. Table 2 reports bivariate correlations between all variables.

Table 1.

Means, standard deviations, minimum, and maximum for all variables
Mean Standard deviation Minimum Maximum
National news 3.75 2.73 0 7
Local news 3.91 2.66 0 7
Read newspaper 3.65 2.88 0 7
Length in community 21.96 19.00 0 90
Community involvementa 0.39 0.49 0 1
Own homeb 0.79 0.40 0 1
Marriedc 0.60 0.49 0 1
Educationd 4.51 1.58 1 7
Age 50.52 15.96 18 95
Racee 0.80 0.40 0 1

N = 1,212.
a Community involvement, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
b Own home, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
c Married, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
d Education, 1 = 8 grades or less, 2 = 9–11 grades, 3 = high school diploma, 4 = more than 12 years, no higher degree, 5 = junior or community level degree, 6 = BA degree, 7 = advanced degree.
e Race, 0 = nonwhite, 1 = white.

Table 2.

Correlation matrix for all variables
National news Local news Read paper Length in community Community involvement Own home Married Education Age Race
National news 1.00*
Local news 0.53* 1.00*
Read paper 0.19* 0.14* 1.00*
Length in community 0.19* 0.20* 0.20* 1.00*
Community involvementa 0.04 0.01 0.07* −0.04 1.00*
Own homeb 0.02 0.02 0.10* 0.11* 0.04 1.00*
Marriedc −0.04 −0.01 0.02 −0.02 0.06* 0.30* 1.00*
Educationd −0.03 −0.14* 0.14* −0.18* 0.23* 0.11* 0.10* 1.00*
Age 0.39* 0.25* 0.30* 0.49* −0.06* 0.17* −0.04 −0.10* 1.00*
Racee −0.02 −0.06* 0.11* 0.04 −0.05 0.16* 0.10* 0.07* 0.10* 1.00*
a Community involvement, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
b Own home, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
c Married, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
d Education, 1 = 8 grades or less, 2 = 9–11 grades, 3 = high school diploma, 4 = more than 12 years, no higher degree, 5 = junior or community level degree, 6 = BA degree, 7 = advanced degree.
e Race, 0 = nonwhite, 1 = white.
* p < .05.

For each of the three media types (watched local television news, watched national television news, and read the newspaper), Model I considers the bivariate relationships between length of residence and media use. Model II introduces community involvement into the equation. Model III also includes controls for several sociodemographic variables.

Measures of media use asked the number of days in the past week that media had been used. Number of days is a count variable. Using linear regression models “for count outcomes can result in inefficient, inconsistent, and biased estimates” (Long, 1997); therefore, negative binominal regression analysis is used for this analysis. The Likelihood Ratio test for dispersion indicates that negative binominal regression is preferred to the Poisson regression model (also used for count variables) for all three models considered. For every variable in each model, odds ratios (factor change values) are reported. These values indicate the factor the expected count in media use changes for a unit change in the independent variable, holding all other variables constant (Long, 1997). Also reported on the bottom line of Table 3 are discrete change values that indicate how much predicted media use would change between someone who has just moved (minimum) and someone who has lived in the city all of his/her life (maximum), if all other variables are at their means.

Table 3.

Odds ratios from negative binomial regression analysis of media usage
National news Local news Read paper
Model I Model II Model III Model I Model II Model III Model I Model II Model III
Length in community 1.007* 1.007* 1.000 1.007* 1.007* 1.003* 1.008* 1.008* 1.004*
Community involvementa 1.072 1.110* 1.028 1.076 1.142* 1.112*
Own homeb 0.926 0.982 1.017
Marriedc 1.009 1.029 1.014
Educationd 1.003 0.954* 1.088*
Age 1.020* 1.009* 1.014*
Racee 0.901 0.887* 1.177*
Constant 1.166 1.138 0.386 1.207 1.196 1.092 1.108 1.051 −0.088
Predicted change from min → maxf 2.66 2.69 −0.14 2.78 2.80 0.98 3.19 3.26 1.34
a Community involvement, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
b Own home, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
c Married, 0 = no, 1 = yes.
d Education, 1 = 8 grades or less, 2 = 9–11 grades, 3 = high school diploma, 4 = more than 12 years, no higher degree, 5 = junior or community level degree, 6 = BA degree, 7 = advanced degree.
e Race, 0 = nonwhite, 1 = white.
f Average absolute change in use of media type (in days) between those who have just moved to an area and those who have lived in their city the longest, holding other variables at their mean.
* Significant, p < .05.

4. Analysis and findings

Results from Model I show that media use increases with length of residence for watching national news, watching local news, and reading a newspaper (see Table 3). Each yearly increase in length of residence slightly increases the odds of media use. Living in a community an additional year increases the odds of watching the national news by a factor of .007, of watching the local news by a factor of .007, and of reading a newspaper by a factor of .008 (all statistically significant). While these probabilities are small, over a period of years media use could increase substantially. These media do not seem to function to aid recent movers’ assimilation.

To examine potential change over time, discrete change values are calculated (last row of Table 3). These values show the average absolute change between those who have just moved to an area and those who have lived in their community the longest. Results again show that life-long residents use each of the three types of media more than those who have just moved. Living in the same city all of one's life as compared to just moving there, increases expected national news watching on average by 2.7 days, expected local news watching by 2.8 days, and expected newspaper reading by 3.2 days. Length of residence has the greatest impact on newspaper reading. Moving reduces newspaper reading more than broadcast media watching.

Model II adds community involvement to the analysis. Adding this variable does not alter the relationship between length of residence and media use for any of the media examined: usage still increases with longer residence. Yet, community involvement has different impacts on broadcast and print media. It does not relate to the amount of television news watched (net of other factors). Being involved in the community does, however, have a significant relationship with newspaper reading: those involved are 14% more likely to read the paper than those not involved.

The addition of community involvement to the model actually increases the range of average expected values slightly. Expected differences in media use between recent movers and life-long community residents are slightly under three for watching the television news (2.69 for national news and 2.80 for local news). For reading the newspaper, expected differences are 3.26 days between those who have just moved and those who have never moved. Regardless of whether one is involved in his/her community or not, residential mobility reduces chances of media use. Movers do not use the media as much as long-term residents, and the expected differences are greater for print media than broadcast media. Furthermore, media use does not depend on community involvement, as measured in this study. Length of residence has an independent impact on likelihood of media use.

Model III includes the following additional variables: home ownership, marital status, education, age, and race. With the introduction of these controls, the original relationship between length of residence and media use becomes insignificant for national news watching and is reduced for watching the local news and reading the paper. Furthermore, the discrete change values for all media are reduced substantially. Length of residence influences media use partially because of the types of people who move and who watch news and read papers, but length of residence still has an independent impact on watching local television news and reading the newspaper. These two media consciously focus on local issues, and length of residence influences their use. National news watching, however, is shaped more by age. With the sociodemographic controls in the model, national news watching also is influenced by community involvement. Older people who are involved in their community watch the national news more; their time of residence in the community does not significantly influence their national news watching.

Of the sociodemographic variables, age plays a particularly important role. It is significantly related to all three media types. Older respondents live in a community longer, and they have greater odds of using media. Education also relates to local news watching and reading the newspaper. Better-educated individuals read the paper more, but watch local news less. Use of these two media is also influenced by race. Nonwhites are more likely to watch local news, but less likely to read the newspaper, contrary to what Stone (1994) reported earlier. Neither home ownership nor marital status, both possible indicators of community ties, has a significant relationship with any media type. Movers, in general, do not take advantage of information provided by the media; rather media use increases with age and length of residence.
5. Conclusions

Individuals use the media for many different purposes and receive many gratifications from this use (Katz et al., 1974). People moving into a new community would seem likely to benefit from information provided by media, especially local media, to aid in their adjustment. Current findings suggest, however, at the beginning of the 21st century, movers are not taking advantage of this opportunity. Neither the bivariate, nor the multivariate analysis, suggests that recent movers use media to gain information about their new communities. Residentially mobile individuals read the newspaper and watch local and national news less frequently than long-term residents. Furthermore, these relationships remain even after controlling for community involvement and other sociodemographic variables. Residential mobility rather than facilitating the use of media, restricts their usage.

Using the local media may help in assimilation (Walker, 1999) and in increasing social capital (Norris, 2002), but migrants, in general, do not take advantage of these opportunities. Perhaps local newspapers and television stations could make greater efforts to market to those who have recently moved. Media might also be proactive in helping establish ties (both local and national) required for community interest and media use. These community ties may be a prerequisite for paying attention to local media (Stamm, Emig, & Hesse, 1997). Increasing exposure to local newscasts and increased paper reading over time may also suggest that destinations impact migrants, perhaps leading them to become more like those already there.

Variations exist between the different types of media studied. Length of residence has more influence on the more locally oriented media (i.e., newspaper and local news), than it has on the national media. Living in the community longer increases the odds of using local media. So too, community involvement increases the likelihood of reading the newspaper; yet, community involvement does not influence the amount of local television news watching and actually increases the probability of watching national news. Clearly broadcast and print media differ, as do local and national broadcast media.

Media use and the gratifications derived from the media also depend upon an individual's social conditions (Carey & Kreiling, 1974), even if the residentially mobile are not using them as might seem constructive. Part of the reason why residentially mobile individuals do not use the media is because of their age. Younger people are more likely to move (Weeks, 2002) and as current results further document, are less likely to use the media (Peiser, 2000; Poindexter & Conway, 2003; Stevenson, 1994 and Stone, 1994). Older people read the paper and listen to national and local news more than younger people. Older individuals could have more time for media or they could have more ties to the community. Community involvement does increase newspaper reading and, with controls, increases national news watching.

Diverse people use different media differently. Age has a strong influence on television news watching (Stevenson, 1994) while education exerts more influence on newspaper reading. Education has a positive influence on newspaper reading while not being significantly related to watching national news. Lower educated individuals do, however, have a tendency to watch local news more than higher educated people. “The newspaper remains the medium of the educated individual” (Stevenson, 1994, p. 29), even in 2002.

Current findings also show a race effect on newspaper reading, contrary to earlier findings from a study of Memphis (Stone, 1994). Being white greatly increases the probability of reading a newspaper in this national sample. It also decreases likelihood of watching the local news.

This study documents that having recently moved to a community decreases the odds of using the media. This finding suggests that media are not functioning to provide information to aid in movers’ assimilation. Findings also show that age, education, race, and community involvement continue to influence the likelihood of using some media. Further studies need to investigate the changing nature of the influence of these factors, particularly race, on the uses and gratifications of the media.

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another excellent post from John Sviokla.

John Sviokla, ex-Harvard Business School professor, is the rare pundit who consistently delivers original insights. Accordingly, he was denied tenure. All of his blog posts are must-reads. The latest concerns the importance of context in conveying meaning--seems obvious, right? Not after you read Sviokla's take.

link to post.

The rules have definitely changed.

All we now ask is that you remember that we exist. Forget about any value proposition. Just know that we are here if you feel like trying us, OK?

---

July 10, 2006

You're Supposed to Add Water to Your Folgers?

By STUART ELLIOTT

For decades, the Procter & Gamble Company was perhaps the most staid and traditional national advertiser, rarely approving advertising that deviated from tried-and-true formulas. Now, as Procter begins exploring the wild world of so-called viral or word-of-mouth marketing, seeking to reach younger consumers who live online, eyebrows are being raised all over cyberspace.

For the last two months, Procter has been distributing a viral video clip for Folgers coffee, which can be watched on Web sites like adcritic.com, boardsmag.com, buzzpatrol.com and youtube.com. The clip presents a daffily skewed take on conventional coffee commercials, featuring a horde of impossibly cheerful people rampaging through a town.

The mob, dressed in yellow, sings a bizarre jingle titled "Happy Morning!" that includes lyrics like "You can sleep when you are dead." The youth-oriented effort has its own Web site (toleratemornings.com), where the clip resides with wake-up calls, mock e-mail messages and a make-believe "boss tracker."

It all comes across like a pointed send-up of the mainstream campaign for Folgers, which uses a jingle best known by this line: "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup." But that is not the goal, said Marnie Kain Cacossa, a senior vice president and global equity director for Folgers at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, the agency owned by the Publicis Groupe that has long created Folgers ads.

"The yellow people are intended to personify the morning itself," Ms. Kain Cacossa said, adding: "For this consumer, who is often up late into the night, morning comes too soon. Folgers is an ally, which helps you get through that time that's unquestionably the most challenging of your day."

Tami Yamashita, associate marketing director for Folgers at Procter in Cincinnati, said the feedback to the campaign "has been quite positive." There have been no complaints about the cheeky jingle or offbeat look of the clip, said Ms. Yamashita, who described it as "a playful and engaging approach."

What could be next? Perhaps a viral video clip for Crest toothpaste that revives the classic Mad magazine spoof of the famous "Look ma, no cavities!" campaign: A young punk mouthing the slogan grins widely, revealing that all his teeth have been knocked out. STUART ELLIOTT

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Justifying the plodder.

What Kind of Genius Are You?

A new theory suggests that creativity comes in two distinct types – quick and dramatic, or careful and quiet.

By Daniel H. Pink

In the fall of 1972, when David Galenson was a senior economics major at Harvard, he took what he describes as a “gut” course in 17th-century Dutch art. On the first day of class, the professor displayed a stunning image of a Renaissance Madonna and child. “Pablo Picasso did this copy of a Raphael drawing when he was 17 years old,” the professor told the students. “What have you people done lately?” It’s a question we all ask ourselves. What have we done lately? It rattles us each birthday. It surfaces whenever an upstart twentysomething pens a game-changing novel or a 30-year-old tech entrepreneur becomes a billionaire. The question nagged at Galenson for years. In graduate school, he watched brash colleagues write dissertations that earned them quick acclaim and instant tenure, while he sat in the library meticulously tabulating 17th- and 18th-century indentured-servitude records. He eventually found a spot on the University of Chicago’s Nobelist-studded economics faculty, but not as a big-name theorist. He was a colonial economic historian – a utility infielder on a team of Hall of Famers.

Now, however, Galenson might have done something at last, something that could provide hope for legions of late bloomers everywhere. Beavering away in his sunny second-floor office on campus, he has scoured the records of art auctions, counted entries in poetry anthologies, tallied images in art history textbooks – and then sliced and diced the numbers with his econometric ginsu knife. Applying the fiercely analytic, quantitative tools of modern economics, he has reverse engineered ingenuity to reveal the source code of the creative mind.

What he has found is that genius – whether in art or architecture or even business – is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. “Conceptual innovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers. Galenson maintains that this duality – conceptualists are from Mars, experimentalists are from Venus – is the core of the creative process. And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, from painters and poets to economists.

After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tender age of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: a unified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. What have you done lately?

Galenson’s quest to unlock the secret of innovation began almost by accident. In the spring of 1997, he decided to buy a painting, a small gouache by the American artist Sol LeWitt. But before he put down his money, he called a friend in the art world, who told him that the price was too high. We’re selling that size for less, she said.

“I thought, this is like carpet,” Galenson tells me one afternoon in his office. Size determines price? His friend hadn’t even seen the painting. What about when the piece was created, what stage it represented in the artist’s career? His friend said that didn’t matter. “I thought, it has to matter.”

Galenson was right, of course. Art isn’t carpet. And age does matter. The relationship between age and other economic variables was at the foundation of Galenson’s academic work. His first book examined the relationship of age to productivity among indentured servants in colonial America. His second book looked at the relationship of age to the price of slaves. “It was the same regression,” Galenson says, still amazed years after the discovery. “A hedonic wage regression!”

So he bought the painting and set out to answer questions about art the way any LeWitt-loving economist would.

Galenson collected data, ran the numbers, and drew conclusions. He selected 42 contemporary American artists and researched the auction prices for their works. Then, controlling for size, materials, and other variables, he plotted the relationship between each artist’s age and the value of his or her paintings. On the vertical axis, he put the price each painting fetched at auction; on the horizontal axis, he noted the age at which the artist created the work. When he tacked all 42 charts to his office wall, he saw two distinct shapes.

For some artists, the curve hit an early peak followed by a gradual decline. People in this group created their most valuable works in their youth – Andy Warhol at 33, Frank Stella at 24, Jasper Johns at 27. Nothing they made later ever reached those prices. For others, the curve was more of a steady rise with a peak near the end. Artists in this group produced their most valuable pieces later in their careers – Willem de Kooning at 43, Mark Rothko at 54, Robert Motherwell at 72. But their early work wasn’t worth much.

Galenson decided to test the robustness of his conclusions about artists’ life cycles by looking at variables other than price. Art history textbooks presumably reflect the consensus among scholars about which works are important. So he and his research assistants gathered up textbooks and began tabulating the illustrations as a way of inferring importance. (The methodology is analogous to Google’s PageRank system: The more books that “linked” to a particular piece of art, the more important it was assumed to be.)

When Galenson’s team correlated the frequency of an image with the age at which the artist created it, the same two contrasting graphs reappeared. Some artists were represented by dozens of pieces created in their twenties and thirties but relatively few thereafter. For other artists, the reverse was true.

Galenson, a classic library rat, began reading biographies of the artists and accounts by art critics to add some qualitative meat to these quantitative bones. And then the theory came alive. These two patterns represented two types of artists – indeed, two types of humans.

The insight was so powerful that Galenson soon turned his full attention to the subject. He elaborated his theory in 24 additional papers and set down his findings in a pair of books, Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art, published in 2001, and Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, published earlier this year.

Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne are the archetypes of the Galensonian universe. Picasso was a conceptual innovator. He broke with the past to invent a revolutionary style, Cubism, that jolted art in a new direction. His Demoiselles d’Avignon, regarded by critics as the most important painting of the past 100 years, appears in more art history textbooks than any other 20th-century piece. Picasso completed Demoiselles when he was 26. He lived into his nineties and produced many other well-known works, of course, but Galenson’s analysis shows that of all the Picassos that appear in textbooks, nearly 40 percent are those he completed before he turned 30.

Cézanne was an experimental innovator. He progressed in fits and starts. Working endlessly to perfect his technique, he moved slowly toward a goal that he never fully understood. As a result, he bloomed late. The highest-priced Cézannes are paintings he made in the year he died, at age 67. Cézanne is well represented in art history textbooks; he’s the third-most-illustrated French artist of the 20th century. But of all his reproduced images, just 2 percent are from his twenties. Sixty percent were completed after he turned 50, and he painted more than one-third during his sixties.

Picasso and Cézanne represent radically different approaches to creation. Picasso thought through his works carefully before he put brush to paper. Like most conceptualists, he figured out in advance what he was trying to create. The underlying idea was what mattered; the rest was mere execution. The hallmark of conceptualists is certainty. They know what they want. And they know when they’ve created it. Cézanne was different. He rarely preconceived a work. He figured out what he was painting by actually painting it. “Picasso signed virtually everything he ever did immediately,” Galenson says. “Cézanne signed less than 10 percent.”

Experimentalists never know when their work is finished. As one critic wrote of Cézanne, the realization of his goal “was an asymptote toward which he was forever approaching without ever quite reaching.”

Galenson later applied his methodology to poetry. He counted the poems that appear in major anthologies and recorded the age at which the poet wrote each entry. Once again, conceptual poets like T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Sylvia Plath, each of whom made sudden breaks from convention and emphasized abstract ideas over visual observations, were early achievers. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at 23 and “The Wasteland” at 34. Pound published five volumes of poetry before he turned 30. On the other hand, experimental poets like Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams, whose work is grounded in concrete images and everyday language, took years to mature. For example, both Pound and Frost lived into their eighties. But by the time Pound turned 40, he had essentially exhausted his creative output. Of his anthologized poems, 85 percent are from his twenties and thirties. By comparison, Frost got a late start. He has more poems in anthologies than any other American poet, but he wrote 92 percent of them after his 40th birthday.

On and on it goes. Conceptualist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby – light on character development, heavy on symbolism – when he was 29. Experimentalist Mark Twain frobbed around with different writing styles and formats and wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at 50. Conceptualist Maya Lin redefined our notion of national monuments while still a college student; experimentalist Frank Lloyd Wright created Fallingwater when he was 70.

The theory even applies to economists. Over lunch at the University of Chicago’s faculty club, Galenson tells me the story of Paul Samuelson, one of the most renowned economists of the last century. No shrinking violet, Samuelson titled his dissertation “Foundations of Economic Analysis.” As a 25-year- old, he sought to reinvent the entire field – and later won a Nobel Prize for ideas he came up with as a grad student. Swift, deductive, certain. That’s a conceptual economist.

An experimental economist is someone like … Galenson. He progresses more quietly, more inductively, step- by-careful-step. And he often sails into the winds of indifference – from the art world, which believes that creativity is too elusive for econometric analysis, and from colleagues who can’t comprehend why he’s wasting his time with picture books. At one point, he leans over his chicken sandwich and tells me quietly and in mild horror, “I don’t have a colleague who knows a Manet from a Monet.”

Yet Galenson, whose parents were both economists, pushes on, ever approaching the asymptote. “Most people in economics do their best work before the age of 35. And I was constantly irritated that these guys were getting ahead of me,” Galenson says. “But from very early in my career, I knew I could do really good work. I didn’t know exactly how, and I didn’t know when. I just had this vague feeling that my work was going to improve.”

The most-reproduced 19th-century work in US and European art history texts is Georges Seurat’s Sunday on La Grande Jatte. The painting, completed in Paris in 1886, now hangs on the second floor of the Art Institute of Chicago. One morning in April, I visit the museum with Galenson to look at this and other masterpieces.

Walking the floors of a museum with David Galenson is a treat. He is astonishingly well informed about art. For nearly every painting I point to, he accurately pinpoints the year it was made, tells me its backstory, and describes something my pedestrian eyes haven’t noticed. He is an erudite, insightful guide who keeps things entertaining with salty asides. “Monet had a lot of balls,” he explains in one gallery. “Renoir was a very peculiar guy,” he says later. Several times during our four-hour journey through the museum, tourists and schoolteachers sidle up to eavesdrop on his commentary.

Galenson threads his small frame through the swarm of visitors gathered in front of La Grande Jatte, considers it for a moment, and then launches into an explanation of why this artist was the quintessential conceptual innovator. “Seurat starts off at the official academy,” Galenson says. “He goes and finds the Impressionists, and he works with them. But he’s a very nerdy guy. He’s sort of a proto-scientist, and he wants to be systematic.” Seurat knew about recent discoveries on optical perception – including that people perceive a hue more vividly when it’s paired with its opposite on the color wheel. So he broke from the Impressionists to study the science. He made dozens of preparatory studies for the painting, then executed it with scientific precision.

As Galenson explains, “This guy comes along and says, ‘Look, Impressionism has been all the rage. But these guys are unsystematic, they’re casual. I’m going to make a scientific, progressive art. And this is going to be the prototype of the new art. In the future, everyone will paint scientifically.’” Seurat was 25. “This is his dissertation, basically. This is like ‘Foundations of Economic Analysis,’” Galenson tells me. “It’s like Samuelson saying, ‘I’m going to unite all of economics.’ Seurat is saying, ‘We’re discovering the underlying principles of representation.’ One of them is the systematic use of color. And this is the masterpiece.” La Grande Jatte changed the practice of nearly every painter of its time.

Alas, this is the only painting for which Seurat is remembered – in part, because he died five years after completing it. But that would be the case even had he lived far longer, Galenson maintains. “He did the most important work of his generation; he couldn’t have done it again. There’s no law you can’t do it again. But once you’ve written Gatsby, it’s very unlikely you’re going to outdo it.” (Indeed, Fitzgerald went on to write two more novels, one published posthumously, but neither approached the importance of The Great Gatsby.)

We meander through the museum and stop awhile in Gallery 238, which includes two paintings by Jackson Pollock. Galenson gestures toward the first, The Key, done in 1946, when Pollock was 34 years old. It looks like a child’s drawing – thick lines, crayony colors, underwhelming. “Pollock was a really bad artist at this point,” Galenson says.

Nearby is another Pollock, Greyed Rainbow, a large and explosive work done in 1953. It’s spectacular. Pollock was an experimental innovator who spent two decades tinkering, and this painting is a triumph of that process. To paint it, he laid the canvas on the floor, splattered it with paint, walked around it, tacked it to the wall, looked at it, put it back on the ground, splattered it with more paint, and so on. “This painting is full of innovations,” Galenson says, “but Pollock arrived here by trial and error. He was a slow developer.”

“Take a few steps back,” Galenson directs me. “If you were to describe this to somebody and see the jagged edges, you might say this is a really agitated painting. If you had this in your house, would it make you nervous?”

No, I answer.

“No. It’s perfectly resolved. This is a great visual artist making a great work,” Galenson says. “He didn’t start this way.”

We walk back to The Key. “Look at this thing,” Galenson says. “It’s a piece of crap. If that weren’t by a famous artist, it wouldn’t be here.”

“Seurat died at 31,” Galenson reminds me. “If Pollock had died at 31, you never would have heard of him.”

Galenson’s theory of artistic life cycles is hardly bulletproof. Picasso, the marquee youthful innovator, painted his incomparable condemnation of the Spanish Civil War, Guernica, at the creaky age of 56. Is that somehow an exception? Sylvia Plath, a prolific conceptualist poet, did extraordinary work in her twenties but committed suicide in her early thirties. Couldn’t she have continued innovating if she’d lived? Philip Roth won a National Book Award for Goodbye, Columbus in his twenties and a Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral in his sixties. Where does he belong?

Galenson recognizes the limits of dogmatic duality. In his later papers, as well as in the book he published this year, he has refined his theory to make it less binary. He now talks of a continuum – with extreme conceptual innovators at one end, extreme experimental innovators at the other, and moderates in the middle. He allows that people can change camps over the course of a career, but he thinks it’s difficult. And he acknowledges that he’s charting tendencies, not fixed laws.

Just because a theory isn’t perfect, though, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. What Galenson has done – and what might deliver the recognition that bypassed him in his youth – is to identify two significant gaps in our understanding of the world and of ourselves.

The first gap exists within his own field. Galenson mentions that his professional colleagues scratch their heads over his research. “It doesn’t fit immediately into what economists do,” he tells me. “The word creativity won’t appear in the index of an economics textbook.” Then, ever the empiricist, he rises from his chair, grabs a textbook off a shelf, and shows me the lacuna in the end pages.

That’s a serious omission. Although Galenson has limited his analysis mostly to artists, he believes the pattern he’s uncovered also applies to science, technology, and business. Economic activity is all about creation – even more so today, as advanced economies shed routine work and gain advantage through innovation and ingenuity.

If the link between age and creative capacity applies outside the bounds of the arts, then every economic institution – universities, companies, governments – should take note. Galenson’s ideas may yield clues about how to foster fresh thinking in a wide range of organizations, industries, and disciplines. If nurturing innovators is an economic imperative, the real peculiarity isn’t that Galenson is studying creativity; it’s that other economists aren’t.

Which leads to the second gap. Consider the word genius. “Since the Renaissance, genius has been associated with virtuosos who are young.

The idea is that you’re born that way – it’s innate and it manifests itself very young,” Galenson says. But that leaves the vocabulary of human possibility incomplete. “Who’s to say that Virginia Woolf or Cézanne didn’t have an innate quality that simply had to be nourished for 40 or 50 years before it bloomed?” The world exalts the young turks – the Larrys and the Sergeys, the Picassos and the Samuelsons. And it should. We need those brash, certain, paradigm-busting youthful conceptualists. We should give them free rein to do bold work and avoid saddling them with rules and bureaucracy.

But we should also leave room for those of us who have, er, avoided peaking too early, whose most innovative days may lie ahead. Nobody would have heard of Jackson Pollock had he died at 31. But the same would be true had Pollock given up at 31. He didn’t. He kept at it. We need to look at that more halting, less certain fellow and perhaps not write him off too early, give him a chance to ride the upward curve of middle age.

Of course, not every unaccomplished 65-year-old is some undiscovered experimental innovator. This is a universal theory of creativity, not a Viagra for sagging baby boomer self-esteem. It’s no justification for laziness or procrastination or indifference. But it might bolster the resolve of the relentlessly curious, the constantly tinkering, the dedicated tortoises undaunted by the blur of the hares. Just ask David Galenson.

Conceptualists

Many geniuses peak early, creating their masterwork at a tender age ...

LITERATURE: The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Age 29

PAINTING: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Pablo Picasso
Age 26

FILMMAKING: Citizen Kane
Orson Welles
Age 26

ARCHITECTURE: The Vietnam War Memorial
Maya Lin
Age 23

MUSIC: The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Mozart
Age 30

Experimentalists

... while others bloom late, doing their best work after lifelong tinkering.

LITERATURE: Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
Age 50

PAINTING: Château Noir
Paul Cézanne
Age 64

FILMMAKING: Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock
Age 59

ARCHITECTURE: Fallingwater
Frank Lloyd Wright
Age 70

MUSIC: Symphony No. 9
Ludwig van Beethoven
Age 54

Contributing editor Daniel H. Pink (dp@danpink.com) is the author of A Whole New Mind.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Quality, not quantity.

Joe Robinson
Vacation Advocate, Santa Monica, Calif.

By Jennifer Drapkin

Americans take fewer days off than the Japanese, Chinese, British and all continental Europeans. Journalist Joe Robinson, founder of the group Work to Live, which advocates more generous vacations and a U.S. minimum paid leave law, is trying to change that.

Are work hours in the United States getting longer or shorter?

Longer. Almost 40 percent of Americans are working 50 hours a week. And as for vacations, people may have two weeks or a week on paper, but many don't take it. There's too much pressure to stay on the job. Some companies have eliminated vacations completely.

But can't hard work be a source of pride?

I hear that all the time: "That's what makes this country great." It is a myth we have tricked ourselves into believing. The Dutch, the French, the Norwegians, the Belgians and the Irish are more productive per hour than we are, even with their four- and five-week vacations. We are number one in terms of productivity per person only because of all the overtime we do. And that's the number we count.

But isn't that the most important number?

It depends on your values. What is a gross national product when you don't have a life? A few years ago, the Norwegians found that they were 14 percent more productive than we are. So they elected to take more time off.

Are we really so different from the rest of the world?

Within the past year England added a week to its annual vacation policy. New Zealand added a week the year before. The Chinese have three weeks—Golden Weeks. Americans have a suspicion of leisure that goes back to the Puritan work ethic: idle hands are the devil's hands.

Wouldn't a minimum paid leave law suppress wages and make things more expensive?
No, if anything, it would raise the bar on the treatment of employees. You would have healthier employees who would lower costs for employers. People made the same argument in the 1930s about Social Security and the minimum wage.

What are you working on right now?

Through the group Take Back Your Time, we put together an agenda calling for three-week paid minimum leave and family-leave. We would also like to make Election Day a holiday. We've had a great reception from staff of congresspeople. Political consultants think that the issue of time and how we don't have it anymore to spend with our families is going to be a big issue in the upcoming election. It's really a family values issue.

Your book, Work To Live, is dedicated to your parents and the vacations you took together.

We got in this old Ford station wagon and drove around the American West and went to campgrounds and saw the great national parks and bought tacky souvenirs. Those are the times from childhood that I remember most.

Value-subtracted proposition.

link to to original piece.

KAI RYSSDAL: There's going to be a memorial service for Ken Lay Sunday in Aspen, Colo. His family announced this morning the former Enron chairman will be buried there. Near the vacation home he owned. Services will be private. Family only. But commentator and consumer advocate Jamie Court says Lay's legacy will stay with us all.

JAMIE COURT: Ken Lay was one of the pioneers of a simple proposition. Anything can be exploited as a commodity.

The more badly the public needs a resource, say energy or water or even bandwidth, the more cash to be made.

And the spoils go to the trader who can engineer the highest price.

Today, this vision is the operating principle from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.

Take trading in water. Lay's Enron was a trailblazer.

Buying up scarce water rights and privatizing public water systems has since become a boom business for the likes of Vivendi, Bechtel, and American International Group.

In the post-Lay world, American inhibitions are evaporating against turning the most basic necessity of life over to profiteers.

Lay was also one of the first to propose trading Internet bandwidth access as a commodity.

Lay's vision of the Internet advanced just last week in the US Senate. The federal Telecommunications Deregulation Act will turn the Internet from a freeway into a private toll road.

AT&T and Verizon will commoditize access and charge "congestion fees" to create faster access for customers who pay more.

It's the same principle as those so-called congestion fees Enron extorted from Californians to keep their electricity flowing.

For three decades, Lay crusaded to turn the public electricity grid over to private traders. The traders managed traffic and charged tolls.

Ripped-off grandmothers in California paid the price for Enron traders' greed.

But we still haven't learned.

Despite California's evidence of gross market manipulation, the push for electricity deregulation isn't dead yet in America.

Ken Lay's spirit will be with us until Americans decide that there are some resources too precious to be put up for sale to the highest bidder.

RYSSDAL: Jamie Court is president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A question of degree.

July 9, 2006

The New Gender Divide

At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust

By TAMAR LEWIN

Nearing graduation, Rick Kohn is not putting much energy into his final courses.

"I take the path of least resistance," said Mr. Kohn, who works 25 hours a week to put himself through the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. "This summer, I looked for the four easiest courses I could take that would let me graduate in August."

It is not that Mr. Kohn, 24, is indifferent to education. He is excited about economics and hopes to get his master's in the field. But the other classes, he said, just do not seem worth the effort.

"What's the difference between an A and a B?" he asks. "Either way, you go on to the next class."

He does not see his female classmates sharing that attitude. Women work harder in school, Mr. Kohn believes. "The girls care more about their G.P.A. and the way they look on paper," he said.

A quarter-century after women became the majority on college campuses, men are trailing them in more than just enrollment.

Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelor's degrees — and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years. Men also get worse grades than women.

And in two national studies, college men reported that they studied less and socialized more than their female classmates.

Small wonder, then, that at elite institutions like Harvard, small liberal arts colleges like Dickinson, huge public universities like the University of Wisconsin and U.C.L.A. and smaller ones like Florida Atlantic University, women are walking off with a disproportionate share of the honors degrees.

It is not that men are in a downward spiral: they are going to college in greater numbers and are more likely to graduate than two decades ago.

Still, men now make up only 42 percent of the nation's college students. And with sex discrimination fading and their job opportunities widening, women are coming on much stronger, often leapfrogging the men to the academic finish.

"The boys are about where they were 30 years ago, but the girls are just on a tear, doing much, much better," said Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington.

Take Jen Smyers, who has been a powerhouse in her three years at American University in Washington.

She has a dean's scholarship, has held four internships and three jobs in her time at American, made the dean's list almost every term and also led the campus women's initiative. And when the rest of her class graduates with bachelor's degrees next year, Ms. Smyers will be finishing her master's.

She says her intense motivation is not so unusual. "The women here are on fire," she said.

The gender differences are not uniform. In the highest-income families, men 24 and under attend college as much as, or slightly more than, their sisters, according to the American Council on Education, whose report on these issues is scheduled for release this week.

Young men from low-income families, which are disproportionately black and Hispanic, are the most underrepresented on campus, though in middle-income families too, more daughters than sons attend college. In recent years the gender gap has been widening, especially among low-income whites and Hispanics.

When it comes to earning bachelor's degrees, the gender gap is smaller than the gap between whites and blacks or Hispanics, federal data shows.

All of this has helped set off intense debate over whether these trends show a worrisome achievement gap between men and women or whether the concern should instead be directed toward the educational difficulties of poor boys, black, white or Hispanic.

"Over all, the differences between blacks and whites, rich and poor, dwarf the differences between men and women within any particular group," says Jacqueline King, a researcher for the American Council on Education's Center for Policy Analysis and the author of the forthcoming report.

Differences Seen Early

Still, across all race and class lines, there are significant performance differences between young men and women that start before college.

High school boys score higher than girls on the SAT, particularly on the math section. Experts say that is both because the timed multiple-choice questions play to boys' strengths and because more middling female students take the test. Boys also score slightly better on the math and science sections of national assessment tests. On the same assessments, 12th-grade boys, even those with college-educated parents, do far worse than girls on reading and writing.

Faced with applications and enrollment numbers that tilt toward women, some selective private colleges are giving men a slight boost in admissions. On other campuses the female predominance is becoming noticeable in the female authors added to the reading lists and the diminished dating scene.

And when it gets to graduation, differences are evident too.

At Harvard, 55 percent of the women graduated with honors this spring, compared with barely half the men. And at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, a public university, women made up 64 percent of this year's graduates, and they got 75 percent of the honors degrees and 79 percent of the highest honors, summa cum laude.

Of course, nationwide, there are young men at the top of the class and fields like computer science, engineering and physics that are male dominated.

Professors interviewed on several campuses say that in their experience men seem to cluster in a disproportionate share at both ends of the spectrum — students who are the most brilliantly creative, and students who cannot keep up.

"My best male students are every bit as good as my best female students," said Wendy Moffat, a longtime English professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. "But the range among the guys is wider."

From the time they are young, boys are far more likely than girls to be suspended or expelled, or have a learning disability or emotional problem diagnosed. As teenagers, they are more likely to drop out of high school, commit suicide or be incarcerated. Such difficulties can have echoes even in college men.

"They have a sense of lassitude, a lack of focus," said William Pollack, director of the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

At a time when jobs that require little education are disappearing, Mr. Mortenson predicts trouble for boys whose "educational attainment is not keeping up with the demands of the economy."

In the 1990's, even as women poured into college at a higher rate than men, attention focused largely on their troubles, especially after the 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls" from the American Association of University Women.

But some scholars say the new emphasis on young men's problems — recent magazine covers and talk shows describing a "boy crisis" — is misguided in a world where men still dominate the math-science axis, earn more money and wield more power than women.

"People keep asking me why this is such a hot topic, and I think it does go back to the ideas people carry in their heads," said Sara Mead, the author of a report for Education Sector, a Washington policy center, that concluded that boys, especially young ones, were making progress on many measures. It suggested that the heightened concern might in part reflect some people's nervousness about women's achievement.

"The idea that girls could be ahead is so shocking that they think it must be a crisis for boys," Ms. Mead said. "I'm troubled by this tone of crisis. Even if you control for the field they're in, boys right out of college make more money than girls, so at the end of the day, is it grades and honors that matter, or something else the boys may be doing?"

Women in the Majority

What is beyond dispute is that the college landscape is changing. Women now make up 58 percent of those enrolled in two- and four-year colleges and are, over all, the majority in graduate schools and professional schools too.

Most institutions of higher learning, except engineering schools, now have a female edge, with many small liberal arts colleges and huge public universities alike hovering near the 60-40 ratio. Even Harvard, long a male bastion, has begun to tilt toward women.

"The class we just admitted will be 52 percent female," said William Fitzsimmons, Harvard's dean of admissions.

While Harvard accepts men and women in proportions roughly equal to their presence in the applicant pool, other elite universities do not. At Brown University, men made up not quite 40 percent of this year's applicants, but 47 percent of those admitted.

Women now outnumber men two to one at places like the State University of New York at New Paltz, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Baltimore City Community College. And they make up particularly large majorities among older students.

The lower the family income, the greater the disparity between men and women attending college, said Ms. King of the American Council on Education's Center for Policy Analysis.

Thomas diPrete, a Columbia University sociology professor, has found that while boys whose parents had only a high school education used to be more likely to get a college education than their sisters, that has flipped.

Still, the gender gap has moved to the front burner in part because of interest from educated mothers worrying that their sons are adrift or disturbed that their girls are being passed over by admissions officers eager for boys, said Judith Kleinfeld, a University of Alaska professor who has created the Boys Project (boysproject.net), a coalition of researchers, educators and parents to address boys' troubles.

"I hate to be cynical, but when it was a problem of black or poor kids, nobody cared, but now that it's a problem of white sons of college-educated parents, it's moving very rapidly to the forefront," Dr. Kleinfeld said. "At most colleges, there is a sense that a lot of boys are missing in action."

Beyond the data points — graduation rates, enrollment rates, grades — there are subtle differences in the nature of men's and women's college experiences.

In dozens of interviews on three campuses — Dickinson College; American University; and the University of North Carolina, Greensboro — male and female students alike agreed that the slackers in their midst were mostly male, and that the fireballs were mostly female.

Almost all speculated that it had something to do with the women's movement.

"The roles have changed a lot," said Travis Rothway, a 23-year-old junior at American University, a private school where only 36 percent of last year's freshmen were male. "Men have always been the dominant figure, providing for the household, but now women have broken out of their domestic roles in society. I don't think guys' willingness to work and succeed has changed, it's more that the women have stepped up."

Ben Turner, who graduated from American this spring, said he did not believe that work habits were determined by gender — but acknowledged that he and his girlfriend fit the stereotypes.

"She does all her readings for classes, and I don't always," Mr. Turner said. "She's more organized than me, so if there's a paper due a week from Monday, she's already started, and I know I'll be doing it the weekend before. She studies more than I do because she doesn't like cramming and being stressed. She just has a better work ethic than I do."

Ms. Smyers, also at American, said she recently ended a relationship with another student, in part out of frustration over his playing video games four hours a day.

"He said he was thinking of trying to cut back to 15 hours a week," she said. "I said, 'Fifteen hours is what I spend on my internship, and I get paid $1,300 a month.' That's my litmus test now: I won't date anyone who plays video games. It means they're choosing to do something that wastes their time and sucks the life out of them."

Many male students say with something resembling pride that they get by without much studying.

"If I take a class and never study, I can still get a B," said Scott Daniels, a 22-year-old at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. "I know that if I'd applied myself more, I would have had better grades."

On each campus, many young men concluded that the easy B was good enough. But on each campus, some had seen that attitude backfire.

Michael Comes arrived at Dickinson two years ago from a private school in New Jersey where he had done well, but floundered his freshman year.

"I came here with the attitudes I'd had in high school, that the big thing, for guys, is to give the appearance of not doing much work, trying to excel at sports and shine socially," Mr. Comes said. "It's like some cultural A.D.D. for boys, I think — like Bart Simpson. For men, it's just not cool to study."

So when he no longer had parents and teachers keeping after him, or a 10:30 p.m. lights-out rule, he did not do much work.

"I stayed in my room a lot, I slept a lot, and I messed up so much that I had to go to summer school," Mr. Comes said. "But I'm back on track now."

'A Male Entitlement Thing'

On each campus, the young women interviewed talked mostly about their drive to do well.

"Most college women want a high-powered career that they are passionate about," Ms. Smyers said. "But they also want a family, and that probably means taking time off, and making dinner. I'm rushing through here, taking the most credits you can take without paying extra, because I want to do some amazing things, and establish myself as a career woman, before I settle down."

Her male classmates, she said, feel less pressure.

"The men don't seem to hustle as much," Ms. Smyers said. "I think it's a male entitlement thing. They think they can sit back and relax and when they graduate, they'll still get a good job. They seem to think that if they have a firm handshake and speak properly, they'll be fine."

Such differences were apparent in the 2005 National Survey of Student Engagement. While the survey of 90,000 students at 530 institutions relies on self-reporting, it is used by many colleges to measure themselves against other institutions.

Men were significantly more likely than women to say they spent at least 11 hours a week relaxing or socializing, while women were more likely to say they spent at least that much time preparing for class. More men also said they frequently came to class unprepared.

Linda Sax, an associate professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found similar gender differences in her study of 17,000 men and women at 204 co-ed colleges and universities.

Using data from U.C.L.A.'s Higher Education Research Institute annual studies, she found that men were more likely than women to skip classes, not complete their homework and not turn it in on time.

"Women do spend more time studying and their grades are better," Professor Sax said, "but their grades are better even more than the extra studying time would account for."

Researchers say such differences make sense, given boys' experience in their earlier school years. And some experts argue that what is being seen as a boy problem is actually maleness itself, with the noisy, energetic antsiness and high jinks of young boys now redefined as a behavior problem by teachers who do not know how to handle them.

There is also an economic rationale for men to take education less seriously. In the early years of a career, Laura Perna of the University of Pennsylvania has found, college increases women's earnings far more than men's.

"That's the trap," Dr. Kleinfeld said. "In the early years, young men don't see the wage benefit. They can sell their strength and make money."

Lingering Money Worries

At Greensboro, where more than two-thirds of the students are female, and about one in five is black, many young men say they are torn between wanting quick money and seeking the long-term rewards of education.

"A lot of my friends made good money working in high school, in construction or as electricians, and they didn't go to college, but they're doing very well now," said Mr. Daniels, the Greensboro student, who works 25 to 30 hours a week. "One of my best friends, he's making $70,000, he's got his own truck and health benefits. The honest truth is, I feel weird being a college student and having no money."

Mr. Kohn said it was, literally, an accident that he landed at Greensboro.

"In high school, I had a G.P.A. of 1.9 and I never took the SAT's because I knew I wasn't going to college," he said. "If you don't have goals, you don't set yourself up to be disappointed."

But soon after high school, Mr. Kohn was in a serious car crash, and discovered in rehabilitation that the state would pay for community college. To his surprise he did well enough to transfer to Greensboro, where he now plans to pursue a master's degree. But when Mr. Kohn overheard a freshman woman describing her plans, including four summer school courses to help her get a master's in education a bit earlier, he was bemused.

"For a freshman to be in such a hurry, it seems a little obsessive," he said.

Many of the young women studying at Greensboro have older brothers without college degrees, or younger brothers with little interest in college.

The seven children of the Thompson family of Oxford, N.C., embody the gender differences regarding education.

There are three men and four women in the family, ranging in age from 36 to 23. Christina and Lynette, the two youngest, are both at Greensboro. The two oldest daughters went to college, too. But none of the sons got college degrees: one is a truck driver, one is autistic and living at home and one is a floor manager at a Research Triangle company.

"I think women feel more pressure to achieve," said Christina Thompson, a political science major who plans to go to law school.

Right, said her youngest sister.

"In the past, black women in the South couldn't do much except clean, pick cotton or take care of someone's children," Lynette Thompson said. "I think from our mother we got the feeling we should try to use the opportunities that are available to us now."

They and many other women at Greensboro say it is not bad to be on a campus with twice as many women as men because it encourages them to stick to their studies without the distraction of dating.

Maybe, said Ashleigh Pelick, a freshman who is dating a marine she met before college — but she teased a friend, Madison Barringer: "You know you'll go crazy if you never have another boyfriend before you graduate."

Ms. Barringer, a 19-year-old whose parents did not go to college, laughed. But she did acknowledge the gender imbalance as a possible problem.

"I know it sounds picky, but I don't think I'd marry someone without a college degree," she said. "I want to be able to have that intellectual conversation."

Creating a balance of men and women is now an issue for all but the most elite colleges, whose huge applicant pools let them fill their classes with any desired mix of highly-qualified men and women But for others, it is a delicate issue. Colleges want balance, both for social reasons and to ensure that they can attract a broad mix of applicants. But they do not want an atmosphere in which talented, hard-working women share classes with less qualified, less engaged men.

The calculus is different at different institutions. By administrators' accounts, American University has been relatively unconcerned to see its student body tipping female, faster than most others.

The admissions office said that its decisions were gender blind, and that it accepted a larger share of female applicants. In an interview, Ivy Broder, the interim provost, seemed surprised, but not bothered, that American had a higher proportion of women than Vassar College, which formerly admitted only women.

American has no engineering school and no football team; it is a campus where the Democrats' organization is Democratic Women and Friends; "The Vagina Monologues" sells out at annual performances; and almost 1,000 people turned out for the Breastival, a women's health fair.

The faculty is attracting more and more women: a majority of the professors now on the tenure track are female.

Women on campus say there is great female solidarity. What there is not much of, said Gail Short Hanson, the director of campus life, is a dating scene.

Said Ms. Hanson: "If there's a dance, like the Founder's Day dance in February, do the women get their hair done? Yes. Do they get their nails done? Yes. But do they have a date? Probably not. So who do they dance with? Whoever wants to dance."

If American University is comfortable being largely female, that is not the case on Dickinson College's charming but isolated campus in central Pennsylvania. At a time when most colleges are becoming increasingly female, Dickinson has raised its proportion of men. Even rarer is that Dickinson has publicly discussed its quest for gender balance.

The Goal: More Male Students

Robert Massa, vice president for enrollment, began campaigning for more male students shortly after he arrived at Dickinson in 1999 and discovered that only 36 percent of the incoming freshmen were male and that the college had accepted 73 percent of the women who applied, but only 53 percent of the men.

Dickinson adapted to the growing female majority by starting a women's center, adding a women's studies major and offering courses on Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf.

In his effort to attract men, Mr. Massa made sure that the admissions materials included plenty of pictures of young men and athletics. Dickinson began highlighting its new physics, computer science and math building, and started a program in international business. Most fundamental, Dickinson began accepting a larger proportion of its male applicants.

"The secret of getting some gender balance is that once men apply, you've got to admit them," Mr. Massa said. "So did we bend a little bit? Yeah, at the margin, we did, but not to the point that we would admit guys who couldn't do the work."

Longtime Dickinson administrators say that at isolated campuses with their own social worlds, gender balance is especially important.

"When there were fewer men, the environment was not as safe for women," said Joyce Bylander, associate provost. "When men were so highly prized that they could get away with things, some of them become sexual predators. It was an unhealthy atmosphere for women."

In education circles, Mr. Massa is sometimes accused of practicing unfair affirmative action for boys. He has a presentation called "What's Wrong With You Guys?" in which he says that Dickinson does not accept a greater proportion of male than female applicants, and that women still get more financial aid.

"Is this affirmative action?" Mr. Massa said. "Not in the legal sense." He says that admissions to a liberal arts college is more art than science, a matter of crafting a class with diverse strengths.

Mr. Massa reshaped Dickinson in one year. Of the freshmen admitted in 2000, 43 percent were male, and in recent years Dickinson's student body has been about 44 percent male. This year, Dickinson admitted an equal share of the male and the female applicants.

In the Dickinson cafeteria on a spring afternoon, the byplay between two men and two women could provide a text on gender differences. The men, Dennis Nelson and Victor Johnson, African-American football players nearing the end of their junior year, teased each other about never wanting to be seen in the library. They talked about playing "Madden," a football video game, six hours a day, about how they did not spend much time on homework.

"A lot of women want a 4.0 average, and they'll work for it," Mr. Nelson said. "I never wanted it because it's too much work to be worth it. And a lot of women, they have everything planned out for the next three years."

Mr. Johnson jumped in: "Yeah, and it boggles my mind because I don't have my life planned for the next 10 minutes. Women see the long-term benefits, they take their classes seriously, and they're actively learning. We learn for tests. With us, if someone calls the night before and says there's going to be a test, we study enough for a C."

His female friends offered their assessment. "They're really, really smart, and they think they don't have to work," Glenda Cabral said.

But they do. After two years of good grades, Mr. Johnson this year failed Spanish and Arab-Israeli relations.

"He called me the night before the test and asked who Nasser was," Julie Younes said, rolling her eyes.

At Dickinson, as elsewhere, men are overrepresented among the problem students. Of 33 students on probation this year, all but six were male. They account for most disciplinary actions, too.

"If it's outside-the-line behavior, boys are pretty much the ones doing it," Ms. Bylander said. "This generation, and especially the boys, is technology-savvy but interpersonally challenged. They've been highly structured, highly programmed, with organized play groups and organized sports, and they don't know much about how to run their own lives."

Disengagement Is Noticed

Men are underrepresented when it comes to graduation and honors. Eighty-three percent of women who were Dickinson freshmen in 2001 graduated four years later, compared with 75 percent of the men. Dickinson women, who made up just over half of last year's graduates, got slightly more than two-thirds of the cum laude, magna and summa degrees.

Since the process of human development crosses all borders, it makes sense that Europe, too, now has more women than men heading to college. The disengagement of young men, though, takes different forms in different cultures. Japan, over the last decade, has seen the emergence of "hikikomori" — young men withdrawing to their rooms, eschewing social life for months or years on end.

At Dickinson, some professors and administrators have begun to notice a similar withdrawal among men who arrive on campus with deficient social skills. Each year, there are several who mostly stay in their rooms, talk to no one, play video games into the wee hours and miss classes until they withdraw or flunk out.

This spring, Rebecca Hammell, dean of freshman and sophomores, counseled one such young man to withdraw.

"He was in academic trouble from the start," Ms. Hammell said. "He was playing games till 3, 4, 5 in the morning, in an almost compulsive way. From early in the year, his teachers reported that he was either not coming to class or falling asleep once he was there. I checked with the Residential Life office, and they said he was in his room all the time."

Of course, female behavior has its own extremes. In freshman women, educators worry about eating disorders and perfectionism.

But among the freshman men, the problems stem mostly from immaturity.

"There was so much freedom when I got here, compared to my very structured high school life, that I kept putting things off," said Greg Williams, who just finished his freshman year. "I wouldn't do much work and I played a lot of Halo. I didn't know how to wake up on time without a mom. I had laundry problems. I shrank all my clothes and had to buy new ones."

Still, men in the work force have always done better in pay and promotions, in part because they tend to work longer hours, and have fewer career interruptions than women, who bear the children and most of the responsibility for raising them.

Whether the male advantage will persist even as women's academic achievement soars is an open question. But many young men believe that, once in the work world, they will prevail.

"I think men do better out in the world because they care more about the power, the status, the C.E.O. job," Mr. Kohn said. "And maybe society holds men a little higher."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company