Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Culture of Videoconferencing and Video get togethers: A Virtual Community

 When in 1976 I started reading and thinking about teleconferencing and videoconferencing I had no clue that one day that would become a way of life.  I wrote then a paper called "A Theory of Electronic Propinquity."  In that paper I talked about the conditions under which mediated get togethers would work better or worse.  Click here to read that paper.

Togetherness has changed in meaning as people are afraid of physical contact and travel.  Thus, now electronic propinquity is the way to be close!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Internationalization of US Audiences in the Face of Parochialism

 Online media has been one of the few sources of content available during the virus situation in 2020 and 2021.  We have experienced great amounts of anxiety and content deprivation in times of isolation and lack of social interaction.

Netflix and Amazon Prime have been some of the few sources of content to alleviate loneliness and anomie.  These important content venues have contracted with international producers to deliver programming from most continents to the public of the US and many other countries.  This variety of international content must have some impact on the awareness and disposition of audiences everywhere.  The US being largely parroquial now has a large diet of content from different parts of the world.

Paradoxically, the previous US government had been keen on looking inwards and vilifying the rest of the world. The contrast has been interestingly challenging.  While some prefer to be isolated from the rest of the world, they currently have few choices but to be immersed in international content even without their awareness.  I say without their awareness because dubbing has gotten very sophisticated and many times undetectable. Still the culture and values reflected in international content permeates screens almost everyone is glued to.

Disruptive as it may sound, the war of the minds seems to be in favor of internationalism.  Think about the fashion, physique, language, and themes of global programming contrasted with the locally produced US content.  Sheer volume is in favor of internationalism, but also fashion and looks.  Language diversity is becoming mainstream in the living room.

Think about popular shows like "Money Heist" (not a good translation of "La casa de papel")with its mostly Spanish (from Spain) and also international cast.  The way of behaving and being in that series is appealing to audiences in the US but it is so different.  The philosophy of life in it is almost nihilist: Enjoy what you can because when the party is over it's over.  That is in contrast with deterministic and religious undertones in US domestic content.  Even English and Danish content reflects values and ways of being different from those prevalent in the United States.

Younger generations turning into adults in the US, having been influenced by the protracted "stay at home" way of life, will come out of their shells with a mindset that is in sharp contrast with that of their predecessors.  These will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow who instead of looking to close borders will aim at internationalism because they will better understand others who are different.  

When a physical virus spreads across countries and cultures with unprecedented speed, so does an international mindset despite the bitter wishes of some.  Culture is also a virus, but in my opinion, a more constructive virus that allows those of us meandering on the surface of the earth to better understand each other.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Social Diversity as a Parallel to Genetic Diversity

Most of us know that if we get a mix breed cat or dog they can be healthier than purebred animals.  The reason is that when genes from different heritage lines mix, stronger and more resilient genes become dominant.  When there is too much inbreeding the outcome tends to be weaker as defects become emphasized.

Interestingly, a society or workplace that promotes diversity tends to result in stronger and more creative ideas.  That is precisely because ideas coming from different cultural experiences can enhance each other.  This metaphor, to me is important as we strive to make our organizations increasingly stronger and better suited to cope with a complex environment.

When ideas intermix and get debated stronger results happen. Not surprisingly the United States is a great example of how diversity results in a stronger society.  A nation of immigrants without precedent has become the most powerful and creative society the world has seen.  Efforts to contain diversity are likely to be ill informed as diversity has been the engine that promotes prosperity and innovation.

It is understandable that certain groups would like to remain isolated and intact from outside influence.  After all, we all have the primitive tendency to try to stick with others who are like ourselves.  Unfortunately that effort is unlikely to do good for society as it perpetuates old conservative ideas that tend to restrain thought and innovation.

Clearly, borders have a reason to be.  They protect economic interests and they contain social and cultural identities.  The problem is that borders can be used as a political tool to restrain diversity and promote homogeneity.  That is likely to result in a degraded social system.  Having rational immigration and border protection policies makes sense for sure.  Promoting fear of "immigrants" and others who are different, on the other hand, can be very counterproductive.

Monday, July 9, 2018

DACA, Immigration, and the US Labor Force

"Just as we respect your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours," was a recent statement by the current Vice President of the United States.  That is interesting and almost comical because the United States has clearly intervened in Latin America many times during the past century.  I assume the Vice President has some notion of that.  Still, I understand that the current political discourse is to blame US problems on undocumented immigration.  I am sure there are very few people that believe that US borders should not be respected.  All countries have the right to have their boundaries protected.  The discourse on the issue, however, has to be well informed and put into context.

Unfortunately, the issue goes a lot deeper than politicians would like the US population to believe.  They talk about "wait your turn in line," and about the evil nature of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants.  The facts are different and they have deep historical roots.

The usual "wait your turn in line" argument is misinformed as there is practically no line to speak of.  Close relatives of US Citizens can usually get a "green card" within 10 years of applying.  Also, highly skilled individuals with advanced degrees and/or scarce skills can be certified by the department of labor and be admitted to the US.  Regular laborers have a very remote opportunity to immigrate legally.  For them there is basically no line and that is the key problem because these are the most numerous segment of people wishing to immigrate to the US.

It is the farm workers, construction workers, service workers, and other laborers that are needed in the US now.  So, rational immigration reform that allows for these needed workers to come to the US with documentation, do their work, and then return home should be the kernel of the discussion.

Mexicans in particular, and other Latin Americans have deep roots in the United States.  About half of the US used to belong to Mexico in the 19th century.  So, for many, the border left them behind.  That accounts for the deep connections between people on both sides of the border.

Further, over the past 40 or 50 years, the lack of labor availability in the US led many employers to encourage workers from Mexico and other countries to fill the void.  The availability of work has been the main lure.  This is particularly true because even these mostly undocumented immigrants get paid better in the US than in their country or origin.  Still those wages are low but have afforded them a better life and the opportunity to send money to their relatives to improve their lifestyles.  These are not evil people but mostly people who have escaped deep poverty.  Now they have been vilified and humiliated when the reason for their coming to the US is the opportunity the US has provided them.

There have been many attempts at remediating the immigration system.  Generally these have been poorly orchestrated and failing efforts.  The Obama administration was one of the most aggressive in deporting undocumented workers but they did it silently.  That administration installed DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which gave two years of renewable or not renewable permission to those who were brought to the US as children.  At face value DACA seemed like a good measure for immigrants, but upon analysis it was a smart maneuver to get these people to come forward and be accounted for, and also identified and tracked.  It was a beneficial move for the US and provided some hope to those who were brought here as children.  That is now in jeopardy and the mood of anti-immigration is growing.

Few politicians and news people bother to point out that net immigration from Mexico has been below zero for the past several years.  Still, the vilification of immigrants continues.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states "As a result of declining fertility rates and decreasing international migration, the population of the United States is growing more slowly than in previous decades and is also getting older." (reference)

It is tragic and difficult to understand that US politicians are spending so much time demeaning immigrants that are needed for the prosperity of the country.  The US should be rushing to establish a rational and well designed immigration systems that benefits the US and those who are willing to work hard here.

Undocumented (so called illegal) immigrants have provided Americans with housing, food, services, and other types of labor that have benefited everyone.  Why not do it with a system that recognizes the value of these workers to the economy and encourages legal immigration?  

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Census Citizenship Question!

I have neglected my blog since 2016 because, honestly, I felt insulted by the political nonsense and could not bring myself to dignify the ignorance and ill intended diatribe.  Now I am writing because I feel that well meaning Americans should be aware of the consequences of adding a citizenship question in the 2020 Census of the United States.

Those of us who study social psychology and communication science understand that there are several issues at stake by including a citizenship question in the 2020 Census.  These are important considerations:

1.  The intention of adding a citizenship question in the 2020 Census can be interpreted in different ways.  The first, assuming a straightforward motivation, is to find out how many people are actually citizens.  That would be a fine motivation.  Most likely, however, the motivation for such a question is to discourage people from answering the US Census at all.  In that case, redistricting and other related political interests would favor those against immigrants.  And remember, the Census is about counting everyone in the United States. 

2.  Remember that being a citizen is not a requirement for being counted.  There are many legal residents who are not citizens.  Many politicians, however, do not know that. 

3.  Both undocumented (so called illegal) and non-citizen legal residents are likely to just opt out of the Census.  Why?  Because of implicit intimidation.  While the US Census is supposed to be completely confidential and no identities are supposed to be revealed, many people do not know that or doubt it.  Japanese American confidentiality was violated during World War II and given current xenophobic circumstances it may happen again.  Why would an undocumented (so called illegal) reveal their status even if assured anonymity?  It makes no sense.  In the case of legal residents who are not citizens, they may fear being ostracized or even targeted for exclusion.  Fear in this time of general hostility towards immigrants in general is justified. 

Even US Citizens of Hispanic, African, or Asian heritages may be discouraged from completing the Census because of fear of being suspected.  "Will they question my citizenship?"  Others may not answer just by being insulted because their friends and relatives are being targeted.  Others may just object to the Census count because it is the mandate of the Census to count everyone without restriction.

So what happens if a citizenship question is asked in the US 2020 Census?  There will likely be a severe undercount that will jeopardize the purpose of the Census and more importantly allow for more political manipulation.  The 2010 Census had a legend in the envelope stating that people residing in the US were mandated by law to reply.  I wonder how many people did not answer just by the fear generated by that statement.  Imagine the headaches the Bureau of the United States Census will face in trying to compensate for lack of response from a wide variety of constituencies. 

Getting someone to answer a survey or a census requires understanding the social psychology of the situation.  The problem is that ill intentions dressed in moral garbs can mislead everyone, even those who have the best interest of the United States in mind.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Guilt as a Powerful Cultural Motivator

Reducing guilt a bit at a time can be brand strategy. Here I first explore the origins and dynamics of guilt and then move to explore ways to apply this insight as a cultural positioning approach.

Feelings of guilt are internalized ways of reacting to one’s actions or inactions.  Developmental psychologists (for example Justin Aronfreed) have found that parents who raise their children by references to feelings about their children’s behavior or “induction” are more likely to have children who internalize guilt.  On the other hand, parents who raise children by asserting their power or “sensitization” are more likely to have kids who are concerned about avoiding external punishment.

The difference between kids who internalize guilt and those who are more concerned with external consequences is important.  In the first case these children develop what is commonly referred to as conscience regarding their behavior, while in the second case the kids are more oriented to whether they are going to be discovered or caught.

“Inductive” parents talk to their children about how they feel when the kids misbehave.  They use expressions like “you hurt me when you do that.”  “Sensitizing” or externally oriented parents are more likely to use physical force to guide behavior.

While these two types of parents exist in all cultures some are more prevalent in some cultures than in others.  Jewish mothers are well known for inducing guilt in their kids and use expressions like “you make me suffer with your actions.” Interestingly many Latin American cultures share that as a common orientation.  It may be because the mother in these cultures is so extremely revered that she has a very strong influence.  Hispanic kids are extremely careful not to offend or disappoint their mothers.  Latino mothers are also likely to talk to their children about how they feel about their behaviors.

Again, it is not that one culture is completely one way or another but that there are tendencies that are more prevalent in one or the other.  Let’s look at guilt learning and experience among Hispanics.

Anyone who has viewed a “Telenovela” or a Latin American “Soap Opera,” can clearly identify the suffering that mothers experience and the way they induce guilt in their children. The suffering mother is a constant theme.  “Telenovelas” are important tools of cultural learning for Latinos.  They remind viewers of their own experience but also reinforce guilt oriented behaviors.  

Anthropologists (for example Ruth Benedict) have also classified cultures as guilt or shame oriented.  Guilt oriented cultures tend to share more of the Judeo-Christian orientation towards internalizing a sense of feeling bad for transgressing while Eastern cultures tend to be more oriented towards a sense of shame for not conforming to the group.

When marketing to Latinos in the US, it is important to keep these cultural tendencies in mind.  For example:

Mothers coming to the US from Latin America are likely to feel that they do not do enough for their families and experience guilt.  Clearly there are products and services that can be positioned as guilt reducing elements in the lives of these consumers.

Insurance:  Reduce guilt by protecting the family as much as one can.

Preventive health care:  Reducing guilt by doing more to avoid illness.

Consumer products:  Reducing guilt by giving kids what parents could not afford before.

Technology:  Reducing guilt by re-establishing contact with loved ones.

This is one example of how cultural insights when properly understood can help communicate legitimate products and services in ways that are culturally compatible.  Cultural insights need to be studied by looking at cultural trends in the literature, and also need to be explored via qualitative research.

Qualitative research, when well done can uncover deep rooted common trends that can help a brand distinguish itself from a cultural point of view.  Qualitative research is frequently misunderstood as pro forma interviewing and that is not it.  In-depth qualitative research can dig up important trends that marketers and service providers can use to the benefit of consumers and of their services and brands.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Multiple Screens in a Multicultural Society: What the Future Can Bring

David Deutsch in his notable book "The Beginning of Infinity" talks about how science progresses. He argues that scientific progress has been mostly achieved through conjecture and criticism.  These are the two tasks I am engaging in here in talking about the digital future of a multicultural society.

Many organizations have been concerned lately with the implications of the increased and prolonged use of multiple screens by young and also older people.  The Kaiser family foundation, Ipsos, The Pew Research Center, and others have conducted studies in which they have found that the access to smartphones in particular has increased dramatically.  Also, that infants use tablets and smartphones even when watching television.  Many report fatigue and other strain related issues.  And as we know some run into walls and have accidents when driving, biking, etc. while texting or doing some other activity on their mobile devices.  

Many eschew direct social contact to favor technology.  A New Yorker cartoon recently showed two teenage girls talking while looking at their smartphones and one stated that it should be a special boy that is the one that she first looks directly in the eyes.  Families sitting at tables in restaurants are many times found busily looking at their smartphones as opposed to engaging in interpersonal face to face interactions.  Many look at their different social media accounts while watching television or doing almost anything else.

What has the world come to?!
The world has experienced many important revolutions, evolutions, and discontinuities.  The digital era has brought about a challenging environment that in some ways divides old from young, and those technologically connected and those that are not yet.  

Clearly, some of the negative implications, which are more easily drawn, include:

  1. Social dysfunction and lack of interpersonal skills
  2. Isolation and daunting individualism
  3. Obesity and ill health due to lack of physical activity
  4. Life span decreasing and quality of life deteriorating
  5. Illiteracy because of lack of reading and writing in grammatically accepted ways
  6. Increased selective exposure to materials that agree with one’s points of view, thus polarizing society further
  7. Formal education becoming less important and attractive to young people

These are just some of the potential ills that our new society may witness evolving over the next years.  But, like most things in life, there may be different effects as well.  As Jon Stewart found when he used to consult with his “senior speculators” many perspectives and alternative futures may materialize.

What if what we are witnessing now in terms of technology impact is just a transitional phase leading us to a more interesting and challenging future?  What if alternative realities materialize?

Think for example, that looking at screens is just a temporary phase in the evolution of technology.  We know that soon there will be technology increasingly present in our eyeglasses, earpieces, clothing, accessories, and perhaps even implanted in our brains.  The emergence of virtual reality and other technological evolutions will change our behavior and probably enhance our skills as well.

Also, who will be best prepared to take on the evolutionary turns that technology will bring? As we have seen in multiple pieces of research including my own, Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians have outpaced non-Hispanic Whites in their use of new technologies.  Does that mean they will be better prepared for the future? Will social classes flip so that the “have-nots” of today become the “haves” of tomorrow. Will the agents of change be the minorities of today?

What consequences may current and future technologies bring?

  1. Brain transformations that allow for increased multitasking and multiple brain operations at once thus making us more versatile in our dealings with people and objects
  2. Increased and constant social interaction by dramatically increasing and diversifying our social networks to extents never possible before
  3. Increased physical activity as technology will allow for exercise while being virtually connected literally “on the run”
  4. Integration of virtual and physical networks to extents never imagined so that people with common interests can navigate between virtual and physical worlds fluidly
  5. Electronic propinquity” or virtual personal nearness will allow for intimacy with distant people who are dear to us and allow for relationships that go beyond what we have known as a relationship
  6. Education will become more challenging and interesting as lectures and formal settings become a thing of the past and experiential learning becomes more prevalent
  7. Images and sounds will become the new literacy as our brains become more capable of comprehending the world in more complicated symbolic forms
  8. Linear literacy will be replaced with immersion literacy, in which one experiences symbols
  9. By being connected with distant multiple and diverse others our ability to empathize and understand differences will increase
  10. Life spans will continue to increase as exercise and healthy habits are reinforced by new technologies

Alternative worlds can be envisioned and contemplated. Multiculturalism may become more of a reality and also a benefit as humans interconnect at more levels. Members of current minorities may have an edge because of their earlier immersion in the “tech” code of doing things.

The moral of the story is:  Alternative futures may surprise you!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hispanic Millennials: Implications for Marketing

The discourse on Latino Millennials, both in the online and in the offline literature, suggests that there is a great amount of similarity among those Hispanics born between 1980 and 2000. Also, that there is similarity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Millennials.  While the exact years of birth vary by source, most of them are close to the 1980 - 2000 range.  From my point of view there is a fallacy involved in classifying Hispanics born in this age range as sharing a high degree of similarity both among themselves and when compared with non-Hispanics.  According to the Bureau of the Census about 37% of US Hispanics were born between 1980 and 2000.  That is a very substantive number of people. Are they similar in many ways?

The generational aggregation of people into assumed homogeneous populations is arbitrary at best.  Among Latinos this is even more arbitrary.  Let me explain.

In theory, for example, what makes “Baby Boomers” unique is that they are the post war generation.  It is understandable that those born in the US did have a large amount of shared experience as a consequence of being born at the end of the war.  But think about the case of Latinos.  Those born after the war in Latin America did not share the American experience.  Still they are referred to as “Baby Boomers.”  The same logical error applies to “Millennials.”  A large majority of them were born in Latin America and had very different experiences from those in the US.  

The history of the majority of Latinos born between 1980 and 2000 is greatly influenced by what was happening in their country of origin, their socio-economic circumstances, life-stage, etc. As many readers know most Hispanics in the US are of Mexican origin.  Also, a great majority of this subset were brought by their parents in search of a better life in the US. They were mostly subsistence farmers and blue collar workers earning very little money.  That is very different from the experience of the American middle class. 

And as Randy Stockdale emphasizes "The age range is so wide, that by the time they get to the end of the spectrum (those born in '80) they have gone through 2-3 life stages. And this may differ by gender - Hispanic females likely married with kids, yet many men likely not." REFERENCE

What makes Hispanics ages 15 to about 35 somewhat similar is a history of seeing their parents strive to make the life of their children better.  A life of decreasing deprivation.  It has been a life of ambition and achievement.  Latino youth are not the kids that went back to their parents’ homes because of 9/11 or the downturn of 2008.  Many of these Latino kids never left the home of their parents but not because they were depending on them but because they were contributing to the economy of a traditional household.  A household that enjoys keeping the kids around as long as possible.  A current example of trends among Hispanic youth is in the following video: .

As one can see the young Latino has a unique perspective on the world shaped by many diverse experiences.  Clearly, Latinos are also tech savvy, multitaskers, collectivist, etc. but that has been a characteristic of Hispanics in general not just young people.

The lessons are:

  1. Generational groupings and generalizations are tricky and many times inaccurate
  2. Latinos have not gone through the same experiences as their non-Hispanic counterparts, thus generalizing to them can be misleading
  3. Young Hispanics come in many types and with diverse backgrounds.  Still, there are central tendencies based on experience, socio-economic background, and country of origin
  4. Marketers need to pay attention to the subtleties of different segments of the population and avoid costly mistakes by assuming homogeneity
  5. The “New Latino” is an important synergistic identity of not being from here or there, but shaped by the common experience of being different...  
  6. Marketers and market researchers will benefit from researching this new Latino identity and behavior
  7. Using giant clusters such as "Millennials" is not a segmentation approach but a way to avoid looking at important differences that can be used for effective targeting and communication