Attention Economy 101

I am trying to figure out the concept attention economy, its genealogy, and how I can apply it in the contemporary media landscape. My first step was to check Google n-gram to see when the concept most in vogue. Here is what I found:

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This graph basically suggests that the concept was used a lot in Google books between around 1995 to 2013. It was most used around probably 2004. Then the frequency reduced.

The same diagram is rendered a bit differently when I chose to smooth out over the period of one book.

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This figure shows two peaks: possibly 2003, and 2007, after which point the mentioning of the phrase “attention economy” gradually dies down.

Now let turn to Google Trends to see how and whether this phrase shows up

This Google search term mirrors the Google Book results. I think the only difference is that Google trends are search terms floating on the internet, while Google ngram reviewer reflects the term being mentioned in books.

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This figure shows that the term “attention economy” was used a lot between 2004 (the year Google Trends started documenting terms I guess) and 2008. Then the interest in the term died down. The number seems to pick up a bit since 2018 until now, but it does not look significant.

If you compare the term “attention economy” with “attention” only, the result is pretty revealing:

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The red line represents the search result for “attention,” and the barely recognizable blue line represents result for “attention economy.” The overall trend for “attention” seems to go up a bit, while the trend for “attention economy” is almost zero. This is weird. I wonder why people no longer use the term “attention economy.” Does it mean it is out of vogue? Sometimes a term is defined, and then being criticized for not being able to capture a certain phenomenon, then it completely disappears from our linguistic circulation.

According to Wikipedia:

Attention economics is an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity, and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems. Put simply by Matthew Crawford, “Attention is a resource—a person has only so much of it.”

This concept should be understood within the context of the digital economy and the information economy because only when there is a flood of information that attention becomes a rare commodity. And since information is so cheap to come by, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and other platform companies are designing software, and platforms intentionally with the idea that attention is rare, and that they should design interfaces that capture the most attention (measured by how many minutes or seconds a persons spend scrolling on their platforms).

This concept clearly came from economics, and being applied to different economics-related fields such as marketing, management, user research. As a sociologist, I need to ask, so how are social relations formed, sustained, and reproduced in this economy? What are some characteristics or attributes of this economy should I pay attention to? Is an attention economy on Youtube different from an attention economy on Tiktok, on Twitch, and other platforms. How does it work differently on Instagram than on Twitter? What are some advantages and disadvantages of this economy to content creators, and their audience? How does this concept illuminate the podcasting phenomenon that I am examining?

There are lots to be said, and examined here. I am excited about the concept, and I am looking forward to learning more about it, and how to use it in my future work.

Alternative Knowledge vs. Expert Knowledge

Lately I have read news and scholarly articles that examine the rise of alternative media, alternative right, alternative facts, or climate change mis-information. Many of the texts and talks question the sources of all of these “alternative” things. I started asking myself the question what is “alternative” about these developments? Why should one read, consume, and spread alternative of any kind?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines alternative as “different from the usual or conventional.” The literal meaning of alternative is that it does not follow conventions, or norms. Etymonline.com  gave an overview of the word’s historical development: 

1580s, “offering one or the other of two,” from Medieval Latin alternativus, from Latin alternatus, past participle of alternare “do one thing and then another, do by turns,” from alternus “one after the other, alternate, in turns, reciprocal,” from alter “the other” (see alter). Meaning “purporting to be a superior choice to what is in general use” was current by 1970 (earliest reference is to the media); in popular music, by 1984 in reference to pirate radio. Alternative energy is from 1975. Related: Alternatively.

 

Alternative is related to the verb “alter,” and it refers to “a superior choice to what is general in use.” How so? I am thinking about the alternative right, and alternative media. Not only are they not superior to the established  right, and legacy media, they are also harmful and threatening the bedrocks of society by destroying democratic institutions. How are they superior?

At what point has the word alternative started to carry the meaning of “dangerous and threatening” to established social, political and cultural institutions?

A few days ago, I felt like I had a glimpse of an answer to the stated question after having an appointment with a nutritionist. The reason for the appointment was that I have been trying to change my diet, adjust my sugar level in my blood, and that my cholesterol level is low, but bad cholesterol is high. My general physician asked me to talk to a nutritionist to have a dietary change. The appointment was very pleasant. It lasted for almost an hour during which the dietician asked me a list of questions about my meals, and the time that I have them on a daily basis. She asked me questions such as what do you eat for breakfast? How many different items? How much of each? Do you drink enough water? What do you drink throughout the day? Do you snack? There are a few food replicas in her office that I can use to estimate how much I eat for each meal. She recorded each answer, and typed it on her laptop. After 30 minutes, the software or maybe an app produced the final answer. I learned that I have not been eating enough. There were a few problems. One is that I have slow metabolism. I do not eat enough; thus my body does not metabolize accordingly. Second, I am supposed to eat snacks between meals, which I do not eat. So we discussed a meal plan change, and she emailed me a nutrition change document.

Everything the nutritionist told me sounded very intuitive, which I was supposed to know already. Or the information that she provided also felt like it should be available on the internet. On the way home, I could not help but wonder why didn’t I Google this information before coming to meet her. It was one thing that my physician recommended that I should meet with a specialist. It was another thing that I did not educate myself by at least Googling about some nutrition 101 information. Yet, given my nature of trusting expert knowledge, it felt reasonable to meet a trained specialist to absorb the information even if it felt like the information was readily available on the internet.

One danger of finding information on the internet would be that I would follow a diet plan without checking whether it fits with my metabolism, and my life style. That’s a risk. Besides, if I do it on my own, there would be no accountability mechanism where another social actor would enforce the social contract that we drafted together. Had I followed a plan found on the internet, I would have been me and the faceless crowd. I would have fell back into my previous diet pretty soon after a couple of weeks. With a human expert, I have a monthly meeting with them to make sure that my body changes as desired.

This experience helps illuminate my original question a bit: what factors contribute to the rise of alternative knowledge? I have a few hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: The internet contributes to the rise of alternative knowledge.

Hypothesis 2: With the rise of alternative knowledge, expert knowledge is in decline.

Since information and so-called crowd-produced knowledge are so readily available at one’s finger tips, finding alternative ways to solve some problem seems to be too easy. However, whether one can trust this type of alternative knowledge is another question. How does alternative knowledge changes how we interact with established institution such as medicine, and schooling? I personally could have totally just relied on information found on the internet to change my habits. Instead, I chose to meet with a human expert because I have tendency to seek approval from an authoritative figure even when I doubt that they did not know much more than I do. I believe in their credentials, and that they have established themselves to be reliable. Many others choose to only follow what they find on the internet. This development is scary to me.

Trusting information on the internet when it comes to medical problems, schooling, and many other things is an exercise that one should take with caution. I could not help but think about the idea that one not only needs to have digital literacy, but also digital discernment, which I define as

the skill to analyze, contextualize and triangulate online information, and to realize at what point one should consult a human expert to comprehend the information or to discard it as non-sensical.

This ability has implications for raising children in the digital age. How many people in the age of social media, fake news, and deepfakes actually have this skill? How many people recognize that they are paralysed by conflicting and sometimes blatantly wrong information being floated on the internet? What does it mean for education institutions, and contemporary society to equip their students and citizens with such a skill?

In short, in the digital age, we need to be able to discern and classify information that we find on the internet. I hope that someone has found a way to think through this problem from a social science perspective.

Book Review: 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts by Jaron Lanier

After the 2016 presidential election in the United States, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, many people have started leaving social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram en masse. However, social media culture, like hook-up culture on campus, affects everyone regardless of whether they opt in or not. I myself have thought about quitting social media many times, yet I never successfully made the transition. I simply have too many accounts. My life is too reliant on social media. The system of social media accounts is too convoluted that as an individual if I delete all, I would become empty. I am afraid of that void. While looking for some ways to rationalize the decision to be less connected in this networked world, I picked up the book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts by Jaron Lanier to learn how he justifies the decision to delete all social media accounts.

In a nutshell, the book “argues in ten ways that what has become suddenly normal – pervasive surveillance and constant, subtle manipulation – is unethical, cruel, dangerous, and inhumane.” In other words, Lanier suggests that in totality a system of all social media accounts has become “unethical, cruel, dangerous and inhumane.” Therefore, one should not participate in it, support its existence, and its reproduction.

The ten arguments are summarized on the back cover as follows:

Argument one:  You are losing your free will.

Argument two: Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

Argument three: Social media is making you into an asshole.

Argument four: Social media is undermining truth.

Argument five: Social media is making what you say meaningless.

Argument six: Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

Argument seven: Social media is making you unhappy.

Argument eight: Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

Argument nine: Social media is making politics impossible.

Argument ten: Social media hates your soul.

He works out the argument one by one using the term BUMMER which stands for “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” It is “a machine, a statistical machine that lives in the computing clouds.”  There are two main parts to his definition of BUMMER: modification of users’ behaviors, and rent seeking endeavor.

How do social media companies modify users’ behaviors? This question leads Lanier to give us a brief overview of what behaviorism is, and how this approach has become very influential in social media companies. In brief, behaviorism is a scientific movement that studies ways to train animals and humans. It arose before computers. Behaviorists focus on the environment where certain behaviors are produced, and reproduced. The implication is that when the environment is changed, the behavior is also changed.

What is rent-seeking? This is an economic term that describes one’s activity to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. This behavior can have harmful effect to the economy because of poor allocation of available resources.

In many ways, social media companies seek rent by offering a free platform for users to exchange information while altering their behaviors via algorithmic manipulations. Since users’ behaviors can be manipulated via these platforms, they can be also manipulated by other factors such as their social networks, bots, and foreign intelligence agencies during elections, etc. The one sharing place on the Internet that Lanier believes to not have been colonized by corporate interests is podcasts. I share his view on this, and have blogged about the democratization effect of podcasting, where individual broadcasters can reach out to their audience directly, instead of going through various distributional channels that are known to be biased, and dominated by a certain group of people. Lanier suggests that it is possible to corrupt the podcast space. However, given the current technology, it is very difficult.

I am buying into various arguments that Lanier brings up to convince each individual to quit social media. From a sociological point of view, Lanier is setting up a system of arguments to show detrimental effects of social media to each individual in a society. It is also harmful to society at large when each individual is easily manipulated.

On the macro-level, Lanier is right that social media as the whole has done more harm than good to society. Yet, on a personal level, I feel so conflicted about deleting one account at at time. For example, I belong to the Facebook generation. Everyone keeps in touch with their friends (childhood friends, college friends, backpacking friends, etc.) on Facebook. It is a casual place to strike a conversation. Now if I close Facebook permanently I dont know what my friends are up to. Keeping in touch with them will be more difficult. Even my parents follow me on Facebook to get a glimpse of what I do sometimes. Then my Twitter account is explicitly used for academic purposes such as following eminent public sociologists, whose ideas, and insights are relevant to my work. Now if I get rid of this channel, I feel as if I dont know what my field is talking about any more. The fear of losing out is taking over my thought processes. Then should I trust Lanier at all if he has never started a social media account to start with?

As a scientist, I see that the book comes short because it only presents a rough sketch of ten arguments with not much substantial evidence. Call me dogmatic if you will, but I would prefer some rigorous research to tease out each one of the ten arguments that Lanier makes. He presents many theories,  hypotheses, insider’s information, and sometimes good stories. These hypotheses could be tested in the real world. For example, Argument Five states that “social media is making what you say meaningless.” The logic is that when everyone can broadcast their own opinion, the meaning of what one says decreases significantly.  From a neoclassical economic point of view, this makes sense because when there is more supply of words/ messages, the price (here is meaning) of what one has to say should reduce. But how can I see this in real life? Is there a way to quantify meaning? How do I know that social media is the main factor that causes quality of conversation and messages that I broadcast to decrease? Or is it a general trend in an info-glut society, and social media is just one of the many tools that inundate each individual with information? There are too many confounding factors to have a conclusive statement about effects of social media on meaning. That said, I still agree with Lanier that social media plays a decisive role in eroding real and meaningful conversations.

In conclusion, the little book called Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts gives social media users a lot of ideas why they should leave these platforms at least for a brief period of time. As an insider, a computer scientist, and someone who cares about the effects of digital technology on society, Lanier gives us many insights to appreciate. As a social scientist, I think this book contains many valuable hypotheses to test. That is to say, one can use this book as a guide to come up with some extensive research agenda that examines effects of social media on society.

Book Review: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

About two months ago, all news media talked about the Theranos scandal, where the once unicorn startup had to shut down and liquidated because its founder, Elizabeth Holmes was indicted for wire fraud and conspiracy. Theranos was a health technology company that tried to “disrupt” the health care industry by designing a blood test device that used only a small amount of blood. This failure challenged many promises that Silicon Valley tech startups have been making all along: technology can solve many things fast. It raised many questions about Sillicon’s fake-it-till-you-make it and play-fast-and-loose culture. A couple of weeks ago while I was attempting to learn about AI technology, and its social, political implications. A social scientist mentioned to me that she was listening to an audiobook, whose name is Bad Blood to get a more nuanced understanding of the scandal. The book piqued my interest. I immediately requested it, gave it a read, and now feel that I have a better understanding of how Silicon Valley works.

What is Bad Blood about?

Originally, I thought that the nonfiction followed a traditional path of an investigative journalistic work where it would ask the questions such as who is Elizabeth Holmes, how did she come up with her startup idea, how did she make it a unicorn, why and how did it fail? In a lot of ways, it is a case study of how Silicon Valley created one of the sickest unicorn that was meddling with the health care industry. In a closer read, I found that my original thought was naïve. The book is more than just how Elizabeth Holmes rose to stardom and descended rapidly. It is a detective work where the author himself was involved in bringing down a tech darling from her unrealistic dream by exposing her lies and delusions. The book portrayed Elizabeth Holmes to be the charming, intelligent female antagonist, and the journalist at the WSJ, John Carreyrou, the author of the book to be the male protagonist, the detective who did not appear until very late in the story. Yet his journalistic instinct helped him paint an accurate picture of Theranos, its embarrassingly mediocre technology, sloppy management, and delusional culture of Silicon Valley. The shift in narrative from Elizabeth Holmes and people around her to how the journalist put the case together made the story much more convincing.

The female villain of the book is Elizabeth Holmes, the charming blond startup founder of Theranos. She dropped out of Stanford University  in 2003 to found a company that promised to test blood with a small device that could perform an array of blood tests using only one drop of blood. This promise was tempting to many investors, and corporate partners including a large swath of respectable venture capitalists, Wal-Greens, and at some point even the United States Defense Department. The book  structured chronologically.  In many ways it is a biography of a company. It has less to do with Elizabeth Holmes even though she’s a big part of it, who gave shape, form, and contour, and character to her startup. Therefore a significant amount of space in the book is dedicated to the complex character of Elizabeth Holmes. The underlying question around Holmes is why did shecreate what she created and why did she lie the way she lied to everyone?

In the process to answer this question, the author portrays other characters around her, and use the words of these characters to portray Holmes. He is like a sculpturist who creates contours and dimension to each character, and also shows the nature of relationship between different characters. What is the most striking feature of this person? How can one bring to the reader’s mind a 3-D portrayal of this character in this story?  He paints a picture of Elizabeth to be a horrible person, yet she’s very smart. She’s ruthless, controlling. Here’s Holmes from an ex-employee, a friend’s point of view, how Elizabeth was getting bad influence from her boyfriend:

In her relentless drive to be a successful startup founder, she had built a bubble around herself that was cutting her off from reality. And the only person she was letting inside was a terrible influence (her boyfriend). How could her friend [Elizabeth] not see that? (p.80)

Why did Theranos fail? The company was glutted with sloppy corporate governance, bad management, and despotism. Holmes hired her college roommate, boyfriend, and her incompetent brother to work as her closest people. She valued loyalty more than competency, and expertise. That’s not a way to go for a high-tech company. She might have over compensate because she’s young and tried to assert her authority over her well-trained brilliant employees. Her smartness could not really cover for her lack of training in the medical field. This insecurity manifested in making each department a silo. It translated in her obsession with leaking trade secrets out by surveilling her employees.

She had a vision that she genuinely believed in and threw herself into realizing. But in her all-consuming quest to be the second coming of Steve Jobs amid the gold rush of the “unicorn” boom, there came a point when she stopped listening to sound advice and began to cut corners. Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was a collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it (p. 299).

The book really made the character Elizabeth Holmes appear like some body that one could spot in street of Silicon Valley. She was loved by the press. She was the woman engineer that everybody wanted to have in the male-dominated world of the tech industry. On her rise to stardom, the author writes:

Her journal interview had gotten some notice and there had also been a piece in Wired, but there was nothing like a magazine cover to grab people’s attention. Especially when that cover featured an attractive young woman wearing a black turtleneck, dark mascara around her piercing blue eyes, and bright red lipstick next to the catchy headline “THIS CEO IS OUT FOR BLOOD” (p. 208).

John Carreyrou was not afraid to criticize the press, including his own employer, the Wall Street Journal for having buy into Holmes’s promises early, and brought her from the periphery  to the center of national attention. This increasing publicity helped her raise money, and bring political and elite powerful people closer to her. Her company got valued a lot higher because of all those PR articles. This story makes clear the process, whereby a startup gets more funding via its inflated images portrayed by the presses. Then the press would give it even more attention for its successful rounds of funding. The startup is then swelling with funding, and flowery media images of itself. It’s a vicious circle.

One great thing about the book is that the author makes chemical and engineering processes read-able to the wider audience. What is high-tech is suddenly within grasp. For example, when talking about how a commercial blood analyzer might introduce errors, Carreyrou writes:

Alan had reservations about the dilution part. The Siemens analyzer already diluted blood samples when it performed its assays. The protocol Daniel and Sam had come up with meant that the blood would be diluted twice, once before it went into the machine and a second time inside it. Any lab director worth his salt knew that the more you tampered with a blood sample, the more room you introduced for error. 170

My favorite aspect of the book is its language: very matter-of-factly. There is no over flowery language. Everything is straight to the point. It is a long form of investigative journalism. It’s about the truth. There are great sentences for sure, but these great and stylistic sentences are not the main focus of the book. Now I understand my obsession with non-fictions when I was a teenager. When my English was not great, I preferred reading for information, and that I didnt have to guess what each symbolism meant.

Even though Carreyrou writes with a matter-of-factly tone, his superb writing skill really makes the book read like a movie. Each chapter rolls like a movie sequence. He zooms his camera at some characters, their stories, and then zooms out, and re-introduces them again later. Every character is presented to show the progression of the rise and downfall of Theranos. The book also reads like an urgent detective work. The sense of urgency is seeping throughout the book. Sometimes, it feels like one is watching a thriller movie.

As a sociologist, I must say that the book is very sociological. The author paints a  complex social network around Holmes, and how it influences Holmes’s decision making process. Theranos’s downfall is a social failure, not necessarily just the failure of a female startup founder. Carreyrou argues that it’s the fake-it-till-you-make it culture in Silicon Valley that contributed to this failure. Theranos was engaging in practices what other tech giants was doing with their products. For example, Apple, MS, and Oracle were accused of “vaporware,” a term to describe:

A new computer software or hardware that was announced with great fanfare only to take years to materialize, if it did at all. It was a reflection of the computer industry’s tendency to play it fast and loose when it came to marketing… Such over promising became a defining feature of Silicon Valley. The harm done to consumers was minor, measured in frustration and deflated expectations (p.296).

Holmes was just following the footsteps of those who she admired:

By positioning Theranos as a tech company in the heart of the Valley, Holmes channeled this fake-it-until-you-make-it culture, and she went to extreme lengths to hide the fakery  (p. 296).

However, she’s wrong. She’s working in the intersection between the tech industry, and the healthcare industry, where no “vaporware” is tolerated because it messes with human life. Computers and human beings are not the same. Legislation is still trying to catch up with computers, but human kind has had thousands of years dealing with illnesses. Life is invaluable, not disposable like an Apple computer.

When I first read Chapter 19: The Tip,  I thought well it looked like an Appendix in a sociological monograph, the end was coming. However, I was wrong. Instead, the chapter was the plot twist. And the I-character entered the story out. Carreyrou started narrating how he became involved in the project to bring down the unicorn. From then the story shifted to how the WSJ  published important investigative articles that showed the truth. This in effect alarmed regulators. They made regulators aware of all the wrongdoings that Theranos.  This is where the hero, the protagonist of the book was introduced.

While the book does a great job at telling the story of Theranos, and how journalists can work with regulators, and public policy makers to bring to light harmful practices, its main focus on Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes leaves many questions unanswered. For one, what is the fate of various early skeptics of Theranos? For example, the Fuisz’s, who was sued by Theranos early on because of a patent. Theranos really destroyed their family wealth in an expensive  legal battle. John Fuisz left his law firm because of reputational damage caused by Elizabeth Holmes’s accusations. Carreyrou seems to leave them out of the picture all together when his mission is accomplished: to reveal Holmes’s ruthless character.  It seems that the author deploys lawyer’s practice: to discredit the character of the defendant by showing the court how she has been treating people really badly all along.Yet, what others think, feel after Theranos was liquidated is not at all discussed. The battle is won. There’s no point of following up with other witnesses.

Dropping characters aside, why did Theranos failed? It’s the delusion and bad practices of Theranos, the author asserts:

Hyping your product to get funding while concealing your true progress and hoping that reality will eventually catch up to the hype continues to be tolerated in the tech industry. But it’s crucial to bear in mind that Theranos wasn’t a tech company in the traditional sense. It was first and foremost a health-care company. Its product wasn’t software but a medical device that analyzed people’s blood. As Holmes herself liked to point out in media interviews and public appearances at the height of her fame, doctors base 70 percent of their treatment decisions on lab results. They rely on lab equipment to work as advertised. Otherwise, patient health is jeopardized (p.297).

However, is this failure solely Holme’s responsibility? As a sociologist I see it to be the problem of the tech industry when it tries to disrupt a more established industry: healthcare, where a patent’s life is at risk. This is a more systematic failure of the Silicon culture, and business practices.  The line between faking it and lying about it is oftentimes blurred. All companies exploit legal loopholes to disrupt various industries. Holmes lived within the Silicon Valley universe, and had exercise her agency as what she was supposed to do. She was just following the herd, but she picked the wrong battle. The healthcare industry is not the same as the taxi industry or mass media.  One can lie about a hardware that has not existed, but one cannot lie about how a technology will not harm a patient.

My take-away after reading the book is that running a startup or any business is like running a marathon, not a sprint. One cannot force the race to be faster. It is a long training process where prior preparation is required to ensure a successful race. Another insight that I learned is that the quest to accelerate automation could bring potential harmful effects. Of course, automation can help with production, and various aspects of life. In healthcare, one must admit that human workers, particularly doctors, and lab technicians are magically accurate because their long-time training. They have hunches, and intuition which a machine does not have. Yes, humans make mistakes, but they also work wonder.

 

Soziopod: Sociology Podcast from Germany

In the past, I have reviewed two sociology podcasts from the United States and the United Kingdom, namely The Annex Sociology, and Thinking Allowed (Than 2017). Still an avid listener of both channels, I am constantly learning about new ideas and the development in my field on the two sides of the Atlantic. Yet, the previous blog post reveals that my consumption of sociological knowledge is very Anglo-American centric. That is, outside of what is available in the English language, I almost never tried to read sociological knowledge written in another language. While in Berlin, I discussed this issue with a good friend, Herrmann Königs, a sociologist in training at Humboldt University in Berlin. He suggested that I should listen to a sociology podcast in German. It’s called Soziopod. I took a listen, and was pleasantly surprised by its content, the quality of the debates, and the number of episodes available. This blog post summarizes my overall evaluation of the podcast.

Soziopod

One can find more information about the podcast here. According to Wikipedia, it is dedicated to sociological and philosophical topics, and started in 2011. The podcast is unfortunately in German, which means that it is non-accessible to many. Unlike the two podcasts mentioned above, which focus mainly on sociology and other related social sciences, this podcast brings philosophy to the center of all social debates. This element in itself is very refreshing.

The podcast is hosted by Dr. Nils Köbel and Patrick Breitenbach. Dr. Köbel is a trained sociologist of children, youth, and religion, and Patrick Breitenbach is an expert in digital media. They make a good pair of hosts because both of them are invested in various topics. Since one of them is a media expert, he could translate abstract concepts into layman’s language. Many a times, the podcast avoids sociological jargon, which only insiders could understand.  The purpose of the podcast is to make sociological knowledge accessible to everyone. Dr. Köbel stated that they try present the topics in a manner of general understanding to “bring Sociology to the streets, where it belongs.”

A typical episode lasts around one hour. It is structured around a topic such as social inequality, migration, power, right-wing extremism, religion, or the Frankfurt School of social theory. That means, it’s a wealth of knowledge for anybody who is interested in social debates in Germany. Every once in a while, they also air a special episode where the hosts discuss an issue with a body of audience, and interact with them. Sometimes they invite experts to comment on certain topics. That means listeners could directly raise a question to the hosts/moderators, and sometimes debate with the two hosts as well. Since its inception in 2011, the program has produced more than 70 episodes, a few public forums for an audience to interact with the hosts, and they have published one book. This is quite impressive!

After the topic is being introduced, the hosts would define an important concept or concepts. Then they introduce the different social theorists who have written about the topic, and elaborate more on how these theorists are in conversation with one another. More importantly the discussions are situated in the context of contemporary Germany, which makes abstract scholarly debates relatable to daily life experience.

The discussions have a lot of pedagogical values. During the course of one hour, one can learn many important social theory concepts, and could look for appropriate examples to make sense a particular concept.  Each episode contains lots of knowledge about social theory.  The hosts often highlight theoretical concepts which have been invented by German theorists such as Jürgen Harbamas,  Thomas Luhmann,  or Theodor Adorno. I found these discussions fascinating because I have never really read these authors closely, nor used any of their works before. What is even more intriguing is that the hosts would relate sociological concepts to philosophical concepts. In other words, they acknowledge the foundation of sociology: philosophy. When unearthing the genealogy of a particular term, one could trace it back to some philosopher who wrote about similar topics. This is a contrast to my current sociological training in the United States, which as a field has developed into something that has been moved quite far from philosophy, or social theory.

Even though the podcast is a great pedagogical channel, as an American trained student of sociology, I cannot help but point out some of its shortcomings. First, its main topics would be categorized under the umbrellas of social theory or political sociology in American sociology terms. According to the recent sections that are listed on the American Sociological Association’s website, social theory and political sociology are two among its 52 official sections. In other words, the podcast covers a very small fraction of all possible sociological topics that one can study.

Given the nature of its leaning toward social theory, and philosophy,  most discussions stay on the abstract level. The discussions are centered around a topic, relevant sociological concepts, and different possible directions that could be taken to deal with the topic. What is barely discussed is empirical evidence to test whether the theory actually works on the grounds. The general structure of one episode is organized as follows:

  1. Definition of a concept
  2. How to operationalize the concept?
  3. Can one use the concept in a particular context in relation to the given topic?
  4. Who else has talked about the concept and this phenomenon since ancient philosophy?
  5. What else can we learn about the phenomenon?
  6. Is there any unresolved contradiction?

The hosts barely cite new research conducted in contemporary Germany. They often talk about big thinkers, who came up with concepts that could be applied universally. There are almost no discussions about methodology and data, which in my opinion are the strength of sociology. We are a pluralistic bunch of scientists who employ a variety of methods, theories, and data to study the social world. The podcast’s main focuses are concepts, and argumentation. As a student of immigration, work, and the urban, I find the podcast lacking because those fields are by definition not the main focus of the podcast. Because of its emphasis on theory, the podcast is also not paying enough attention to the lived experience of a particular group, which quintessentially showcases how a person inhabits their living environment, and reveals their social world.

When I brought up my observation about the lack of empirical research discussions in the podcast, my friend, Herrmann Königs, commented that this illustrates what is valued and emphasized in sociological research and pedagogy in Germany. In his words: “German sociology emphasizes intellectual history of a concept, and whether the concept could be applied universally.” We then went on to debate the question: Is it necessary to learn about the historical context, through which the concept arose in order to understand a contemporary social phenomenon? We couldn’t come up with a consensus whether it is productive to learn about intellectual history of a concept, or whether it is more productive to learn how to apply it in a contemporary situation. However, our discussion highlights the differences in our training on the two sides of the Atlantic. American sociological training tends to emphasize the empirical; the German, the theoretical.

Due to their training, my German counterparts impress me with their expertise in close reading of original texts, and the logic of their argumentation. However, I find their main interests on formal institutions such as the church, the school, and the state to be limiting. Sociologists can also study sub-cultures such as that of the urban squatters, Punk Rock culture, the Fusion (the equivalent of the Burning Man), the proliferation of Yoga, and the immigrants. All of those marginal groups might one day become mainstream, and by studying these subgroups, sociologists could reveal social transformations.

One could criticize that I am too American-centric, and that I cannot impose an agenda set by my profession on one side of the Atlantic to the other. I agree that I am an American trained sociologist, but I also think that as a profession, scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have much to learn from each other. German sociology provides rigorous theoretical training that I wish American graduate programs could provide. I would like to see students from day one to engage more with theoretical texts, and learn how to do it properly rather than seeing people like myself scared of social theory, and opt to do empirical research from day one. Thus, many a times sociology papers read a-theoretical to me. However, American pragmatism is much to be praised. With this pragmatic orientation in mind, we are looking for mechanism of why something is the case, and using our sociological imagination to reveal it. The two papers that I have read lately that showcase how a mechanism-focused researcher could be done are “When two bodies are (not) a problem” by Lauren Rivera (2017), and “All that is Solid” by David Peterson (2015). They exemplify some of the best contemporary sociological research that American academia has to offer.

Another aspect that I find not satisfactory is that the main (if not only) geographical focus of the podcast is Germany. It doesn’t give any air time other German speaking countries such as Switzerland, Austria, and Lichtenstein. If the social concepts are so universally applicable, why are they not applied in other cultural, sociopolitical contexts? According to Jaeeum Kim(2017), the field of sociology is openly anti-area studies. In other words, American sociologists tend to study American society; Germans study German one. Despite all odds, many sociologists travel across nation-state boundaries to study a particular social phenomenon. A few great books that I have read in the past two years include Jaeeun Kim (2016)’s Contested Embrace, where the author examined immigration from the Korean Peninsula, and their diasporic politics in the 20th century. Another example is Kimberly Hoang (2015)’s Dealing in Desire, which is an excellent ethnography that looks at the co-production of gender and capital in the sex market place in the context of globalizing Vietnam. Two growing subfields of sociological research are China Studies and Asian Studies. The 21st century has been dubbed as the Asian Century. It would be a mistake to not pay any attention to this important geographical area. In other words, only paying attention to social phenomena that occur within the geographical boundary of the German nation is a disadvantage for German sociologists in the context of increasing interdependence and interconnections of different areas of the world.

In conclusion, Sociopod has provided me with a substantial vocabulary to talk with my sociology colleagues on this side of the Atlantic. If you’re comfortable with social theory, political sociology, or pedagogy, you should give it a try. It is packed with bite-size discussions of theoretical knowledge. Its ability to reach a popular audience is aspiring. Bringing sociology to the street is such an inspiring goal, and it ought to be supported. In the context of the increasing emphasis of public sociology, I wish that all academics could use some of the hosts’ techniques to mainstream sociological knowledge to the wider audience. Sociology indeed belongs to the street, and that the knowledge of the profession should not be contained within the walls of the academe.

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Every year I would write a list of new year’s resolutions, and then forget what they were or whether I follow through with any of them by the end of the year. Regardless of whether I achieve the goals that I set out to do, I think the act of writing down those goals is important. It helps me reflect upon what is important, and what is attainable. Following Cal Newport’s suggestion: “think small, act big,”  I will sketch some general goals that I would like to achieve for this year.

Writing/ Blogging

One cannot stress enough the importance of writing in a life of an academic. It does not matter what one writes. What matters is one writes regularly. In Write No Matter What, Joli Jensen (2017) advocates that an academic ought to write regardless of what she is interested in at that moment. One’s research is oftentimes influenced by many factors: availability of data, of advisors, research partners, time, resources, general interests of the academic community, etc. Yet, writing every day is a must. As of now, my research has not been clearly defined yet, but I do want to practice writing. This blog is an appropriate venue for me to practice this most important skill, and it is a platform for me to exchange ideas with others. Ultimately, a blog is an auto-ethnography whereby I experiment with C. Wright Mills’s idea of the intersection between public issues and personal problems, of personal biography and history.

An upper year PhD student briefed me over lunch last week that she is struggling writing another dissertation chapter because she is not confident with her writing. She suggested that I should practice writing every day. Furthermore, I should start before the dissertation phase whereby I have a final project of 100,000 words to submit to my committee. My brain could not help but entertain a scenario: If I write only 1000 words a day. Then it takes me only 100 days to finish writing. What is so difficult?

I was wrong. Writing a big project like that is not like writing blog posts, where I ramble about whatever in my mind. A bigger project takes more planning, conceptualizing, connecting intellectual dots, and executing it. Having published a few blog posts helped me recognize that I cannot write so fast. I learned that I write and edit at a rate of 200 words per hour. That means if I want to finish a 1000-word product of academic writing, it would take me at least 5 hours a day. Now let imagine my speed for academic writing is half of my blog writing. Then it takes 10 hours to write and edit the 1000 word quota. Many people do not have the luxury to dedicate 5 continuous hours to writing, let alone 10 hours straight. More realistically, I might be able to write up to 400-500 words a day during the dissertation phase, which means it would take me about 200-250 working days to complete it. Well, it is literally a year-long project.

My goal is to regularly pen a post on this blog. What is new and exciting this year is that I am looking for co-authoring with other people on this blog. Two student fellows have agreed to co-author something with me. One would reflect on the topic of name and identity, and the other is still thinking about what he would write with me. If you would like to co-pen with me about something that is burning in you, let me know. I keep a log of topics that I want to write about, and have never got time to develop them into a full-2000-word reflection piece.

Social Media & Internet Junks

Recently I listened to a podcast that interviewed Jaron Lanier, a computer philosopher, who coined the term “virtual reality.” He firmly believes that the addiction model that social media companies employ to keep users go back to check on them is harmful to an individual’s mental health, and society at large. Technocrats, intellectuals, and academics alike are increasingly advocating for us to restrict our time spending on the Internet, checking email, and checking social media feeds/ messages. For example, Chamath Palihapitiya, the founder of Social Capital, and former Facebook executive has publicly announced that Facebook is bad for social cohesion.  Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, the author of Deep Work, also supports this position. Newport (2016) even goes further arguing that as a knowledge worker, which I am, should focus on doing mentally demanding tasks, which one could only spend around 4 hours a day on. The intensity of academic work makes a knowledge worker wear out fast mentally, and social media and emails do not help us to recuperate, but burden us with unnecessary information. In other words, to produce intellectual work, one ought to stay away from social media.

I could not afford to write on my website, or syllabus “I do not use e-mail” like what Alan Lightman, a physicist, and novelist at MIT does. But I can certainly delete all social media apps on my cell phone, and stay away from them on my desktop. The amount time saved would be spent on reading, writing, refining research questions, spending time with close friends, doing yoga and taking as many walks as possible.

My goal is to trim down all the Internet fat that I have been accumulating in the past decade. It’s all for a better work/life balance that I am aiming to have.

Health – Sleep

My sociologist friend, Larry Liu, over a glass of beer, confided to me, that he could not sleep without having a skeleton of his dissertation research in mind. I keep wondering whether not having a skeleton of my big research project has been the cause of my not being able to get enough sleep. Certainly, it’s not the only cause. My battle with having 8 hours of sleep has been a long struggle for the past decade or even more. It’s various kind of anxiety that has kept me awake. My anxiety would never go away, but I believe that if I’m intentional about sleeping, I will be able to get enough of it.

Hobbies

Cello

Frankly speaking, I do not know how to distract myself from academic work. I need someone who is not my colleague/co-worker to distract me from theorizing about human life. My interest in learning an instrument has been renewed since I started living with a jazz musician. Plus, I have been dreaming of playing the cello for quite a while. My landlord has agreed to introduce me to a jazz musician who plays bass, and cello to give me lessons. The idea sounds like fun, and I feel that the free form of jazz would free me up from thinking about music structure, and music theory which I have a love/hate relationship with.

Language

Over the break I started learning Hindi. My polyglot friend, Kevin Fei Sun, sent me some materials to learn Hindi. I also signed up for an informal tutoring lesson with a Hindi teacher on Italki.com, and started watching Bollywood movies available on Netflix. Hopefully by the end of the year, I could visit India, get around and order some food on my own. Again, this is a hobby that brings me joy, and keeps me away from thinking about any sociological problem.

Travel

Traveling is an integral part of one’s quest for knowledge. It does not matter where one goes. What matters is what one learns from a new place. Sometimes I wonder why I have this insatiable desire to travel, and often end up going to random places like Belgrade in Serbia, or Leipzig in Germany, or Coventry in England.  My winter trip to Vietnam, and Bryan Turner’s sociology of generation helped me think through my constant desire to see new places. Finally I recognized that I am a part of a generation of Vietnamese who have the quest to see the world. The Vietnamese Millennials are akin to the Baby Boomers in the Anglo-American world. They are both lucky generations.

How do the Vietnamese Millennials resemble the Baby Boomers in Anglo-American countries? First, the Vietnamese youth were born after the Vietnam War, which meant they could enjoy various kind of economic expansion opportunities. My parents could not see the world because Vietnam was closed off to the world due to the Vietnam War, and the immediate period after it. The Vietnamese Millennials dream to see the world for themselves and for their ancestors who have never been a part of the global economy. Second, because of the rapid economic integration into the world economy, this generation is observing a rapid rise in income similar to their peers in other developing countries such as China, and Indonesia (Milanovic, 2016). Third, half of the Vietnamese population are younger than 35 years old (Statista), which makes the Millenials to be the main actors who drive the consumer market, and set trends in any market. They could be bothered little about the Vietnam War because they have little social memory about it. Instead, they aspire to a consumer culture that K-pop celebrities show them how to live an American life-style within an Asian cultural framework.

All young Vietnamese are on the road. They want to see the part of the country that they have never been to. They want to see the part of the world that neither they nor their parents  have never been to. National TV channels are dominated with news about new tourist attractions, with what one can see and eat in a foreign country. Everybody talks about “phuot,” or backpacking. I am not different. I transitioned to my adulthood reading books with titles like Xách Balô Lên và Đi, or Pick up the Backpack and Go [Backpacking]. I am carrying that “phuot” mentality by way of being a part of the Vietnamese “phuot” generation. We all want to acquire experiential knowledge that one ought to have as a young adult. Being the largest generation in Vietnam at this point, we have the power to decide what the tourism culture should be.

Since I am learning Hindi, the obvious next destination to visit is India. Let see how my language and travel plans work together. Planning is not as important as having some objectives, and working on them on a daily basis. These aforementioned goals are contingent to my main academic work. Yet, they make me a better academic as they help me orientate and make my life more interesting this year.

Sociology Podcasts: Thinking Allowed vs. The Annex Sociology

The first blog entry I wrote is about the increasing listenership of podcasts. Since then I have received many recommendations from friends, and those who read and commented on my post. Among the suggestions, a few stand out to be excellent entertainment, and intellectual channels for my commute. One of them is Imaginary Worlds, which is a podcast about science fictions. It is a delicious show with many bite-size science fiction audibles. Alternatively, I listen to New York standup comedy shows such as Sleepyhead. Another weird one that has to do with insect and the science of Entomophagy is the Ento. It seems that anything you want to listen to, there is a podcast for it. The choices are endless. One faces with the paradox of choice in one’s consumption of audible, which is at the end of the day a quintessential American consumption problem.

The phrase “have a listen” now becomes a part of my daily language, which is in and of itself an interesting development. Sometimes a friend recommends a new show; other times I just follow suggestions on the podcast-sphere.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a podcast which targets sociology nerds. What a great find! It is the Annex Sociology, a podcast solely dedicated to sociology. It is, however, not the first sociology podcast that I ever listened to. I have been a big fan of Thinking Allowed, hosted by Laurie Taylor, a British sociologist. The Annex Sociology, however, is different. It is co-hosted by three sociologists: Joseph Cohen (CUNY Queens College), Leslie Hinkson (Georgetown), and Gabriel Rossman (UCLA). That means it is made on the American soil, and dedicated to American sociology!

This blog post is about good bits and can-be-improved parts that the Annex Sociology has in comparison to its British counterpart. Overall, it is a great podcast for sociology graduate students. I do not recommend it to undergraduate students, or popular audience mainly because of the amount of inside jokes, and jargons that the hosts throw out.

Thinking Allowed

For starters, Thinking Allowed is a British show, a BBC Radio 4 series discussing social science. The earliest episode available online is dated back to November 2007. That means it has been in existence for at least 10 years, and bas been consistently hosted by the sociologist, Laurie Taylor, now a retired professor of sociology. Each episode lasts only 28 minutes. The number of minutes is very strict, and has been kept 28 minutes for the past decade. Within the limited amount of time, Laurie Taylor manages to be very compact, includes various debates, and invites a wide range of speakers in only one episode. Take for example one of my favorite episode: The Subway.  The main guest of the show is William Kornblum, whose new book is about the 7 train in New York. Kornblum basically uses the train as a social lab to study social interactions of different immigrant and ethnic groups. Laurie Taylor invited two other guests including Iain Sinclair, writer and film maker, and Melissa Butcher, a reader in social and cultural sociology. That is to say, in 30 minutes, he is able to entertain listeners with three experts from completely different fields on the topic of the subway as a social laboratory. Sometimes Taylor cut the guest speakers off  when they  try to make a long-winded argument. In other contexts, it might sound rude, but it is totally understandable in a limited air-time show. He uses the phrase “in the interest of time” almost every episode to suggest that the speaker should put their thoughts in a more succinct manner.

By the virtue of being aired from the UK, a lot of research on the UK soil is featured. It is important because sociologists tend to do research where they live. To paraphrase Les Back: sociologists are like social scientists like anthropologists, but we like to study a local bus station rather than a village in Southeast Asia. That means by listening to Thinking Allowed, I get a sense of what a good sociological research from the UK sounds like. At times Taylor would invite German, Italian, French and Russian researchers to share their works. Put differently, his podcast is European in nature. As the example above demonstrated, he also invites American scholars to speak in his show. The kind of transatlantic, transcontinental scholarly exchange in Laurie Taylor’s show is very impressive.

On the artistic and performative side, the show makes one feel that sociology is not a science but a true art form. Whenever an ethnographer is invited to speak, Laurie would skillfully inject an excerpt from the speaker’s newest book. A voice actor/actress would read something that an informant says about his/her social world, or what he/she thinks about certain phenomenon/practice. This form of spoken ethnography transports the listener immediately into that person’s social world, and helps the listener to be able to make sense of the informant’s worldview. This is qualitative sociology at its best: being performed.

All of the artistic, story-telling, and impactful that Thinking Allowed has to provide keeps me a loyal listener for the past 5 years. I discovered it when I was not even aware of what a typical sociologist does. I just listened to it for the sheer amount of interesting information, and knowledge that I learned from the show. The show has a popular appeal. Now let me turn to the younger American podcast, the Annex Sociology, and compares it with its British friend.

The Annex Sociology  

It is a weekly podcast. A new episode is uploaded every Monday. The hosts, Joseph Cohen, Leslie Hinkson, and Gabriel Rossman provide readers with the state of the art updates on what is going on in American Sociology. Each episode is a feast of discussion of theoretical and methodological innovations. Besides, the three hosts are really funny. They make me feel as if I was listening to The Simpson sometimes.

The three hosts, even though are based at different universities across the country have a few things in common. For one, they all got their PhD from Princeton University. For another, they are all quantitative researchers. Yet speakers come from a diverse methodological background including ethnography, interview, etc.

According to Leslie Hickson, “Annex” means something outside, beyond the main premises of a property, so they talk about things that are often not discussed in a classroom context for example. For a sociology enthusiast like me, the content of all episodes is great, especially when all hosts agree that “we should purge STATA out of sociology.” This statement was a brutal attack for my current training because I have not even learned much of STATA skill yet, and already feel like my skills are no longer needed. Why wasting my time acquiring something that will go extinct? It is similar my other debate: why I should get a driver’s license in the era of driverless cars.

In the first few episodes, I was lost most of the times because the hosts use vocabulary that is inherent to quantitative research to make their points cross. Currently focusing on honing my qualitative research skills, I pay very little attention to quantitative research language. In other words, even being trained as a sociologist, I still need some cultural translation to understand various points. Unlike its social science kin disciplines such as anthropology and economics, sociology suffers from methodological tribalism. It is both an advantage and a curse of the field. Within qualitative method, there are at least four different sub-methods: ethnography, interview, media/content analysis, and comparative historical analysis. Certainly the process of sub-tribalization is even more intense in quantitative research. In total, one has a lot to choose from, or one suffers again from “a paradox of choice.”

However, listening to these young and enthusiastic researchers/ professors, who are full of energy, and willing to put their words, opinions out there about the field is exciting. They create a very good space to invite young academics to share their research. That means sociologists are engaging more in public dissemination of knowledge. This is a great improvement.

Furthermore, they are all hilarious, and I could not stop laughing at their various jokes on popular culture. In one episode, Leslie Hickson talks about Taylor Swift and her brand, and how Taylor Swift has outgrown her brand, but she does not know how to make the adjustment. For a person who does not listen to American pop music, and follow tabloid news. Their tuning in to scandals gives me a secondary source to talk with my undergraduate students.

In comparison to Laurie’s Thinking allowed episodes in general the American counterparts are a lot longer generally around 70 minutes. That means it takes me maybe 1.5 days to finish an episode because my commute is in generally less than 30 minutes. When I pick up the episode again, I have already forgotten what was discussed the day before.

There are a lot of methodology discussions more than Laurie’s channel. This is what I see as a strength of American sociology in comparison to its European counterpart. Social scientists in this country constantly come up with methodological innovation. Sociologists borrow techniques from various fields such as biostatistics, computer science, physics to better measure and model social world. This borrowing is a double edge sword because it makes the podcast so much out of reach to the majority of lay people. Even at a graduate level, I still find a discussion of Python and object-oriented R language to be exoteric. Sometimes these discussions increase my professional anxiety. I keep asking myself whether I have been receiving the wrong kind of training, and obsolete training already. I am already becoming a dinosaur before I am even born a baby. What’s the matter with my education? I know it’s not the state-of-the-art kind of research education, but it seems that what I am studying now should have gone extinct long time ago. So instead of enlightening me in terms of providing me vocabulary to articulate some social problems, the podcast re-enforces the existing pressure in academia: there are very few jobs; it’s very competitive now; and one has to publish [peer-reviewed articles].

At the end of the day, the three well-meaning academics bring their professional stress, and spread it to their audience. Whether I should take this stress as something real or not, it is still a question. Whether I should convert my methodological inclination to quantitative or not, it depends on my research question.

One needs to acknowledge that they are doing needed work here by making information more transparent in the field. In comparison to the British one, they probably do not receive any governmental or institutional funding. That means they have been using their “free” time to create public knowledge. The fact that they do not receive funding for their project sadly highlights the neoliberal nature of higher education, and knowledge production in this country.

If they received funding, I am sure that they could shorten the episodes by writing very structured script before airing anything. The episodes would be less in conversational style, but more in structural form. They would be able to invite speakers from outside the US, etc. Being inclusive is a big thing here. Sociologists are very diverse in terms of their theoretical and methodological approach. I am looking forward to more interesting talks, and also more innovation from the Podcast. I hope that the learning curve is not steep, and that these three brilliant sociologists will soon figure out that their production of knowledge can be improved really fast.

 

Podcast Industry vs. Radio Industry

On the way home today, while listening to a show about how startups lure venture capitalists to invest in their business, called The Pitch, I suddenly thought about some implications of increasing popularity of the podcast industry on the radio industry. My guess was that since more people have switched to listen to podcasts, and that the quality of podcasts has improved significantly, the number of radio listeners should decline. A nerd like I am, I went home and did some cursory research about the trends in these two more ore less competing industries. I found  one report   from Pew Research Center.

Basically the report confirms my impression that listenership for podcast has increased in the past decade. Specifically, the percent of Americans ages 12 or older who have listened to a podcast increased from 11% to 40% in the period between 2006 and 2017. That is a huge increase! Here is the chart from Pew:

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 8.01.58 PM

Yet the report does not say anything substantially about whether this trend would affect radio listenership.

There is a debate about whether the rise of podcasting would bring diversity into the radio world, which is still dominated by white and middle-aged folks. This is of course a valid question. Since it is a new industry for young, talented and creative people, technology could potentially level the playing field.

However when I looked back at the Pew Report, I actually realized that there is no information on the demographics of both listeners and podcast show hosts. My impression from speaking with my students, and other researchers after I posted the first blog on Podcast  is that the majority of Podcast listeners are Millennials. This is an industry created by Millennials for Millennials. Does it mean then the diversity question I mentioned about above is only about racial and ethnic diversity but not age-cohort diversity?  As an avid podcast listener, does it mean then I am trapped in a Millennial bubble? Other people also have something to say, why don’t we let some Baby Boomers who don’t listen to podcast shows on the subway say something about their lived experiences going through a retirement process and managing his 401K plan?

My last concern is about curating podcasts. Now I am fanatically downloading different podcasts once I hear or read something new that just came out. I recognize  at some point I will be overwhelmed by the amount of podcasts that I have not listened to. Similar to blog posts, and other content on Web 2.0, podcast hosts are fervently creating content. My feeling is that the next phase of this development, or it has already been going on without me paying attention to it is podcast curation. My life is chaotic enough. I need someone to actually put my podcast consumption in order otherwise my sanity will be jeopardized.

These questions and concerns make me a bit worried. Yet, I am a positive person. I tend to look at the brighter side of any phenomenon. The industry is certainly booming, and I am looking forward to exploring it more, and would like to see its development.