August 12, 2010

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Sometimes it does take a village…

Way back in 1996, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote a book about the benefits of community in raising America’s children and elevated the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” to folk status in this country.

Of course, the book and the phrase were swatted around the political circuit, including a book-form rebuttal (of sorts) by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum : “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.” One-time Presidential candidate cum Saturday Night Live punch line Bob Dole even took a jab at the book: “It does not take a village to raise a child,” he said during his 1996 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

The silly political flap over Clinton’s simple book (guess the right thought it was a communist flotilla?)  has faded, but the phrase lingers, often coming off the tongue quickly whenever we see people coming together to help each other in some way.

Critics of modern American life like to point out that we are becoming less communal in many ways. On lots of levels this is true. We leave our hometowns and extended families behind for work a lot more. We spend a lot of time in cars. We spend even more time online. All of these things have taken a toll on our social fabric.

That toll can be witnessed, arguably, in declines across the board – from failures in childhood education to low social contentment (Americans are on average much less happy than our peers in other Western democracies).  Modern life is tough.

In that climate, the story of the Fifields (see front page) is all the more heartening. Faced with a life threatening illness and mountains of medical bills, several communities came together to help, most notably the Chestnut Hill community that has helped the Fifields so much, they were considering taking up a friend’s offer to take his old freezer and install it in the basement to store all the food well- wishers have brought.

The story is illustrative of just how powerful community – our proverbial village – can be.  And not just at providing meals. The Fifields have had a lot of help with their two boys. As a father of two children younger than 6 – like the Fifields – I can attest to the difficulty. A village might not be necessary to raise a child, but it sure helps a whole lot.

Furthermore, it should make us wonder: Have we all sacrificed a bit too much and lost a little more community than we’d like? It’s hard to really know until we find ourselves in a situation when we really need that community. Without family and friends to help us when we need it, we could find ourselves in real trouble – trouble we can’t overcome on our own.

So yes, it might have become a cliché, but sometimes it really does take a village. And we certainly want to make sure we live in one when things go wrong.

Pete Mazzaccaro


Help! I’m hooked on Facebook: confessions of a social media addict

In the past, addiction was simple. There were alcoholics, drug addicts and gambling addicts. In these days of rapid innovation, however, it seems that people can be addicted to nearly anything: food, shopping, and even plastic surgery. The worst addiction yet (yes, even worse than plastic surgery) is the Facebook addiction. The odd thing is that although countless members of my generation may be on their way to “Facebooks Anonymous,” most of us don’t even enjoy signing onto Facebook to begin with.

Last week I spent four days at Princeton University’s water polo camp – a camp filled with kids from 15 to 18 from all over the country. I noticed well over half of the kids checking their Facebooks regularly on phones, iPods, and even laptops during the four days.

One kid got out of the pool, dried off, and checked his Facebook from his iPhone. Even when I was recording a video by the pool, my friend said, “this has to go on Facebook.” Nearly every teen would say that’s not the first time they’ve heard that statement, as Facebook has become a centerpiece for my generation. It’s such a vital part of our lives, and we can’t seem to live without it. Yet, many of my peers can’t believe how much time they waste on Facebook doing things that are, quite frankly, pointless.

Over the past few weeks there have been two contradictory reports released about Facebook usage. A Nielsen study revealed that Internet users spent 50 percent more time on social networking in June 2010 than they did in June 2009. Further, this survey found that users spend 23 percent of all online time on social networking sites – mainly on Facebook.

Yet, a study released by ForSee Results and American Customer Satisfaction Index gave Facebook a 64 out of 100 for customer satisfaction – right around the same rating airline companies receive.

We use Facebook nonstop, but remain unsatisfied with going onto the social networking site. With such conflicting reports, I decided to get my own data to settle (or perhaps further) this confusion. And so where else would I turn: Facebook.

My goal with this survey was simple: find out how attached teens are to Facebook and what we like and dislike about what the “object” my generation revolves around. In 24 hours, 35 of my Facebook friends (teenagers) responded. Twenty-five teens said they check their Facebooks about three times a day, while ten said they check it more than seven times a day, and these latter figures likely don’t take into account the times teens subconsciously check their Facebooks throughout the day; it’s scary how second-nature it is to check Facebook for only a quick two minutes, and those two little minutes of doing nothing can quickly turn into hours.

Even scarier is the fact that we can indulge our addiction by accessing it anywhere and anytime (with ease). Further, this addiction follows its addicts; we don’t necessarily follow it. Many teens get instant notifications sent to their phones in order to keep up with the non-stop Facebook action.

Way back when, maybe a year ago, text messages would make my friends’ Blackberries ring. Now, it’s more likely that noise is due to a new Facebook notification than a new text message. A friend of mine was recently at my house and without hesitation or any thought at all, he turned on my laptop and quickly logged onto Facebook. Add on another two minutes to his daily count. On a college visit just a few weeks ago, I stayed in Boston for only one night.

Without my computer, I nearly forced myself to go to the hotel’s business office to check my Facebook. Add on another two minutes to my daily count... Why did I drag myself on Facebook that night? Well, I’d miss my brand new notification, the obnoxious status updates, the new pictures of some girls on a beach, and really not much else. That’s what is so perplexing. Countless times it is only after we spend an hour on Facebook that we realize: what did we just look at? Nothing important.

Bring on the contradiction. From my small survey, Facebook earned a 97 percent “approval rating.” Yet, half of the survey-takers have thought about deleting their Facebook accounts due to the amount of time wasted on the social networking site. Don’t worry, I was confused with this contradiction too. That’s why I dug a little deeper and found out what teens like and dislike about Facebook, what keeps them on Facebook, and what they would miss if they deleted their accounts. One person said they would miss “stalking Adam’s pictures” while another said they would miss my “dumb surveys.” I’m flattered.

Then there were legitimate reasons for why teens like Facebook. Some of the obvious reasons were “easy interaction with friends,” “picture sharing,” and “being able to keep in contact with people overseas.” One pointed out that if he deleted his Facebook he would miss “stalking people ... not joking.”  Another survey-taker said she would miss “all the love on my birthday.”

But, digging past our love for superficial wall posts and photo uploads, it seems that we like Facebook because it not only gives us something to do, but it’s also where everyone is. Jokes, events, funny pictures, and our life all stem from this social network, and without Facebook, you would feel like the kid not at the party – the person left out.

Unless you like being that person, you might have to continue to “like” Facebook for as long as it’s the centerpiece of the current teen generation. The final upside of Facebook came with a catch. Many teenagers say Facebook gives them something to do. However, this said “time killer” truly becomes a killer of teenagers’ time, which leads to the downsides of Facebook.

As for what teens disliked about Facebook, well, at least our generation of Facebook addicts isn’t in denial. One teen said he “hates how much time he wastes on Facebook.” Another response pointed out all the positive points of Facebook, but then retreated and said “time and time again Facebook proves to be a very distracting and addicting factor in my life.”

Another scary response stated that “without Facebook my GPA would be substantially higher.” (I bet 99 percent of teens would admit to that.) More unique dislikes of Facebook pointed to the layout changing constantly, all the ads, and the privacy settings.

Sure, those are the frequent complaints about Facebook, but what is it that causes 50 percent of survey-takers to think about deleting their Facebooks while these same people are completely satisfied with Facebook? There is an evident gap between wanting to be on Facebook and having to be on Facebook just to keep up. As I walked to the business office in my hotel in Boston I was frustrated that I had that urge to check my Facebook. What is so important on Facebook? Nothing I couldn’t wait another day for. Nevertheless, I checked my Facebook and effectively wasted five minutes of my life – and that was just a quick Facebook check.

This is just a metaphor for our generation’s addiction. Facebook followed me to Boston, and I gave in, just as so many teens give in and check Facebook seven-plus times a day. I didn’t want to check Facebook, nor did I need to, but I did because I needed to keep up (or perhaps, had nothing else to do).

I would not be surprised if these complaints of Facebook overuse came from the same kids who were checking their Facebooks as they came out of the pool. Nor would I be surprised if one came from my friend who checked his Facebook subconsciously at my house.

I’m complaining about using Facebook too much, but meanwhile I had the urge to check it at midnight in Boston when I could have checked it the next day at home. Facebook seems to rely on a certain cycle. We are emotionally invested in this website, and we teens fuel the beast by saying “this has to go on Facebook,” and subsequently check our Facebooks anxiously awaiting a certain picture or video’s upload.

Why we continue to fuel the beast is it’s our culture and it’s simply “social capital.” The belief that you may miss something or “fall behind” is widespread, but unnecessary because really, there isn’t much to miss. But perhaps the closest explanation comes from this response: “Facebook is distracting and is sometimes dangerous ... I can’t live without it.” I’ll see this guy in F.A. (Facebooks Anonymous).


What’s with those necklaces all the baseball players are wearing?

Or you may be asking, “since when did it become cool for men to accessorize?”

Since Phiten came out with its sportswear necklaces, that’s when.

If you pay attention to professional sports, baseball specifically, you’ve probably seen or heard of Phiten. Back in 2008, members of the Boston Red Sox were the first team to flash their Phiten paraphernalia for the world to see, and it wasn’t long before the gear became a trend. Red Sox pitcher Josh Becket, the Yankees Joba Chamberline, Twins Justin Morneau and even golf star Sergio Garcia all endorsed Phiten products.

Then, at some point that year, Phiten made its way to Philadelphia and eventually to Germantown Friends School.

Jesse Biddle, GFS graduate and the Phillies’ 2010 first-round draft pick, says he started wearing a Phiten when he was a high-school freshman. Biddle first became aware of the trend when he saw the senior pitcher for his team sporting the gear.  Soon, he began noticing more and more players at various baseball tournaments who wouldn’t step out on the field without a Phiten – they were everywhere.

Phiten, says Biddle, “became a standard in baseball that was a cool looking thing for people to wear.” Though Biddle really only bore his Phiten because he thought it made him look tough, Phiten’s claim to fame is actually not in the way it looks – it claims X-men-like healing powers.

Allegedly, the bits and pieces of titanium that are woven into the Phiten necklaces are able to communicate with your body, “helping to regulate and balance the flow of energy throughout your body,” according to the website. Titanium can apparently stave off the negative effects that excessive workouts or even “interruptive signals” from electronic equipment can have on your bio-electricity levels.

Phiten works by helping to regulate your body’s energy system and, says the Phiten website, “Proper energy balance helps to alleviate discomfort, speed recovery, and counteract fatigue.”

Ben Rogers, Germantown Friends pitcher, says he heard about Phiten products from Jesse Biddle, though he’d seen them advertised on online baseball stores. After dealing with high-stress and muscle tightness the year before, Rogers thought he’d test out the new method of recovery, and look fly doing it. Rogers says he “sort of” believes in the science of Phiten, though when explaining it to skeptics he’ll admit the idea is pretty far-fetched. 

Recently, Phiten has marketed toward non-baseball athletes with PGA tour and NBA products, along with the new Phiten bracelets, arm wear, and clothing. You can even get a Phiten in your favorite team’s colors or, even better, a hello-kitty themed Phiten.

Though the Phiten phenomenon may smell like a scam, the fact is that people would probably buy the product even if the science behind it was proved wrong (as of now Phiten has no research to back up its claims). Wearing a Phiten is like carrying any other good-luck charm – simply believing in its magic is what makes it work.

“I think it’s helped me,” Rogers says about his Phiten-wear, “I bought into it and I try to believe it works.”

What Rogers is really giving into is probably more of a placebo effect, but it’s an effect nonetheless.






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