Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book Review: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

I recently borrowed the Kindle version of Primates of Park Avenue from my library. When I put the book on hold, I didn't know much about it other than it was on the bestseller list, and I expected from the title that it would be a catty jab at hoity-toity rich folks that I'd breeze through and laugh at, and not think much about afterward.

I was wrong, this book will stay with me for a long time. Wednesday Martin is wickedly smart and without her strongly analytical voice the book and it's grating subject material would be intolerable. Martin uses her background in psychology and anthropology to study the ultra-privileged on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She doesn't just study them from afar, she studies them as she is trying to integrate herself and her family into this new society.

I had to consciously force myself not to think hateful thoughts of the women who Wednesday describes as obsessed with appearance, possessions, and experiences. Their perfect bodies, perfect homes, and seemingly perfect lives hit a nerve and I felt inward schadenfreude at the idea of these ladies popping Xanax and guzzling wine to mitigate the self-induced stress and anxiety of their pursuit of... what exactly?

Most of the women Martin describes are stay-at-home-mothers, who are highly educated and top-of-their-classes intelligent. These women forgo a career for themselves in order to participate in the grueling demands of an Upper East Side lifestyle. Martin describes hours of charity work, volunteering at the children's schools, intense and frequent workouts, an expensive and high maintenance beauty regimen, and dizzyingly complicated social dynamics. These wives and mothers are successful only as far as their husbands and children are successful. Their children must get into the very best schools, starting with preschool, their homes and bodies must be immaculate, their service exemplary, their wardrobes ahead of the trends. What is the consequence if these goals are not met? If the women don't fit in, their lives are miserable, period. The Upper East Side is all about rank, and to live in the neighborhood, you have to be accepted by your peers.

The lifestyle afforded by the moms in Primates of Park Avenue is so starkly different from what many of us have experienced that it is difficult to describe the book in a way that will do it justice. Martin begins each chapter with field notes presented from the point of view of an anthropologist studying a primitive tribal society. She is detached enough from the Upper East Side to maintain a degree of objectivity about the bizarre nature of the rituals and habits of the neighborhood, but yet she is still "one of them." By the end, she is fully indoctrinated into the culture and she has found her place in the society.

Primates of Park Avenue made me think deeply on a lot of things. The book doesn't shy away from serious topics. What does it mean to be a woman and mother today? What does it mean to be privileged? There is also a chapter in which we get to see a softer and more human side to these Upper East Side ladies, and this chapter really affected me. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys social observation and commentary. You need to be able to put your personal feelings about wealth aside for a moment to be able to fully enjoy the book. While I didn't agree with or appreciate all the choices made by the author or her neighbors, I relished the opportunity to take in an insider's perspective of one of the most exclusive American communities. Primates of Park Avenue was challenging, fascinating, and hard to put down.

*All thoughts are my own and I received nothing in return for this review.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I like to MUVE it MUVE it!

Do you hear King Julien from Madagascar rapping? Ok, just me, then. :)

MUVE stands for Multi-User Virtual Environment. Some of these can be games, although we might more specifically call that a MUGE (Multi-User Gaming Environment). Two very popular MUVE examples are Minecraft and Second Life.

Second Life can be used by libraries or other institutions to provide instruction, tutorials or other virtual services. Unfortunately, I found Second Life to be seriously lacking in the accessibility department for those of us with visual disabilities. It was extremely disorienting and difficult for me to visual navigate. I don't have any personal experience with Minecraft, but my friend Maya and her family are fans so I asked her for some thoughts. She said, "I find Minecraft very educational. Creative mode allows my boys to build anything they can imagine, from complex buildings to ornate gardens. It's a great exercise in spatial reasoning. Survival mode is all about strategy, using your resources wisely to stay alive and develop your world." Maya blogs at

I have used some multi-user internet games, and one in particular that I think would qualify in the MUGE category and maybe even MUVE is Covet fashion. In this game the user is a stylist for high fashion clients. There are several themes per day with requirements such as item, designer, or color. Votes determine the score and there are prizes of items to build a virtual closet or "diamonds" which allow you to buy tickets to enter more contests. Users can join virtual fashion houses where the players can chat and give advice on different looks. I enjoy playing around with looks I would never wear or be able to afford in real life.

What about you? Do you enjoy using a particular MUGE or MUVE? I'd love your thoughts, and it would be especially great to hear from someone who enjoys Second Life. Weigh in in the comments!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Social Networking, continued

The landscape of the job market has changed so much in the past decade. I only recently created a LinkedIn account so that I can begin to network in my field. LinkedIn bears some similarities to Facebook, but I discovered one important difference quickly. On Facebook, it is possible to look up people anonymously. Facebook knows, of course, but no one else has to. On LinkedIn, you know who viewed your profile, so be careful not to click on those profiles where it might be awkward for the person to know you were reading their profile! I was curious about the credentials of a doctor with whom I had had a particularly tense interaction. Because we had exchanged emails, this person popped up in my "people you may know" queue. I had to make a concerted effort not to take a glance. This aspect of LinkedIn set the purpose apart from Facebook and changes the focus from personal socializing to professional socializing. Both LinkedIn and Facebook offer the safety feature of allowing users to block other users that may be problematic.

LinkedIn offers a paid service with even more networking options for its members. It seems like professional organizations in one's field would be a better way to spend membership fees, but LinkedIn is a buzzing place and offers some unique features such as job searching and information on career outlooks for particular educational paths.

Just because Facebook is commonly used for personal communication, doesn't mean that it's devoid of professional value. Business, blogs, and organizations can all have pages. Informal groups can be created surrounding almost any shared interest imaginable. For example, the IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing uses their facebook page often to promote events that are pertinent to students, faculty, and alumni of the program. There is currently information on a public speaking event by a graphic artist that is to take place at the school.

Similar to Facebook, Twitter can be used to connect both personally and professionally. The American Library Association News just tweeted that they are looking for nominations for the Elizabeth Futas Catalyst for Change Award. Twitter's microblog format allows users to filter through information quickly and get more details on those tweets that they determine to deserve a second glance. Most libraries have also begun to have accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They use these accounts to promote new materials, programs, events, and general information about the library.

Which social networking tool have you found most useful personally? Professionally? I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Social Networking

There seem to be almost endless ways for us to connect with one another on the internet. I'm a part of the generation that came before the digital natives, the generation where many of us know what life was like before the internet, and embrace the ease and speed with which we can communicate and work now that we have widespread use of the World Wide Web. I got my first email address at age eighteen, a senior in high school. I remember trading email addresses in English class with my friends who already had them. My first email address was through Juno. Anyone remember Juno?

The next social platform I discovered was AIM, the Instant Messaging program from AOL. Wow, was this life changing! As someone with a fair amount of anxiety surrounding the telephone, this was world expanding software, that gave even the introverted a way to begin to branch out socially. It was less stressful to send someone an instant message knowing the person was online and available, and didn't have to respond if he or she was busy. You could add friends of friends to your contact list and meet new people that way. Many hours of my undergraduate career were spent composing the perfect AIM away message or having long, late night conversations with good friends or new friends at the computer.

As a young adult who felt so comfortable communicating via keyboard, it seemed natural to create a profile on one of the growing number of dating sites becoming available. I met several dates and significant others that way, including the one who was to become my spouse. In the early days of our marriage it felt almost embarrassing to admit the way our relationship had begun. In contrast, today, many people we encounter can say, "us too!"

It wasn't until after college as a young newlywed that I created a MySpace account. I was by then well past the age of the target audience, but never liking to be left out, I joined to see what all the fuss was about. It was fun to be able to share pictures and statuses, and it was like an instant address book that made it so easy to contact friends even if you didn't have their email address or phone number. I logged in to MySpace maybe once per day.

At that time, another popular form of social networking was the message board. When we were expecting our firstborn, I was very active on a message board for expectant parents.

A year or so later, a close friend who was living abroad got married. I was unable to attend, and he posted his pictures on Facebook. My brother had mentioned Facebook before because he had attended one of the Universities that was part of the pilot program. I was a college graduate, married, and a parent by then. Was this social networking thing for me? I wasn't sure, but I did want to see my friend's wedding pictures. The rest, so they say is history. It is hard to believe now how large a part of my life Facebook has become. Users can easily and instantly connect with others with their same interests, ailments, locations, and occupations. We can follow pages of products or establishments we like, and follow the pages of celebrities who entertain us. I have met people all over the world with whom I have formed close and lasting friendships. I have also been able to strengthen, rekindle, and deepen friendships and connections I have made offline. Facebook is running nearly constantly when I am on my laptop, my dear friends always a tab away. Since then, I have also joined Twitter and LinkedIn, though Facebook remains my social network home base.

I've only briefly scratched the surface of the impact social media and social networking have had in my life. The internet has overhauled the way we make and maintain relationships. What has been your experience? How has social networking impacted your life, personally and professionally? What is your favorite social network? How does your personality type (introvert vs. extrovert for example) affect the role of social media in your life?

Welcome and Intro