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For Further Exploration

Films

Catfish (2010, Rated PG–13)

Ariel and Nev are two brothers from New York. Ariel makes films and Nev is a photographer. In the mail, Nev receives a painting of a photograph he took. The artist is a remarkable eight-year-old girl who lives in rural Michigan. The brothers and the little girl, Abby, become Facebook friends. Eventually the brother's social network includes the little girl's family: her mother, Angela; Angela's husband; and Abby's older half-sister Megan, who is very attractive.

Nev quickly becomes interested in Megan and the relationship develops. Ariel films Nev's budding romance. When Megan sends Nev a recording of a song she wrote and performed Nev does a little research and the whole situation becomes fishy. What follows is a cautionary tale of the power of social networks and the lengths to which some will go to develop meaningful relationships.

Crash (2004, Rated R)

Over thirty-six hours in Los Angeles, the lives of several strangers collide. Because they come from such different backgrounds, this diverse group of people relies on stereotypes to form snap judgments of each other. Unfortunately, their judgments are almost always wrong.

Again and again, the characters' assumptions keep them from understanding the human beings they are encountering. Matt Dillon plays an angry cop who goes out of his way to humiliate a black citizen. An upper-class housewife (Sandra Bullock) believes a Mexican American locksmith (Michael Pena) is a gangbanger who plans to burgle her home, even though he actually is a gentle man struggling to build a safe life for his family. An Iranian businessman (Shaun Toub) keeps being misidentified as an Arab. Two clean-cut young black men (Laurenz Tate and Ludacris) bemoan the fact that they are regarded with fear by whites in an upscale neighborhood. Since childhood, most of us have been reminded not to judge a book by its cover. Crash provides a dramatic example of the problems that can result from ignoring this maxim.

Spanglish (2004, Rated PG-13)

As its name implies, Spanglish explores communication at the intersection of two cultures. Flor (Paz Vega) is an undocumented Latina immigrant, hired by wealthy Californians Deborah and John Clasky (Téa Leoni and Adam Sandler) to take care of their children and the family's upscale homes. After Flor's daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) moves in with the family, Deborah uses all the tools of charm and privilege at her disposal to win the young Latina's affection. (When Deborah takes Cristina shopping, the teen declares that Deborah is "the most amazing white woman" she has ever known.) John intervenes in the growing conflict between the two mothers, showing emotion and compassion that surprises Cristina, who says "To someone with firsthand knowledge of Latin machismo, he seemed to have the emotions of a Mexican … woman." Spanglish illustrates how cultural background intersects with personality to create a blend of factors that make communication both fascinating (to observers) and challenging (to those living the story).

Whale Rider (2004, Rated PG-13)

In current-day New Zealand, twelve-year-old Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is coming of age in an all-Maori community led by her loving grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene). It is Maori tradition that chiefs are always males, but Pai is convinced that she could become the next great leader. Despite his love for his granddaughter, Koro fiercely resists her ambition. His disapproving messages cause Pai great pain.

Anyone who appreciates the value of individualism will root for Pai. But from a collectivist perspective, it's easy to sympathize with her grandfather’s expectation that his family should act in the best interests of the Maori community by honoring ancient traditions. Despite its focus on Maori culture, Whale Rider illustrates a broader theme: the challenge of creating a unique identity in the face of a community with different ideas of who we should be.

World's Fastest Indian (2006, Rated PG-13)

Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) meets a diverse array of characters while pursuing his dream to race at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Those characters include a motorcycle gang, a transvestite hotel clerk, a Latino car salesman, a desert-dwelling Native American, and a U.S. Air Force officer on leave from dropping napalm in Vietnam. In all these encounters, Burt shows how open-mindedness and tolerance for ambiguity can turn potential adversaries into friends.

Second Skin (2008, Rated R)

By following three sets of online gamers, this documentary explores how social media are expanding and changing the nature of human connection. The film treats the pros and cons of mediated relationships evenhandedly, depicting both the benefits and drawbacks of life in cyberspace. It presents research findings on both obvious and subtle effects of mediated human interaction, especially in the world of gaming and virtual reality.

 

Books

Kelsey, Todd. 2010. Social networking spaces: From Facebook to Twitter and everything in between. New York: Apress.

For those who feel like they cannot keep up with the next social networking craze, or worry that they can't catch up, Todd Kelsey, the founder of Communications for the World, a Chicago-based think tank, can help. In his book, Kelsey defines both well-known social networking spaces—Twitter and Facebook—and those that are not as much part of daily vernacular, such as Ning and SecondLife. Beyond the social network, readers will learn how to create, maintain, and share one's photographic legacy with Flickr, Facebook, and Twitpics. Once past the actual definitions and history, readers will gain step-by-step strategies for using these tools to personally and professionally connect with others, create a digital history, and promote oneself. What makes Kelsey's book more than just a "how-to" is his take on the evolution of social networking sites, even predicting and what lies ahead for certain sites and the social networking phenomenon as a whole. Case in point: Will Kelsey's prediction that Facebook will likely buy MySpace come true? Only "The Social Network, Part II" will tell for sure.

Articles

Bachel, B. 2008. You are what you e-mail. Career World 37 (1): 16. Guadalupe Espinoza, et al. 2008. Online and offline social networks: Use of social networking sites by emerging adults. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 29 (6): 420—433.

How do today's teens-turned-college students manage their relationships through MySpace and Facebook and then interact with close friends "offline"? This article examines research on how "emerging adults'" use of social networking sites, instant messaging, and face-to-face interactions to connect and reconnect with friends and family members. The findings of this study revealed that college students' online and offline use is inconsistent: At times, they will use one medium over another, depending on the context of the interaction.



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