The Most-Emailed List

Several nights ago, I had one of those typical young-cynical-urbanites-talking-over-drinks kind of conversations about the New York Times most-emailed list. We all generally agreed with the sentiment expressed in this recent Onion article. Reading the articles topping it right now, it seems that the most-emailed list is becoming less relevant to what’s actually in the news. There was last week’s article in the Style section about how mothers and daughters now have closer relationships, and–gasp–even friendships (it’s behind the Times select firewall, but here’s a nice excerpt):

There have always been close-knit mother-daughter relationships. But social, demographic and technological changes have made it more common for adult daughters to keep their mothers’ apron strings tied tighter — and for longer, say researchers who study the transition into young adulthood.

Today, it is not unusual for unmarried middle-class women in their 20s or 30s to share with their mothers the diary-worthy details of their lives, plan weekly outings with them and call the Mommy Batphone when they need backup.

Even Paris Hilton — who has been labeled many things, though never a momma’s girl — revealed that it is her mother, Kathy Hilton, to whom she turns in a crisis. When last month a judge ordered the 26-year-old back to jail, she did not call out for a lover, her lawyer or God. In her hour of need, she cried, ”Mom!” Upon being released Tuesday, she ran into her mother’s arms.

Developmental psychologists and sociologists say this phenomenon of attachment is only now beginning to be studied. They have identified several factors that could be contributing to an intensified mother-daughter symbiosis: technology that makes it easy to stay connected; the smaller number of children in each household; young adults who are prolonging decisions about career, marriage and children; parents who want to have a less-hierarchical relationship with their offspring; and parents who feel the need to keep their grown children close at a time when anxiety and depression levels among young adults are at some of their highest points ever.

Additionally, parent-child contact during the college years has dramatically increased. Professors say that many students these days stroll around campus talking into cellphones — and not to one another. It is not surprising, experts say, that some of that behavior spills over into the post-college years, including a reliance on parents to continue to pay the bills.

”There is a higher level of dependence,” said Vivian Gadsden, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. ”In that way they are very much a product of this period in our history.”

Frank F. Furstenberg Jr., the chairman of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood and a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the trend is ripe for research.

”The fact is that very little is known about this topic,” he wrote in an e-mail message. ”Our research network is doing a slew of studies on changing relations among young adults and their parents, but the research is still in the field.”

Many of the women who spoke of their closeness to their mothers also said that they had a warm relationship with their fathers, though hardly as uncensored.

”My mom is absolutely my best friend,” said Jennifer White, 25, a paralegal in Manhattan. ”We do everything and anything.”

Karen Bauer, 36, of Englewood, N.J., and her mother have spent every Saturday afternoon for 14 years having lunch and shopping. ”I won’t give that up for anything,” said Ms. Bauer, an executive assistant. ”I’ve turned down jobs because they wanted me to work on Saturday.”

Wendy Spero, 32, took the analogy further, likening the relationship to that of husband and wife: so long, significant other; hello, significant mother.

If Paris Hilton’s doing it, well, then, it must be a sociological phenomenon!

And then there’s this Sunday’s topper from the Style section, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” which is pretty much an anecdotal study of hipster librarians living in Williamsburg. Which actually describes in ten words most of what these trendy articles tend to be: hipsters living in Williamsburg (or Park Slope) doing x that used to be nerdy:

How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

And though many librarians say that they, like nurses or priests, are called to the profession, they also say the job is stable, intellectually stimulating and can have reasonable hours — perfect for creative types who want to pursue their passions outside of work and don’t want to finance their pursuits by waiting tables. (The median salary for librarians was about $51,000 in 2006, according to the American Library Association-Allied Professional Organization.)

“I wanted to do something different, something maybe more meaningful,” said Carrie Klein, 36, who used to be a publicist for a record label and for bands such as Radiohead and the Foo Fighters, but is now starting a new job in the library at Entertainment Weekly.

Michelle Campbell, 26, a librarian in Washington, said that librarianship is a haven for left-wing social engagement, which is particularly appealing to the young librarians she knows. “Especially those of us who graduated around the same time as the Patriot Act,” Ms. Campbell said. “We see what happens when information is restricted.”

Ms. Campbell added that she became a librarian because it “combined a geeky intellectualism” with information technology skills and social activism.

What neither of these articles offer is statistics, or even really many facts, to back up what they claim to be trends backed up by facts. The library article mentions that, by one estimate, there are 13 librarians living in one neighborhood in Brooklyn. There is also a vague statement about the “steady increase in library information science enrollments over the last 10 years.”

The mother article contains absolutely no statistics, just some stories and a couple of quotes from psychologists who seem rather cautious to make any committal statements.

All I can think is that they have to sell papers somehow, and if anecdotal sociology is what NYT readers want–and they seem to, judging by its email popularity–that’s exactly what they’ll get. Everyone wants a little dessert after reading all that dense international news or the depressing week in review. Why not a light, punny article about hipster librarians?

And if it means an enhanced Sunday Styles section and more tipsy conversations about how much hipper those New Yorkers are than us DCers, well, I guess I wouldn’t be so opposed to that.

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2 Responses to “The Most-Emailed List”

  1. Kathy Hilton Says:

    Paris Hilton is a serious nutcase, and her mom’s even wackier. I wrote about it on my blog way back when. Check it out.
    http://noiseputty.com/archives/paris-hiltons-mom-is-a-spoiled-brat-too/

  2. 1hpb Says:

    i love the most emailed list. I stumble upon stuff I would never find. I’m close to my mom too, but well she does not know about my blogs, milfalert and Iwantaboookdeal. I cringe at having to explain to her what a milf is.

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