2018: An Entangled World

Special Area

Human Relationships

Introductory Questions

    • Aristotle once wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal.” What do you think he meant?
    • Why do you think we form relationships with other people?
    • What makes some relationships more lasting or more meaningful than others?
    • Are some people more social than others? If so, why do you think this is?
    • Friendship comes with benefits; does it also come with costs?
    • For many people, the most important human relationships are those they form with their families. Are family relationships similar all over the world, or do they vary meaningfully by culture? And, is it always better to be close to your family?
    • Is there anyone with whom you thought you’d never become friends, but to whom you are now close? Conversely, is there anyone with whom you thought you’d be friends forever, but from whom you have since grown apart?
    • Are your friends mostly IRL, or do many of them live on the internet? How are relationships different across different mediums of communication and interaction?

Hoops of Steel | Understanding Friendship

    • Essential Questions
      • Is proximity the most important force in starting friendships?
      • Do we like our friends because of who they are—or because they like who we are?
      • Why do some people choose to have fewer friends?
      • What is the greatest number of friends a person can have?

    • The Ingredients of Friendship
      • sympathy | empathy | “similarity begets friendship”
      • childhood | reciprocation | trust
      • proximity | propinquity | “repeated, unplanned interactions”
    • Friendly Terms to Know
      • dependency | imaginary friend | BFF
      • mutual friend | bromance and womance | frenemy
      • critical friend | Six Degrees of Separation
      • homosociality | Dunbar number | hedgehog’s dilemma
    • Unfriendly Terms to Know
      • language barrier | unemployment | aging | hermitage | loneliness
      • passive-aggressive | avoidant personality disorder | agoraphobia
      • avolition | hikikomori | ghosting | seenzoning | ostracization
      • stigmatization | betrayal | “it’s not you, it’s me” | introverted vs antisocial

We’re a Happy… | Family and Kinship

    • Family Ties
      • What is unique to your family relationships—or are there some things you would never do with your family?
      • What would your life be like if you grew up in a differently structured family?
      • Biologically, your family is the people who are genetically closest to you. Socially, how and why might this definition be different?

    • Types of Family and Kinship
      • nuclear | single parent | childless | adoptive
      • extended | beanpole | reconstituted | clan
      • family of choice | surrogacy | milk kinship
      • grandparents | blended | dysfunctional
    • Additional Terms to Know
      • ABCX Model | family systems theory | family resilience
      • attachment theory | only child | parenting styles
      • consanguinity | family tree | genealogy

Wherefore Art Thou? | Romantic Entanglements

    • Essential Questions
      • Is “romantic love” a modern concept? When did it first come about?
      • How are dating and courtship viewed in different cultures?
      • Why are more people than ever before choosing not to marry?
      • Should marriage be treated as a contractual arrangement?
      • What is the science behind love--can love be seen as a chemical reaction or neurological phenomenon?

    • Terms to Know
      • infatuation | puppy love | love-hate | friendzone
      • limerence | free love | sublimation | crystallization
      • philia, storge, agape, and eros | unrequited love | pda
      • love triangle | breakup | long-distance | proposal
      • oxytocin | phenylethylamine | norepinephrine
    • A Deeper Look at Marriage
      • bridewealth | wedding | dowry | concubinage | polygamy | monogamy
      • arranged marriage | cohabitation | alimony | living apart together
      • ghost marriage | sheng nu | nikah mut’ah | ketubah | levirate
      • civil union | no-fault divorce | annulment | green card marriage

Friending is a Verb | Digital Connections

    • Essential Questions
      • How has social media influenced your relationships?
      • Does social media affect the way you perceive other people?
      • What would your life be like without social media?
      • Do people relate differently when they are anonymous online than when they use their real names?
      • How does the medium in which we communicate affect what we’re saying? Can you communicate something on Snapchat that you can’t on, say, WhatsApp - and why would you choose one medium over another?

    • Notable Social Media (Examples)
      • As you explore each medium, consider its impact on human relationships. How does it bring people together? What are its limitations? What assumptions does it make or encourage?
      • Interacting
        • Email and Letter-Writing
        • Facebook | Twitter | MySpace | Viber | Tinder
        • Discord | Whatsapp | WeChat | Vkontakte
      • Sharing
        • Snapchat | Instagram | Reddit | LinkedIn
        • Line | Kakaotalk | Behance | Pinterest
        • Tumblr | StumbleUpon
    • Modern Exchange and Interaction
      • parasocial interaction | obsession | Internet relationship
      • uses and gratification theory | celebrity worship | virality
      • misrepresentation | cyberstalking | cyberasociality
      • synchronization | pseudocommunity | Media Equation
    • Connections of the Future
      • quantum communication | hologram | ansible
      • augmented reality | virtual reality | smart machines
      • voice-enabled technologies | artificial intelligence

Over Sideways and Under | Relationships Around Boundaries

    • Essential Questions
      • Some communities create boundaries between themselves and the rest of the world; does living within such boundaries affect how relationships form?
      • Other communities are organized with internal boundaries, whether hallways in a dormitory or castes in a society. How do relationships form within and across such boundaries?
      • When two very different communities are forced to interact, how do the people within them relate? Do they become more alike or more different? What might lead to one outcome or the other?

    • Key Social Structures to Explore (examples)
      • intentional community | multigenerational living
      • commune | kibbutz | ashram | ecovillage | cohousing
      • micronation | Levittown | hostel | dormitory | ghetto
      • gangs | fraternities | sororities | societies
    • Additional Terms to Learn
      • border towns | “Chinatowns” | enclaves and exclaves
      • mutual society | culture shock | assimilation | adaptation
      • acculturation | biculturalism | hybridity | xenophobia

Questions for Further Discussion

    • Consider the Monument of Kalhu, believed to be the oldest-surviving record of a handshake, then discuss with your team: why are handshakes as universal a gesture as they are? (And are they as universal as people think?) What are alternatives to handshakes within and across different cultures?
    • This linked TIME article discusses the changing American family, but industrialization (and technologization) is changing families around the world. What does your family look like? Have families changed since your parents were children? Your grandparents?
    • Compare these two isolated societies—one that still resists contact, and one that tried to, but failed. Would it be in the best interests of such societies to reach out, and should we try to contact them? How would it affect them if they integrated into a globalized environment?
    • Research border towns around the world - such as Heihe and Blagoveshchensk, El Paso and Juarez, and Shenzhen and Hong Kong - and discuss with your team: do these communities benefit from their entanglements? How notably are their cultures impacted? Should governments do more to open cities to their cross-border counterparts?
    • What are some of the psychological reasons that we interact with other people the way we do? Consider the spiral of silence theory. Have you ever refrained from voicing your opinion for fear of negative consequences? In hindsight, would it have been better if you had spoken up?
    • Look into the Five Bonds of Confucianism, then discuss with your team: how well do they describe relationships in today's world, and should we try to follow them in our own lives? If you had to list the bonds you believe apply most to modern society, what would they be, and how much would they vary from culture to culture or place to place?
    • Consider this article, then discuss with your team: in your experience, does the process of making friends actually differ as you age? Should we create more situations in which it is easier for older people to make friends?
    • Studies suggest that people with pets (in this case, dogs) live longer. Discuss with your team: is it possible for animals to substitute for humans in terms of companionship and friendship? Do humans ultimately need to lead lives entangled with those of others in order to be their healthiest, happiest selves?
    • In some societies, human relationships are organized by formal or informal caste systems; the linked article suggests that such a caste system continues to impact society in the world's largest democracy, India. Discuss with your team: do you recognize any "caste systems" in your own lives, offline or online? And, are they necessarily a bad thing?
    • Why is the exchange of rings linked to marriage in so much of the world – and are there any widespread alternatives?
    • Furby, Paro, even (someday) BB8: is it possible (and/or desirable) for people to have human-like relationships with artificial friends?
    • In China, millions of people talk, shop, and work through the service Wechat, which enables its users to conduct nearly all the business of their daily lives. What aspects of a culture might make it more feasible to implement such a service? Are there any drawbacks to conducting your life through a single platform? Why has WeChat had trouble expanding into new markets?
    • Hey, Siri! Voice-enabled technologies allow us to effectively have conversations with robots. How do they differ from, and affect, those with flesh-and-blood people?
    • That filter on your selfie, that Photoshopped landscape—some consider the way we portray ourselves on social media to be deceptive, or to amount to a double life. Discuss with your team: should people be more authentic on the Internet, and are there social benefits to altering reality?
    • Do you agree with MIT professor Sherry Turkle (in this slightly dated interview) that social media offers the "illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship"? Discuss with your team: what, if any, *are* the demands of friendship, and do they vary online?
    • Look into the case of this wormhole connecting students at Stanford and MIT. How does the wormhole try to emulate aspects of real-life friendship formation?
    • Consider the theory (most associated with Stanford professor Clifford Nass) that humans relate to computers as if they, too, were human. Discuss with your team: have you found this theory (the so-called "Media Equation") to be true in your own lives? What are the implications for the design of computers and other gadgets, if so?
    • Much of this outline has focused on friendship, but we should take some time to study a very different sort of human relationship: that of enemies. Consider this article, then discuss with your team: do you have any enemies? Does your family? What causes people to become enemies, and is the process reversible? Or, is the whole concept of enemies more applicable to fiction than to real life?