PBS recently published a quiz ‘Do you live in a bubble?’, which American political scientist Charles Murray put together for his book Coming Apart (2012). For Murray, living in a bubble means ‘restriction to your exposure to average American life’ which results in being ‘clueless about mainstream white America.’ His book (which I haven’t read) is about the formation of ‘a high-IQ, highly educated new upper class’ over the last half century with ‘a culture of its own that is largely disconnected from the culture of mainstream white America.’
The 1st of the 25 questions (which are a bit difficult to answer if you didn’t spend many years of your life in the U.S.) is the following:
I would have to answer ‘no’ to this question, as all four neighbourhoods that I have lived in that were mostly populated by people who did not have a college degree were (clearly) gentrifying. Answering ‘no’ means a lower score – the lower the score, the thicker the bubble.
Murray seems to follow urban sociologist Tim Butler’s observation on gentrifiers living in London, who ‘despite a strong rhetoric in favour of social integration,’ in their day-to-day lives lived ‘quite apart from non-middle-class residents.’
I don’t agree with Murray though, that being a gentrifier necessarily means that you’re in a bubble. It very much depends on your neighbourhood use – do you shop local, do you talk to your (non-educated) neighbours, do you go to the local bar, or do you come home only to sleep? High neighbourhood use will give you some ‘exposure’ to how ‘average’ people live. Maybe you should get half a point if you are the gentrifier.
Interestingly, Murray recently analyzed some of the quiz data and made a list of the 75 bubbliest ZIP codes. Among them are 12 ZIP codes in New York City. With a median bubble score of 19 (on a scale of 0-100; lower is a thicker bubble), ZIP code 10024 is third on the NYC list. 10024 is the ZIP code where I lived, in the Upper West Side, for a couple of months and about which I wrote this bubble blog.