Research Undermines Prevailing Theory that Technology is Isolating

An ever-present theme in the commentary of modern technology is its isolating effect. Yet the truth is far more complex. This Boston Review article on technology points to a paper supported by the Annenberg School of Communication that seems to suggest we are becoming more social. By conducting a content analysis of films from four public spaces over a thirty-year period, the behavior and characteristics of 143,593 people were coded. A couple of key findings:

  • Importantly, people are spending less time alone and increasingly more time in groups.
  • Women are now far more prevalent in public spaces, while men and women tend to spend more time together in public.
  • Despite the ubiquity of mobile phones, their rate of use in public is relatively small.
  • Mobile phones users appear less often in spaces where there are more groups, and most often in spaces where people might otherwise be walking alone.
  • Mobile phone use is associated with reduced public isolation, although it is associated with an increased likelihood to linger and with time spent lingering in public.
  • The increased tendency to spend time in groups while in public contrasts with evidence from other research that suggests a decline in American public life, and that mobile phones have increased social isolation in public spaces.
  • The increase in group behavior, women, and lingering in public may have positive implications for engagement within the public sphere.

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