“People tend to think of cities as people, buildings, roads, pipes, and so on,” he says. “But at a more fundamental level, cities are really about connections. These connections form networks of people and organizations that enable the production of all products of civilization, from modern economies and fast innovation to complex bureaucracies and political institutions.”
The findings point to the conclusion that human beings living in small towns and large cities alike instinctively form tight social communities. But if you live in a small community, your social circle is more or less determined by those who live around you, whereas in a large city you have more freedom to select which of the thousands of people around you will constitute your social circle.
Intuitively, the close community spirit of village life and the crowded bustle of the big city suggest very different qualities of social life. A paper published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface finds, however, that the social networks of city dwellers are not so different from those of village dwellers.
Scientists from SFI and the MIT Senseable City Lab teamed up with researchers from British Telecommunications and Orange Labs to examine social relationships of people living in towns and cities in Portugal and the UK.
Sociologists have long been interested in the way cities affect social interactions, but previous methods of quantifying these interactions relied on traditional surveys – essentially asking people who they talked to and how often, a time-consuming approach that depends heavily on the accuracy of the respondents' answers.
Today, telecommunications companies keep records of every call made by every customer – information that includes call time, duration, location, and numbers dialed. These data, stripped of all identifying personal information, offer much more extensive records of social interactions than is possible through traditional surveys.