We're More Sociable With Cell Phones

Rutgers study compares new and old public behavior
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2014 1:35 PM CST
People hang out in Bryant Park in New York City, on May 21, 2013.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – The modern American spends too much time staring at screens and not enough socializing—right? That's what popular books like Bowling Alone and Alone Together have argued, but Rutgers professor Keith Hampton put that theory to the test by filming people in public spaces, the New York Times Magazine reports. In fact, he filmed public spaces in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston where a sociologist had filmed in the 1960s and '70s, and compared the two. And lo and behold, we're actually less alone than before. Among the findings and reactions:

  • Cell phone use was fairly low, 3% at one location and 10% at another, the study found. And users tended to be alone, rather than ruining group dynamics by using cell phones with friends.
  • Public interaction is higher today than in the old films. Today, 24% of people hanging around outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art are alone, but it was 32% back in 1979.
  • Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, concedes that Hampton may be right about public spaces, but says his study ignores the destructive effects of technology in the home.
  • Hampton's most surprising finding: More women are out in public than before. "I mean, who would’ve thought that, in America, 30 years ago, women were not in public the same way they are now?" he says. "We don’t think about that."
Back to the bad news: A Kent State University study finds that cell phone use gives students greater anxiety and lower GPAs, 23ABC News reports. "I will say, it does distract me and I guess that could affect my GPA," says one student. (Read more cell phones stories.)

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