How Technology Is, and Isn't, Affecting Street Life

By analyzing four public spaces using William H. Whyte's groundbreaking techniques for studying street life, a team of researchers led by Keith Hampton reached some surprising conclusions about how technology is changing our social interactions.
Lars Plougmann / flickr

Influential books like “Bowling Alone,” by Robert D. Putnam, and “Alone Together,” by Sherry Turkle have explored the atomizing effect that modern technology is having on our relationships and communal structures. But unlike those who've produced "vague theories" about how digital technology is changing our lives, sociologist Keith Hampton sought to use hard data to answer questions like: "Are we really all just walking around tapping and tweeting and texting and ignoring our fellow human beings? Was there a pre-smartphone Eden?"

Hampton and a team of 11 graduate and undergraduate students set out to try to answer these questions by comparing time-lapse films of major urban nodes in New York, Philadelphia and Boston shot by the Project for Public Spaces three decades ago with films of the same locations taken today. The researchers closely studied four characteristics in the films: sex, group size, “loitering” and phone use.

What did they find? "According to Hampton, our tendency to interact with others in public has, if anything, improved since the ‘70s," writes Mark Oppenheimer. As confounding as that conclusion is, the team's most surprising finding was that: "Today there are just a lot more women in public, proportional to men."

"Across the board, Hampton found that the story of public spaces in the last 30 years has not been aloneness, or digital distraction, but gender equity," concludes Oppenheimer.

Full Story: Technology Is Not Driving Us Apart After All

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