Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

Cell Phone Science

My attention was recently drawn to the topic of cell phones and not just because … hold on a sec … um, no messages … of the phone sitting next to my keyboard, but because I was reading two books … wait, what’s the ball score? … No change … where was I? …. oh, yeah, two books – Rainie and Wellman’s Networked and Doron and Jeffrey’s The Great Indian Phone Book – and a few other items on the topic. Cell phones have spread across the globe faster and deeper than any other technology. Understanding why and with what consequence is a new frontier in social science research.

The mobile or cell phone emerged around 1980; almost no one had one. As late as 2000, there was about one cell phone subscription for every 12 human beings in the world; this year, there is about one subscription for every single human being. This must mean something. The latest Sunday New York Times Book Review presented the intriguing thoughts of many novelists on the question of what the advent of internet devices did to story-telling. The new technologies have blown up a number of plot lines – hero stranded, boy and girl unable to re-find one another, mysterious stranger comes to town, and so on. Get on your phone! Send a text! Google him! What’s the problem?

Some interesting and perhaps unexpected findings are coming out of research into the sociology of cell phones. One finding is that, however cell phone obsessed we think we are … um, did I just hear a buzz? Is that for me? … Americans are mobile laggards.


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American Ties (III)

It may be hard to believe, but a generation ago you could be in touch with another person only by speaking face-to-face, by letter, or by a telephone hard-wired to a fixed line – no conversations while walking down the street, no texting, no IM-ing, tweeting, etc. These days it seems hard keep out of touch with people. For many of us, especially those who actually once used telephone booths and penned invitations, the new technologies obviously must have altered social life, must have changed people’s relationships with one another. But did they?

Social scientists who try to measure just what, if anything, the e-technologies changed in people’s social lives, however, require some hard evidence. And the evidence we have in hand – so far, at least – reveals a much less dramatic history.

(Disclosure: This is the last in a series of posts that draw from my new book, Still Connected: American Families and Friends since 1970. This post covered friendships and this post discussed family ties.)


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Inventing Friendship

Friendship seems as natural as two children meeting on the playground and then, at least sometimes, staying friends long enough to eventually share pictures of their own children. But social history suggests that the sort of relationship Americans call a “true” or “pure” friendship is a relatively modern invention.

The O.E.D.’s first definition of “friend” — “‘One joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy’. . .  Not ordinarily applied to lovers or relatives” —  is good enough. Importantly, however, modern Americans usually consider a “real” friendship to be an intimate and benevolent bond that is separate from – or can be separated from – any other connection between the two people. That is  historically new.

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