Cellphones and Public Space

[Rutgers sociology professor Keith] Hampton found that, rather than isolating people, technology made them more connected. “It turns out the wired folk — they recognized like three times as many of their neighbors when asked,” Hampton said. Not only that, he said, they spoke with neighbors on the phone five times as often and attended more community events. Altogether, they were much more successful at addressing local problems, like speeding cars and a small spate of burglaries. They also used their Listserv to coordinate offline events, even sign-ups for a bowling league. Hampton was one of the first scholars to marshal evidence that the web might make people less atomized rather than more. Not only were people not opting out of bowling leagues — Robert Putnam’s famous metric for community engagement — for more screen time; they were also using their computers to opt in.

via www.nytimes.com

In another study Hampton repudiated Sherry Turkle's claim, made in Alone Together, that technology has ruined social interactions in public space. He found that only 3% of people talk on cellphones in public spaces.


  1. After reading Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” back in the early 00s, I finished the book wishing he provided more solutions instead of problems. I’m glad to hear that people who were more engaged online ended up being more connected in real life.
    Now if you could clarify the last paragraph. At first it’s saying that Turkle’s claim that technology is ruining social interactions in public space. But then in the same paragraph you state that “only 3% of people talk on cellphones in public spaces.” Are you providing that stat to counter Turkle’s claim?


  2. Yes. Hampton attacks Turkle’s anecdotal approach. Here’s the paragraph in the article:
    [Hampton] crudely summarized his former M.I.T. colleague Sherry Turkle’s book “Alone Together.” “She said: ‘You know, today, people standing at a train station, they’re all talking on their cellphones. Public spaces aren’t communal anymore. No one interacts in public spaces.’ I’m like: ‘How do you know that? We don’t know that. Compared to what? Like, three years ago?’ ”


  3. Thanks for the response, Richard!
    Yeah, I agree with you. How does Turkle know that? In some ways, public spaces are _more_ communal, thanks to foursquare checkins, tagged instagram posts. We can view how other people view specific spaces.


  4. I thought “Alone Together” was a book by Elizabeth Collins Cromley about the history of apartment buildings in New York City… Which is to say, societal alienation predates smartphones.


  5. You’re right: Elizabeth Collins Cromley wrote Alone Together A History of New York’s Early Apartments. However, Sherry Turkle wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The latter book is the one to which Hampton is referring.


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