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Do Big Cities Make You More Social?

This article discusses a recent study carried out by researchers from MIT and the Sante Fe Institute. The researchers gathered information from phone owners living in the UK and Portugal on how many phone contacts they had, and how often they contacted them. Results showed an interesting connection between city size and residents’ phone activity. Residents of larger cities tended to show higher total phone activity and total number of contacts. For example, in comparison to an average inhabitant of the city of Lixa, where the population is roughly 4233, an average inhabitant of the city of Lisbon 564,657) had almost twice as many contacts.


However, another interesting result from this study was that although residents of larger cities had a higher total number of contacts, the likeliness of their friends or acquaintances also knowing each other remained the same as residents of smaller cities. According to what the researchers call the “village” effect, the types of networks found in cities does not vary much in size, but people living in larger cities just tend to have larger networks. The researchers acknowledged the limitations of this study, such as the fact that mobile usage cannot be a complete representation of someone’s entire social life. However, they hope that the results of this study can highlight the relationship between cities and social interactions, and even help elucidate the spread of other things like disease and crime in cities.


This study was interesting because it relates city size to the social networks of people represented by their number of phone contacts. This shows that many factors play a role in the formation of networks, including the environment that you live in. It was also interesting to learn that although people who live in larger cities tend to have larger networks that people living in smaller cities, the likeliness of their friends knowing each other is the same. The article mentioned the average clustering coefficient, which is a term that we learned in class. Since the likeliness of the friends of residents of larger cities knowing each other remains the same as the likeliness of the friends of residents of smaller cities knowing each other, the average clustering coefficient was similar for both large cities and small cities. Finally, it was fascinating to learn the implications of this study, including how it can be used to explain the spread of other things like disease and crime in cities, even though the study is based on a relatively simple idea (that larger social networks are found in larger cities).


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