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Sociologist Cat is Watching You Text...in Public
January 20, 2014 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Keith Hampton, an associate professor in Rutgers' School of Communication and Information, filmed people in Bryant Park (among other locations) in an ongoing effort to recreate and update sociologist William H. Whyte's Street Life Project.

In the NY Times article (2nd link), Hampton discusses some of the findings from the most recent filming:
- According to Hampton, our tendency to interact with others in public has, if anything, improved since the ‘70s. The P.P.S. films showed that in 1979 about 32 percent of those visited the steps of the Met were alone; in 2010, only 24 percent were alone in the same spot.

- It turns out that people like hanging out in public more than they used to, and those who most like hanging out are people using their phones. On the steps of the Met, “loiterers” — those present in at least two consecutive film samples, inhabiting the same area for 15 seconds or more — constituted 7 percent of the total (that is to say, the other 93 percent were just passing through). That was a 57 percent increase from 30 years earlier. And those using mobile phones there were five times as likely to “loiter” as other people.

- On the steps of the Met, only 3 percent of adults captured in all the samples were on their phones. It was highest at the northwest corner of Bryant Park, where the figure was 10 percent. More important, according to Hampton, was the fact that mobile-phone users tended to be alone, not in groups.
Some of Hampton's previous work, also inspired by Whyte, looked specifically at social life in wireless urban spaces (non-paywalled pdf pre-print).
posted by DiscourseMarker (3 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought the gender findings were more interesting than the cell phone stuff (satisfying though it is to see the perennial crank Turkle confronted with actual data):
In fact, this was Hampton’s most surprising finding: Today there are just a lot more women in public, proportional to men. It’s not just on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. On the steps of the Met, the proportion of women increased by 33 percent, and in Bryant Park by 18 percent. The only place women decreased proportionally was in Boston’s Downtown Crossing — a major shopping area. “The decline of women within this setting could be interpreted as a shift in gender roles,” Hampton writes. Men seem to be “taking on an activity that was traditionally regarded as feminine.”
Of course one is aware of gendered tropes about the public and private spheres but it is something else again to see them manifested with such thudding literalness.
posted by enn at 7:32 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


U of Calgary grad!
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:13 AM on January 20


Hey, this is great. I learned about Whyte's work in graduate school and it always stuck with me, such a simple and direct thing to do. Data analytics before its time! Clever to go back to the same spots and film again 30 years later, although I would like to read about more longitudinal results than were in this article.
posted by Nelson at 8:56 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


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