How the Internet is boosting marriage rates - Brad Plummer
Let’s file this under “not conclusive, but certainly fascinating.” Real Time Economics’s Brenda Cronin points to a new discussion paper (pdf) arguing that Internet access is halting the drop in marriage rates among young people.
Yes, the Internet. In fact, the study notes, marriage rates are between 13 percent and 30 percent higher than they’d bewithout the advent of broadband technology.
The basic intuition here is that stuff like online dating makes it easier for people to find potential partners — or, as University of Montreal economist Andriana Bellou puts it, the Internet “has the potential to reduce search frictions.” That’s not utterly implausible. Researchers have already noted that the Internet allows us to find jobs and homes more easily. Why not spouses?
Ok, what I don’t understand is how this is surprising. The internet increases social density, which means that people have more connections. Of course that will increase the likelihood of hooking up! That’s why there is more sex in big cities than in rural villages.
The internet is like a giant distributed city, as William Gibson once pointed out, a city that you migrate to every time you get on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook.
Emily Badger, The Strange Decline of the Philly Accent
Seems a lot like the great northern vowel shift, which was also researched by Labov.
#140conf NYC 2011: Stowe Boyd, “Social Cognition: How Twitter Makes Us Smarter” (by 140Talks)
- Tim De Chent, If the world’s population lived in one city… via Per Square Mile
So, if we can move past the haphazard historical, cultural, and biological reasons that people live where they currently are, we could pick a few hundred places in the world where there are good reasons to live, and move all the people to those places. Places with reliable water, equitable climates, available farmland. And then we can rewild the rest of the world.
It appears that the industrial revolution in the UK was sparked by rising literacy, which was in turn the product of rising population density:
Tim de Chent via Per Square Mile
The Industrial Revolution was fostered by a surge in literacy rates. Improvements in reading and writing were nurtured by the spread of schools. And the founding of schools was aided by rising population density.
Unlike violent revolutions where monarchs lost their heads, the Industrial Revolution had no specific powder-keg. Though if you had to trace it to one event, James Hargreaves’ invention of the spinning jenny would be as good as any. Hargreaves, a weaver from Lancashire, England, devised a machine that allowed spinners to produce more and better yarn. Spinners loathed the contraption, fearing that they would be replaced by machines. But the cat was out of the bag, and subsequent inventions like the steam engine and better blast furnaces used in iron production would only hasten the pace of change.
This wave of ideas that drove the Industrial Revolution didn’t fall out of the ether. Literacy in England had been steadily rising since the 16th century when between the 1720s and 1740s, it skyrocketed. In just two decades, literacy rose from 58 percent to 70 percent among men and from 26 percent to 32 percent among women. The three economists combed through historical documents searching for an explanation and discovered a startling rise in school establishments starting in 1700 and extending through 1740. In just 40 years, 988 schools were founded in Britain, nearly as many as had been established in previous centuries.
The reason behind the remarkable flurry of school establishments, the economists suspected, was a rise in population density in Great Britain. To test this theory, they developed a mathematical model that simulated how demographic, technological, and productivity changes influenced school establishments. The model’s most significant variable was population density, which the authors’ claim can explain at least one-third of the rise in literacy between 1530 and 1850. No other variable came close to explaining as much.
Logistically, it makes sense. Aside from cost, one of the big hurdles preventing children from attending school was proximity. The authors’ recount statistics and anecdotes from the report of the Schools Inquiry Commission of 1868, which said boys would travel up to an hour or more each way to get to school. One 11 year old girl walked ten miles a day for her schooling.
Tim De Chant comments on a 2009 research paper by Marcus Hamilton and colleagues which explores the mathematics of population density when humans first started moving out of Africa, around 50,000 years ago.
Tim De Chant, Density solidified early human domination
Our predisposition to living densely, they suppose, may have contributed to our stunning success beyond the savannas of Africa.
A sublinear relationship between population size and home range size—meaning that larger groups live at higher densities—imparts special advantages for species that can deal with the twin burdens of density, overshoot and social conflict. Overshoot describes a population that overwhelms its habitat, devouring all available food and otherwise making a mess of the place. Social conflict is as it sounds, where tight proximities provoke fights between individuals. Together, those snags can bring a once booming population to it’s knees.
But social animals are uniquely adapted to cope with those problems. For one, social behavior soothes tensions when they do rise. And when it comes to the necessities of life, density conveys a distinct advantage for social species—resources, chiefly food, become easier to find. Larger, denser populations squeeze more out of a plot of land than an individual could on his or her own.
Density itself wasn’t directly responsible for the first forays out of Africa. Those groups were were too small and dispersed to receive a substantial boost from density. They faced the worst the natural world had to offer, and many probably couldn’t hack it.
Where population density conferred its advantages was when subsequent waves of colonizers followed. Density allowed those people to thrive. They joined the initial groups, growing more populous and drawing more resources from the land. This made groups more stable both physically and socially—full bellies lead to happier and healthier people. As each group’s numbers grew larger, their social bonds grew stronger and their chances of regional extinction plummeted. In other words, once people worked together to establish themselves, they were likely there to stay.
It’s a heartwarming story the scientific paper tells in the unsentimental language of mathematics. It implies that the essential success of our species can be boiled down to one variable, β, and one value of that variable, ¾. The variable β is an exponent that describes how populations scale numerically and geographically. Its value of ¾ is significant. When β equals one or greater, each additional person requires the same amount of land or more—the group misses out on density’s advantages. But when β is less than one—as it is in our case—then a population becomes denser as it grows larger.
The degree of our sociality has allowed us to bend the curve of population density in our favor. If early humans had been an entirely selfish species—each individual requiring as much or more land than the previous—β would be equal to one or greater. We wouldn’t have lived at higher densities as our populations grew, and early forays beyond the savanna might have petered out. Instead of conquering the globe, we’d have been a footnote of evolution.
And here is where we can consider how this affects our modern lives. Population density may have aided our sojourn out of Africa, but it’s clear there are limits. Hunter-gatherer populations appear to be limited to around 1,000 people, depending on the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Technology has raised carrying capacities beyond that number—as evinced by the last few millennia of human history—but we don’t know it’s limits. A scaling exponent equal to ¾ may have helped our rise to dominance, but it also could hasten our downfall. Technology may be able to smooth the path to beyond 7 billion, but what if it can’t? What if ¾ is an unbreakable rule? What happens if we reach a point where density can no longer save us from ourselves?
I am betting that social tools — based on liquid media — and new levels of urban living will enable us to push β past 3/4. My prediction is that we will pass over a new threshold when 90% of the world’s population is living in urban settings, and 90% of the world is cooperating and collaborating through online social tools. In effect, we will change the equation by allowing higher degrees of social density while managing contention for resources through lower cost cooperative techniques.
Shattuck and Stix: Has the pace of changing technology made the purpose or meaning of particular cities, or cities in general, different for new generations, or is their essential character as places of concentrated choice something that you think remains relatively constant?
William Gibson: The Internet, which I think of as a sort of meta-city, has made it possible for people who don't live in cities to master areas of expertise that previously required residence in a city, but I think it's still a faith in concentrated choice that drives migration to cities.
Megan Gambino via
Keith Hampton, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is starting to poke holes in this theory that technology has weakened our relationships. Partnered with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, he turned his gaze, most recently, to users of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
“There has been a great deal of speculation about the impact of social networking site use on people’s social lives, and much of it has centered on the possibility that these sites are hurting users’ relationships and pushing them away from participating in the world,” Hampton said in a recent press release. He surveyed 2,255 American adults this past fall and published his results in a study last month. “We’ve found the exact opposite—that people who use sites like Facebook actually have more close relationships and are more likely to be involved in civic and political activities.”
Hampton’s study paints one of the fullest portraits of today’s social networking site user. His data shows that 47 percent of adults, averaging 38 years old, use at least one site. Every day, 15 percent of Facebook users update their status and 22 percent comment on another’s post. In the 18- to 22-year-old demographic, 13 percent post status updates several times a day. At those frequencies, “user” seems fitting. Social networking starts to sound like an addiction, but Hampton’s results suggest perhaps it is a good addiction to have. After all, he found that people who use Facebook multiple times a day are 43 percent more likely than other Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted. They have about 9 percent more close relationships and are 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote.
This has been of particular interest to Hampton, who has been studying how mobile technology is used in public spaces. To describe how pervasive Internet use is, he says, 38 percent of people use it while at a public library, 18 percent while at a café or coffee shop and even 5 percent while at church, according to a 2008 survey. He modeled two recent projects off of the work of William Whyte, an urbanist who studied human behavior in New York City’s public parks and plazas in the 1960s and 1970s. Hampton borrowed the observation and interview techniques that Whyte used in his 1980 study “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” and applied them to his own updated version, “The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces.” He and his students spent a total of 350 hours watching how people behaved in seven public spaces with wireless Internet in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto in the summer of 2007.
Though laptop users tended to be alone and less apt to interact with strangers in public spaces, Hampton says, “It’s interesting to recognize that the types of interactions that people are doing in these spaces are not isolating. They are not alone in the true sense because they are interacting with very diverse people through social networking websites, e-mail, video conferencing, Skype, instant messaging and a multitude of other ways. We found that the types of things that they are doing online often look a lot like political engagement, sharing information and having discussions about important matters. Those types of discussions are the types of things we’d like to think people are having in public spaces anyway. For the individual, there is probably something being gained and for the collective space there is probably something being gained in that it is attracting new people.” About 25 percent of those he observed using the Internet in the public spaces said that they had not visited the space before they could access the Internet there. In one of the first longitudinal studies of its kind, Hampton is also studying changes in the way people interact in public spaces by comparing film he has gathered from public spaces in New York in the past few years with Super 8 time-lapse films that were made by William Whyte over the decades.
“There are a lot of chances now to do these sort of 2.0 versions of studies that have been ongoing studies from the ’60s and ’70s, when we first became interested in the successes and failures of the cities that we have made for ourselves,” says Susan Piedmont-Palladino, a curator at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Hampton spoke earlier this month at the museum’s “Intelligent Cities” forum, which focused on how data, including his, can be used to help cities adapt to urbanization. More than half of the world’s population is living in cities now and that figure is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050.
“Our design world has different rates of change. Cities change really, really slowly. Buildings change a little faster, but most of them should outlive a human. Interiors, furniture, fashion—the closer you get to the body, the faster things are changing. And technology right now is changing fastest of all,” says Piedmont-Palladino. “We don’t want the city to change at the rate that our technology changes, but a city that can receive those things is going to be a healthy city into the future.”
Actually, cities change at all rates of speed at the same time. Some aspects of the city change very slowly, like the streets and major buildings. But people come and go, stores and restaurants launch and then close, buildings are renovated, sidewalks replaced.
And technologies also change at different rates. Subway tunnels are relatively permanent, while traffic lights are less so. Telephone cables get laid, and used for decades, while people are connecting to each other through wifi and cell connections that didn’t exist ten years ago.
And the newest change is the degree to which people are overlaying their social interactions in space with social interaction in time. We are folding time by remaining connected to people with whom we are not sharing space, and increasing the social density of cities enormously as a result.
The intermixing of urban life and liquid media — ubiquitous connectivity, streaming social tools, genius mobile devices, social operating systems — might lead to an unequaled socially-connected society.
This new sort of urbanism, where the physical landscape is becoming overlaid with unparalleled degrees of social participation, is what I am calling the connective city.
Cities have always been the wellspring of innovation and change, but this is hotting up, and social technologies are the key. Urban density is growing as more people move to the cities, but this is being increased exponentially by the increase in social density that liquid media is enabling.
And oh, by the way, here’s more proof to stick in the mouths of the buffoons that make a living writing about how social tools are harming us, are diminishing our ability to meaningfully connect, or are decreasing our intelligence or our capacity to reason.
When they say they are afraid of technology, they are actually afraid of the effect of these technologies on the society that exists. They are afraid of autonomy. They are worried that we will defect from the mass identity of the past, that we will reject their parceling out of power and privilege. And we will, so they are right to be afraid. But understanding that doesn’t make their arguments sound. It just means we understand their motives, which are not ours.
Alexia Tsotsis, Mark Zuckerberg Explains His Law Of Social Sharing
Zuckerberg explained that in accordance with Facebook’s data, social sharing functions exponentially, so that the amount of stuff you shared today is double the amount of stuff you shared a year ago and the stuff that you will share a year from now will be double the amount you’ve shared today. In Mark Zuckerberg’s Law of Social Sharing, Y = C *2^X — Where X is time, Y is what you will be sharing and C is a constant.
Holding that most people intuitively misunderstand the profundity of exponential growth, Zuckerberg provided the example of a piece of paper folded upon itself 50 times. “If you took a piece of paper and folded it on itself 50 times, how tall would it be?” He continued, “Most people would say a few feet … Turns out it goes to the moon and back 10 times … I mean it’s 2^50 * the height of the paper. It’s a small base doubling many times.”
Whether Zuckerberg’s concise prediction of human sharing behavior is accurate remains to be seen. As Chris Dixon points out, it seems kind of absurd that people will be sharing 1,048,576 (2^20) times the items of information they are sharing today twenty years from now.
However, there is a curious power law of social sharing lurking in the nets somewhere, probably something that parallels Reed’s Law, which states that the value of a network increases as a function of the number of groups that are formed in the network. Perhaps, updated to a function of the number of productive relationships each member of the network has?
My bet is that overall sharing in the network increases as a function of both content, specifically the salience and distinctiveness of what people see, and context, which includes both the features of the tools we use to access and communicate through the network, and the nature of the relationship to the person who is the source of information.
The combination of these factors is generally misunderstood. I am much more likely to share information that is unique and timely, and the likelihood of that is principally a function of who I am following. The single greatest factor in information sharing is quality of sources: the more they provide distinctive and compelling messages, the more likely I am to pass those messages along. And therefore by extension, the more likely I am to influence those that follow me to do the same.
So Zuckerberg is wrong to suggest that social sharing will increase without regard to our choices, like the way the universe expands uniformally, as discovered by Edwin Hubble.
On the contrary, sharing increases as a function of our connection to each other.
Damon Centola has shown that increasing social density increases the likelihood and rate at which ideas can travel through social networks. So the factors that increase social density — better social tools, urbanization, ubiquitous connectivity — come to bear directly on this.
It’s not like Hubble’s constant, but a variable, depending on us and the tools we build and use. And most importantly, on the people we chose to follow.
Gets a few things wrong: