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Mobile Phone Society

An Asian woman chatting on a mobile phone

Back in the pre-industrial age most people lived in villages - close knit communities where gossip was the order of the day - everyone knew what everyone else was doing because everyone lived with and talked to their friends and neighbours constantly. Then came the industrial revolution. People moved to cities and increasingly these social networks broke down. Many people in cities and suburbs don't even know what their neighbours down the street are called, never mind what they are up to. Our friends and communities are now often spread widely and we see them to talk to far more rarely...our gossip groups become far less tightly knit as a result... Social networks are an important emotional survival mechanism and gossiping actually promotes the release of chemicals in our bodies that help us cope with stress. Without a social network we are left with no lifeline. Society changed, perhaps for the worse.

Then came the mobile

Society changed, perhaps for the worse.

Then came the mobile phone, and suddenly people were able to return to a high tech version of the older way of building community and relieving stress. The gossip is back with a vengeance as research by Kate Fox (an anthropologist and author of the book 'Watching the English')shows. People are using mobile phones in a way that allows them to go back to our old style of maintaining social networks. The people are still widely dispersed, but because of our mobiles we can constantly chat or text with them just as people used to...and so fill a deep emotional and reassuring need to gossip (men just as much as women).

Technology changes society. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. If we understand the deep seated needs of humanity though we can design technology in a way that not only makes people want it, but is also for our own good too.

Designing communications technology?...then you'd better understand our need to gossip!