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MIT Research Creates an Alternative Map of Britain Based on Social Interaction

Mon 13 Dec, 2010 // Firstnumber Team
GB Map

The tracking of over 12 billion landline calls in the UK has been utilised in the creation of a social map of the country, based on the telecommunications of the British public. Carlo Ratti of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the work which has produced an innovative approach to the delineation of regional boundaries.

Regions are defined by the analysis of social interaction rather than any sense of physical boundary currently in place. The results show that we are largely parochial beings in terms of our collective telephone habits. With the exception of notable cross-country connectivity between Wales and the West Midlands, the resultant regions remain largely similar.

From the map, one gets a real feel for the centrality, not only in geographical terms but also culturally, of London. It's densely packed aggregation of connections is also endowed with several antennae-like extensions reaching out into the surrounding landscape.

The redefined geography of the British isles was developed by recognising dense clusters of telephone connections: these became the new social counties. The borderlines were drawn in where the fewest connections were registered.

A greater deal of social cohesion was ascribed to those connections deemed stronger due to their higher frequency, or more extensive duration.

Research leader Carlo Ratti explained that whilst regional boundaries are useful for governments, “they don't say anything about how people in those regions interact.”

The study, carried out for the purposes of the BBC's Britain From Above series, indicates the ability to redefine the boundaries of a country based on the level of interaction between various groups. Theoretically, the process could also be applied to e-mail, social media connectivity, and text messaging, some of which may paint quite a different picture.

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