Sociometers: a new way to quantify social interactions

Sociometric Badge
Sociometer – MIT Media Lab. Human Dynamics Group

How about a Fitbit for social interaction? Instead of measuring steps and calories, such a device measures proximity of others and verbal interactions. The device communicates with similar units to determine social distance from other individuals and microphones to capture verbal interactions. Pioneered, among other places, at MIT, such devices bring wearable computing to social scientific research. An interdisciplinary team reported in Nature that sociometers reveal that women in small collaborative groups are more physically proximate to other women. In other contexts men and women did not show any differences. The results sound a bit underwhelming, but the technology promises some interesting overtures, especially for reopening the fascinating field of proxemics, pioneered by Edward T. Hall. Now we can finally find out how large and elastic are the bubbles of privacy and how social interactions vary across micro-cultural groups.

Reference papers

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Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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