Stefana Broadbent at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 3

Posted by:


Technology anthropologist Stefana Broadbent analyzes how we text, IM and talk. Today, she says these new methods of communication are helping us break out of old institutions and bringing us closer together than ever before. She’s speaking with a backdrop of constantly refreshing, beautiful black and white portraits, always of two people seated together. She explains that in each picture is someone she interviewed and the person the communicate with most in the world, whether it be their significant other, parent, grandparent or sibling, along with the communication tools they use — by and large, these are cell phones.

She says that although we may have many people on our Facebook friend lists (120 on average) and in our cell phone directories, we typically use these technologies to interact with a small core group of people. The typical cell phone user makes 80 percent of their calls to just four people, and the average Facebook user exchanges most of their messages with only five or six friends. So these technologies are not networking us with more people, but reinforcing our communication with our inner circle.

Even more interesting, she says that we are now seeing the democratization of intimacy. As more communication technologies are written, and can therefore fly under the radar more easily in a workplace, the boss is not the only one that can keep in touch with their family and friends during working hours. She finds companies’ restrictions on Facebook and schools’ restrictions on texting appalling. We always lived with work and family together, she explains, this compartmentalization of our lives only began 150 or so years ago with the Industrial Revolution. Broadbent is glad to see that cleavage ending.