Many residents of Britain, Italy, and Belgium imagine there to be a kind of north-south divide in their countries, marking a barrier between different social groups and regional characteristics. Now a new study by MIT researchers reveals that such divides can be seen in the patterns of communication in those countries and others.

Telecommunications data in Britain, for instance, show that only about 9.5 percent of communications cross a line about 100 miles north of London. In Italy, only 7.8 percent of communications cross a line roughly along the northern border of the Emilio-Romagna region, above which lie the industrial and commercial metropolises of Milan and Turin.

These invisible borders, the researchers say, help us grasp the social, civic, and commercial interactions that exist in contemporary nations, and may be of use to government officials and other policy experts.

“We are looking at networks to think about how communities are structured over space,” says Carlo Ratti, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, and a co-author of a new paper summarizing the results. The study is part of a larger effort, he adds, to see “how we can use these technologies to better understand the extent of constituencies and communities.”

The paper, “Delineating geographical regions with networks of human interactions in an extensive set of countries,” is being published this week in the journal PLoS ONE. The findings show that, for all the digital connectivity in civic life today, people still connect in “a geographically cohesive, connected set of communities,” says Stanislav Sobolevsky, a researcher at the Senseable City Lab and a co-author of the paper.

Sobolevsky emphasizes that the study, which covers seven countries, shows that examining communications networks allows analysts to reconstruct the regional nature of nations across a wide variety of geographic settings. The work builds on a previous analysis of Great Britain alone.

From MIT News Office, by Peter Dizikes -- click here for more.

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