April 20, 2012, 1:36 PM — Over the course of 20 years cell phones have evolved from status symbols for the very few to the primary means of communication for the very many.
In the process they've helped change our memories (why remember a friend's number if it's in your speed dial), our sense of direction (GPS is easier than maps, even for places we go frequently) and the way we communicate (ith phones in our pockets we can chat with anyone, anytime, but increasingly prefer to text or email because it's more convenient for us and more polite to those who share our physical space, rather than our digital networks.)
As cell phones have become ubiquitous they've also become the go-to method of tracing social and behavioral patterns we may have suspected but were never able to confirm.
Studying data showing who phones whom within an organization, how quickly those calls were returned and what secondary calls they set off identifies the paths of real influence, not just titular authority, even in large companies, for example.
Now those records may change the way we understand the nature of male-female relationships and changes in what each gender wants from the other at different times in individual lives.
In the most unlikely but by far most interesting possibility, they may also explain more about how natural selection works in humans today than all the evolution studies ever published on the sex life of fruit flies.
Following up on earlier studies that show most people tend to pick friends who are similar to themselves, University of Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar and colleagues talked an unnamed telco in an unnamed European country into turning over seven months worth of call records for about 3.2 million subscribers.
Looking only at calls for which the age and gender of the caller was known, researchers analyzed analyzed patterns of contact in 1.95 billion cell phone calls and 489 million text messages, sifting for patterns that indicate who those callers had chosen for one-on-one friendships and how those relationships were maintained.
Previous studies showed that, in established organizations, women's communication styles tended to be overlooked in favor of men. Those studies involved communication networks and norms created largely by men, for men without consideration for the development of romantic relationships, even though romance is a high priority for men as well as women.