Study - We are Creatures of Habit

If only I could have this creature in my habit…

Researchers who spied on 100,000 people using their cellphone signals confirmed that most human beings are indeed creatures of habit.

Most of us go to work, to school and back home in surprisingly predictable patterns, something the researchers said will be useful in city planning and preparing for emergencies.

“Despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns,” Albert-Laszlo Barabasi of Northeastern University in Boston and colleagues wrote in their report, published in Nature.

“This inherent similarity in travel patterns could impact all phenomena driven by human mobility, from epidemic prevention to emergency response, urban planning and agent-based modeling,” they added.

They used data collected by a European mobile phone carrier for billing and operational purposes. “It contains the date, time and coordinates of the phone tower routing the communication for each phone call and text message sent or received by 6 million customers,” they wrote. Their research was done on 100,000 of these users, who were kept anonymous. Journeys of more than 966km were not included.

The first-of-its-kind study, which secretly tracked cellphone users outside US, raises privacy and ethical questions for its monitoring methods, which would be illegal in the country.

The scientists would not say where the study was done, only describing the location as an industrialized nation. It revealed how little people move around in their daily lives. Nearly three-quarters of those studied mainly stayed within a 32km-wide circle for half a year.

Paul Stephens, policy director at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, said the nonconsensual part of the study raises the Big Brother issue. “It certainly is a major concern for people who basically don’t like to be tracked and shouldn’t be tracked without their knowledge,” Stephens said.