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Cell Phone Study Suggests People Are Losing Their Wanderlust
Date:6/4/2008

Many spend most of their time going to a few key locations, such as work and home

WEDNESDAY, June 4 (HealthDay News) -- Using cell phone records to track movement, a new study suggests that people are creatures of habit, spending most of their time going to -- and remaining at -- a few key locations, such as work and home.

The researchers said their novel approach to analyzing human mobility appears to be more accurate, easier, and cheaper than prior efforts based on tracking, for example, the movement of money. And, they added, the cell phone model could prove helpful to epidemiologists seeking to improve planning for emergency responses to natural disasters and disease outbreaks.

"Mobility patterns are very important to quantify, because they affect everything from epidemic forecasting to urban road planning," said study lead author Marta C. Gonzalez, a professor at Northeastern University's Center for Complex Network Research. "But despite a big interest, there's been a lack of data, because it's very hard to track movement."

Gonzalez and her colleagues published their findings in the June 5 issue of the journal Nature.

They said their observation of repetitive and controlled mobility departs somewhat from a traditional paradigm regarding more random animal movement, known as the "Levy flight" pattern. This model was based on typical food searching behavior, which mostly consisted of non-repetitive, short-distance foraging, interspersed with the occasional longer trip.

For the study, the researchers analyzed cell phone transmitter tower logs, which track mobility within a defined tower zone. The average tower zone was about two square miles, although more than 30 percent of the zones covered an area of less than one square mile.

Information was collected on the movements of approximately 100,000 randomly selected people over a six-month period.

Gonzalez and her team
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