In the minutes after the Marathon bombings, phones began to ring and buzz as people checked on family members, friends, and distant relations in Boston. R U OK?, they texted. What happened, they asked.
Researchers at Northeastern University are asking residents and visitors who used their cellphones to keep in touch with their social network after the bombings to download a smartphone app to help them understand how, exactly, we communicated in the aftermath of the tragedy. Did we call the people we are in touch with most frequently, or were we flooded with voicemails and messages from people we haven’t spoken to in weeks or years?
When people open the app, they will be asked to answer a survey and provide information from their cellphones’ text and call logs. Researchers also plan to look at how information rippled outward on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
“From an emergency response point of view, you want to know how information disseminates among the population,” said David Lazer, a Northeastern political science professor who is heading up the research. From a more sociological perspective, communication patterns may reveal something about the texture of human life.