About the work

Barabási’s 2008 paper on human mobility caused the biggest uproar in his professional career. Featured on the cover of Nature, it relied on data recorded by a European cell-phone company to track and plot individual cell phone users’ physical locations and trajectory in time.


Rhythm, by A.-L. Barabási, N. Blumm, C. Song, and Z. Qu, created for “Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility,” Science (February 19, 2010)

Its publication was the first time the broad public learned that their every move was being traced just by virtue of making a phone call, sending a text, or looking at something on the Internet—a rather upsetting realization for many people. The research captured thousands of individuals’ geographic movements by stringing together their real-time locations. The BarabásiLab explored these anonymized data sets and revealed the exceptional predictability of our daily routine. Using algorithms, the team could forecast a person’s future location with 93 percent accuracy.

These images illustrate the way space constrains our movement. In addition, the data reflects that just as our daily patterns are confined by the roads we travel, our socio-economic existence is yoked to invisible structures. 

Image 4 – Part of a series comparing individuals' movements over time.
Image 2 – Part of a series comparing individuals' movements over time.
Image 6 – These images by contrast, trace the trajectories of two individuals, each with a different degree of predictability, as they move around a major city. In the same time period, one person visits about a dozen, and the second about a hundred. The space is partitioned into a Voronoi grid that captures the reception areas of each mobile phone tower, the silent spies of our current era.
Image 7 – collective movement spanning a major city
Image 5 – This image show the trajectories of several people whose collective movement span the vicinity of a whole country (Spain).