By Graham Peterson
People love being social. People love each other. They flock to cities to live next to one another. They share stories with one another constantly. Conflict and coordination breakdowns account for the absolute minority (if the most dramatic and troubling) of human interactions.
And that’s why we love Facebook, Twitter, and all of the other social media. These technologies are the new version of the city.
Cities at first brought tribes closer together as they learned to trade peacefully with one another instead of murdering each other in occasional raids. Alas, plenty of out-groups remained in society, because technological constraints kept it that way. They made the costs of social transaction too expensive to warrant attempts at further social exchange with out groups.
The Industrial Revolution, of course, solved all of that and urban agglomeration exploded. All because people really really like other people and benefit enormously from interacting with an increasing variety of them in a social and market division of labor.
Nowadays, once again, technology has expanded our social networks even further, because it’s now exponentially cheaper to interact at the edge of our social networks (in terms of time and physical resources needed to dedicate the task). This development has been interpreted as evidence of our proclivity for voyeurism and narcissism, because the only way to interact with so many people at once at the far reaches of one’s social network, is to make public broadcasts, or “posts,” to no one in particular.
But no – we are engaged in increasing solidarity and agency with people for which is was just too expensive to interact with in the past.
People are afraid social media is substituting for intimate, personal interaction. I think that’s also ridiculous. These technologies have made it so much cheaper to interact with people at a further social distance from oneself, they have only complemented and added to more traditional forms of interaction. Japanese kids addicted to video games in their basements are the exception, not the rule. I don’t see sidewalk cafes clearing out or living rooms. I see people bringing their enlarged social networks to those places in their pockets.
People love social media because they love each other. And the fear mongering about social media alienating us from one another, making us into selfish and brainwashed dupes of our Facebook overlords, are precisely backwards.