Social Media Meets a Basic Human Need

Last summer, my friend was restoring a 200+ year-old farmhouse.  He was doing it himself, but was always asking for input from others.  He would share the highs and lows of the project.  One of the unexpected highs was finding a small stack of  the town’s newspapers from the 1800’s.

I didn’t expect to experience any epiphanies from looking at old newspapers, but I did!  The last page of the paper was focused on snippets of town gossip.  Things like, “Mr. and Mrs. Wilson are having guests from England this week.” And “Clara Johnston’s daughter, Alice had 20 children at her 12th birthday party.” Or, “Emma Porter, Florence Thomas, and Grace Morris had lunch at Mabel’s café last Saturday.”

As I was reading this, I realized I was reading an old-fashioned twitter feed!  To fit all the news on the paper, each announcement was, chillingly close to 140 characters.  In that moment, I got Twitter.  I really got Twitter.  I got Twitter in a way that I could explain to every one of my clients why it was such a huge social phenomena today.

The dawn of the industrial age made people busy with work.  It also isolated people in factories — away from their friends and families.  The short announcements in this paper were a solution to the isolation people were feeling.  It was a way to feel more connected with what others were doing around you.

The dawn of the electronic age is making people efficient with transportation.  You no longer need to physically be someplace to get something done.  You can be just as productive in your own home as you can be in an office teeming with people.  We also call the electronic age the age of communication, which is ironic, because it brought on a type of isolation we didn’t see coming.

Enter social media.  Opponents of social media don’t like that it’s replacing traditional communication.  But it thrives because it meets our basic human need for connection.  It fills the void created by our isolated lives.  Social media is stunningly successful is because we crave connection.  Without other people in our life, our life has no meaning.  Without people in our lives with whom we can relate, we have no happiness.  Social media connects us with like minds — with whom we can share our joys and sorrows, our dreams and our passions.