When the Wikipedia entry for Social Media contains in its opening paragraph the phrase,"social media are relatively inexpensive and accessible tools that enable anyone (even private individuals) to publish or access information", I think that we've got a problem on our hands.
So much time, energy and attention seems to have been spent thinking and talking about Social Media tools and technologies that in my opinion many have missed the point. Without people none of that means anything. Maybe a little more time thinking about the fundamentals of human needs and behaviour and a little less time trying to second guess what the new Facebook/Twitter/YouTube is the more interesting the end results will be for all of us?
By nature human beings are relational creature. We need each other. We co-operate, we fight, we find ourselves through our relationships with others. The ancient Greeks had a punishment that was considered more painful than death - banishment. By removing a man from his network of friends and family you were in essence condemning a man to certain death and an extended one at that.
In 1934 Abraham Maslow wrote a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow codified his research on the five essential human needs in his his now famous Hierarchy of Needs (much be-loved by Planners the world over) The basic most fundamental human need that lies at the foundation of all of us he argued is Physiological (breathing, sleep, food, sex etc), then Safety (personal, financial, health), next Social (friendship, intimacy, family), then Esteem (self-esteem, self-respect, belonging) and finally at the top of the hierarchy came Self-Actualization.
It's the two middle levels which are the most important to our discussion on Social Media. For what is the behaviour demonstrated on Social Media platforms such as blogs, Flickr, YouTube and Flickr but "Belonging/Social needs" and "Esteem needs".
"Belonging/Social needs" in as much as digital technology platforms allows connections and enables people with like-minded passions to come together, be it a passion for gaming and the ARG that attract people from all around the world to play (incidentally Prof Monica Whitty has written extensively on the romances that blossomed in the alternate reality worlds, many of which have ended in real-world weddings and families), or more disturbing passions such as Armin Meiwes's who found a "well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed" through the website The Cannibal Cafe. Social Media is merely the platform for connecting and sharing, in essence finding your place in order to belong.
But perhaps more interestingly is the way in which people gain self-esteem and self-respect through Social Media channels. Also known as the esteem need, Esteem presents the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel valued and accepted, often that is in a professional sphere but it equally could come from the sharing of a hobby or skill online. It is through the comments and links of others that individuals online gain authority and influence in the social space and thereby increase their own levels of esteem.
The need is belonging.
The behaviour is social.
The out-take is esteem.
The fundamentals of human nature remain constant.
Thoughts? Additions? Examples? Ideas?
All gratefully received.
Background to the project and all other 9 Principles housed here at IPA Social.