Monthly Archives: March 2014

Why has social technology worked?

Today I had the honour of talking at Dundee’s Women in Science festival.  I had picked the subject “What is the Millenial Virtuous Cycle?… and other social impacts”, with the “Millenial Virtuous Cycle” being a rather interesting cycle of innovation being predicted by IBM Research in this year’s Global Technology Outlook (link to 2013’s report) as will become standard – or more standard – in the next five years.

But I introduced the topic by talking about why social technology has been successful, and that there’s a place for social technology for everyone, or rather, for all types of people.

I started by considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Diagram showing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The first four needs – physiological, security, friendship and love, esteem – are in  way the  more important for if we the fundamental physical needs are not fulfilled we have physical problems, and if the three on top are not fulfilled we tend to become tense and anxious, have psychological challenges if you will.

Friendship and love is interpersonal and concerns our sense of belonging.  We humans need to feel acceptance amongst our social groups, regardless if these groups are large or small.  If we don’t feel love or belonging we can be lonely, anxious and even clinically depressed.  Maslow stated that this need for belonging could even overcome the physical and security needs depending on our culture, the peer pressure placed upon us.

For those who find face to face conversation difficult, or just don’t have people like us around us, social technology offers us the ability to form different social groups than those physically around us.  And for those who find face to face conversations a breeze, well, chances are we like engaging with others in many ways and so social technology offers us yet another way to connect.

Esteem is our desire to be accepted and valued by others, we need to feel resepcted and this includes the need to have self esteem and self respect.   We have a profession or vocation (which perhaps could be more than just a job) and have hobbies in order to get that recognition, to feel like we are contributing, making a difference event.
People with low self esteem often need more respect from others and may even want to seek fame or glory.  What easier way than twitter?!

Again, though, one doesn’t have to have low self esteem to consider using social media, but I can’t remember ever seeing a tweet that said something like “oh, no, not another follower”.

So, perhaps social technology allows us to meet those fundamental needs.

But also, my attention was drawn to a new Harvard report “Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding“*; so called because that’s exactly what they concluded.

It starts by telling us that studies of human conversations demonstrated that approximately 30-40 percent of our everyday speech contains information about our private experiences or personal relationships.  But surveys of internet use suggest that over 80 percent of social media posts are simply announcements about our own immediate experiences.

It goes on to say that a number of commentators have argued that these unusually high rates of sharing could come from a motivation specific to humans to share our beliefs and knowledge about the world.

As you’d expect from such research the team required empirical support to prove their hypothesis and so they used five studies with a combination of neuroimaging and cognitive methods.

And they did conclude that we humans are motivated to share what we are thinking (or “propagate the products of their minds” as it is more eloquently put in the article), and that opportunities to share our thoughts should be experienced as a powerful form of subjective reward.

We like sharing and social technology helps us doing that.

Which leads me to think, so maybe knowledge is power, but is it more powerful if it’s shared?

* Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding; Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell;  Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138
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