To somehow vary, I shall propose today another short essay on social networks, a subject I like to analyze under its various facets.
Looking at the very successful social networks like Facebook but also the more local services focused on finding ex-colleagues or people who have been at school or kinder-garden with you (Copains d’avant in France, Odnoklassniki in Russia etc), it seems to me that such success has to be analyzed on the basis of ancestral social behaviors and living habits.
If we look at the phenomena with pure logical and practical glasses, it sounds strange and useless to re-contact and sometimes meet with people that you have seen last time at school 30 or 40 years ago! What does it bring to your life? Do you need more friends? What do you have in common with them?
All Cartesian approaches shall give the same answer : no you do not need it and in most cases you shall have nothing to say after 10 minutes.
However people spend time and often money on those services, why?
As many aspects of our social life, I believe that behaviors are still quite influenced by ancestral family and community structures. The initial social structure was the Tribe, as is still the case in certain countries like in Africa or South America. A similar structure was still present in rural Europe, with small villages and even large villages, and the majority of European population was still living that way until the massive migrations to larger cities that accompanied the industrialization in the 19th century.
The life of our ancestors in Tribes or Villages had key characteristics that somewhere are still present in our genes, and the most important one in our discussion today is the complete stability of the human environment during the whole life of each individual. As practically nobody dared or practically could leave the Tribe, each individual was surrounded by the same people from birth to death, family and non-family members, friends or enemies. People were linked together emotionally during all their life, knew almost everything about each other, and elders watched their school friends get older and die one after the other (unless one of the regular wars and epidemics took them away earlier). There was a fully stable group structure across time, that was almost completely lost after the migration to large cities and the start of urban life style.
Urbanized individuals started to live a very different life, moving from one place to another, sometimes changing jobs or city of residence. This change happened of course step by step, as early industrialized society provided almost lifelong employment in large production plants, something that completely disappeared in the second half of the 20th Century.
As a result, individuals meet with many more people during their life, but generally lose contacts with those people as soon as there is a change in life schedule, like a new job, a new school or a new home. The ancestral stability in human relations has been lost and even family contacts tend to get loose, with children living hundreds of kilometers from their parents.
No doubt this change created lots of additional stress to the early urban migrants, and even after so many years, I interpret the success of Social Networking as an attempt to restore the ancestral stability and to recreate the cocoon of the circle of stable friends that stay friends all lifetime. They create a new Tribe – the Internet Tribe!
The ultimate result of the creation of the new Tribal system over oceans and years cannot be appreciated today. While many members of the Tribe are adults reconnecting with childhood friends with more or less success, the actual impact on social life shall only be seen with today’s children who started adhering to the Internet Tribe from the start of their life. Assuming they shall remain in the Tribe until they get old, they shall have recreated a lifelong tribe system, a “closed” (in spite of Facebook confidentiality policies! ) human emotional circle. This new circle shall indeed be even better than the ancestral one, as at least they have now the choice of who is in and who is out of the circle… I can see that today with my children, who manage to keep in touch and meet on holidays with those friends who left Moscow years ago to Paris, Hong-Kong or elsewhere… they have their Internet Tribe up and working!