Melvin Konner M.D. Ph.D.

The Official Website of Melvin Konner, M.D, Ph.D.

...Since the causes of human nature are not a one-way street, I also want to know how changes in our environment make their impact on us--how advances in biology and medicine change how we think about our lives. My knowledge and experience have often led me to comment publicly on medical ethics, health care reform, child care, child welfare, and other policy questions, and I will do that here as well.
You are here: Home The Social Network, 10,000 BP

The Social Network, 10,000 BP

October 23rd, 2010

Do 21st-century networks hark back to the distant past?

Picture a fire in an otherwise pitch-dark cave, or outside on a still plain on a moonless, starry night. Drop the temperature a bit, perhaps, and add the distant wail of a coyote or some wild dogs. Now add the most important ingredient: four or seven or ten people sitting around the fire talking, with babies or young children sleeping on some of their backs or laps. Extend the scene long into the night.

Thus the nub of the social network, circa 10,000 years ago, and for a couple of hundred thousand years before that. Hunter-gatherer bands consisted of a small number of people, 30 or so on average, mostly related through direct or indirect blood or marital ties. The number could fluctuate upward when a resource was limited-say, water in the dry season-or downward when prey animals were dispersing. The group could also split for social reasons-one way of resolving conflict-and reaggregate as before, or expand again with somewhat changed membership. The band might also move as a whole. But for a few weeks or months at least, these would be the people you saw and talked with every day.

Beyond these fluctuating, mobile bands would be a wider social world of perhaps 500 people you would likely know by name and sight. You would be related to some of them, more distantly on average than to those in your band, and you would think of some of them as people who could help you in bad times, perhaps connect you up with a mate or be there for your children, and even perhaps one day find yourself around the fire with in the same band, talking.

What does this pattern have in common with twenty-first century social networks based on media like Facebook and Twitter? A lot, in my view.

I first heard about Facebook when only college kid had access; I thought, great, they deserve their own social world. But when it opened up to all kinds of people of all ages, although I certainly saw the dangers, I also saw the opportunity. I saw it again in the film, The Social Network , the other evening. The film doesn’t strike me as the masterwork it’s been touted as, but it’s very entertaining. I have no idea whether Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, is the autism-spectrum solipcist he’s portrayed as in the movie. I doubt it. But that’s not the idea that matters.

It’s the idea of a private social network of your own choosing, connected to endless other similar networks, and it’s no wonder it spread like wildfire. There was and is a human hunger for contact, and this seemed to be a new kind of contact. The pictures, the personal news, the sharing of griefs and celebrations, the expression of feelings have of course been done for generations, but not instantaneously at a distance.

You now got to choose your own hunter-gatherer band, and your own network of "friends" beyond it. With the advent of multiple levels of privacy, intimacy can be nested in concentric circles just as it was for scores of thousands of years on the African plains. It’s just that it no longer depends on geography, and you have a lot more choice. Whether you are gay, vegan, a kick-boxer, a Baptist-turned-Buddhist, or all those things, you can find and build a network of people like yourself.

But of course, the "friends" of choice often include family, and that part of the network resembles the one from 10,000 years ago. So, for example, I’m friended by all my kids, my stepdaughter, a number of their friends, my wife, our neices and nephews, present and former students, and many of our contemporaries. I don’t spend much time on Facebook myself, but that’s partly because my wife-a smart psychologist and a very loving person-uses her insomnia to follow all those people.

The upshot is she has known immediately when some of them needed help, when some of them started new relationships or saw old ones foundering, when this one had a cold or that one was drinking too much, and it didn’t matter whether they were under our roof or thousands of miles away. Carefully, to be sure, she and I have sometimes responded to what we have learned in this way, sometimes we have only watched and waited.

But the point is we have known so much more than we could have known a decade ago, and we’ve known it in real time. We’re not snooping, because we’ve been admitted or even invited, and we can participate in new ways. With Twitter and its melding with Facebook, the day-to-day becomes moment-to-moment. The exchange becomes more and more a conversation, and the pictures make it almost seem face-to-face.

Are there dangers? To be sure. Impostors are everywhere, and some are dangerous. Another (in my view better) film, Catfish , depicts the emotional consequences of one very sad hoax, and it can get much worse than that. Pimps and other predators are out there finding children. Some people delude themselves that they are "friends" with thousands.

But all advances have a cost. We have entered a new age of social networks that in some ways takes us back to our original adaptation, the day by day and night by night interactions with those we care about, and who care about us, and the opportunity to share their lives.


Note: By invitation, I’ve started a blog on the
Psychology Today website, and my latest post can be read there or here, although different comments may be  posted there.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

112 Responses to “The Social Network, 10,000 BP”

  1. always i used to read smaller articles which as well clear their motive, and that
    is also happening with this article which I am reading at this place.

  2. Appreciation to my father who informed me regarding this blog, this blog is truly awesome.

  3. Funny Vine says:

    Duro is also known to benefit athletes, sportsman and woman as
    it helps in building up stamina. You can pick up your finger to stop shooting, then tap and hold the shutter button to start shooting video again, just like on Vine.
    Online marketing will be at its best and firms will make all possible efforts to improvise their online marketing skills getting more visible using the various social platforms and creating user
    engaging content.

  4. There are certain natural remedies that offer a promising cure for
    esophageal cancer. There are different forms of cancer, and the severity of
    each case varies. Some men who have these problems would call their symptoms only “uncomfortable,” while
    others might report that they didn’t feel any kind of painful sensation at all.

  5. head soccer cheats android…

    The Social Network, 10,000 BP » Melvin Konner’s Blog…

  6. You can even add your preferred burger ingredients before putting it on the
    grill.

  7. Really. Fuck quickly into the sunlight. KotakuInAction, well-known GG
    rallying point, brigaded an area radio station since they dared to
    interview Brianna Wu. So when the place mind told them to screw next to because he did not
    negotiate with terrorists, they bullied him
    into apologising while clearly lacking the purpose
    he had been making originally. But you are attempting to stop us - a huge market force - getting
    games we enjoy playing.

  8. I do trust all the ideas you’ve introduced on your post. They are very
    convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are
    very brief for novices. Could you please prolong them a little from
    subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  9. Quality articles is the main to interest the people
    to visit the web page, that’s what this web page is providing.

  10. In the training course you’ll receive learn the
    3 principles which are the muse of this technique.
    These are generally mailing the proper signs for you to attract the best gentleman, Being comfortable and happy even with becoming sole, foreseeable future
    pacing simply by grape planting your seeds of one’s foreseeable future jointly with your guy’s
    depths of the mind so it gets to be his because concepts
    at the same time.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00KE09aTlm4
    single girls handbook

  11. Elton says:

    The hackers show them on websites like YouTube or promote them on Facebook’s forums with the guarantee of doubling or tripling your Facebook poker chips
    in a matter of minutes.

  12. Thanks for some other great post. Where else may anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect approach of writing?

    I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the search for such
    information.

Leave a Reply


Blog Navigation

Selected Books

  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

Login Form