Social Media: A Human Adaptation Technology
The culture you grew up in has some preferred dishes, from the broader culture down to that particular dish in a community. Then there’s probably certain forms of dress, perhaps with intricate beading, styling and patterns of colour. Some are vibrant and sophisticated, others more conservative. Then there’s languages, how family units are organised, marriages conducted and so on. All of these are cultural elements that have evolved over hundreds and thousands of years. Culture is humanity’s primary survival mechanism.
Social media is a recent technology, but it evolved because, in order for us to survive as a species, we must communicate. This is why we developed language, writing and music and all the other elements of our cultures. Now, social media is the technology we need, I argue, in order to evolve as an interconnected global society.
As I wrote before, we used to have a lot of time and space between dominant cultures. Living between dominant cultures were smaller ones. These spaces were called shatter zones. Because of this, human evolution took a very long time. Many hundreds of thousands of years. As we developed faster and bigger modes of transport, we connected more. This lead to both conflicts and trade. But more often than not, humans preferred trade and getting along over fighting. We still do.
The telegraph technology was the first to connect us at a more global scale, then radio and the telephone. The big game changer of course, was the arrival of the internet. It took nearly 40 years to become deeply embedded in our societies at a global scale. And we’re still only in the very, very early stages of adoption.
We’re only now starting to gain some understanding of the internets influence and impact on our sociocultural systems, from economics to culture and mental health. Anytime we’ve developed mass communication tools and significant technologies, we’ve gone through periods of turmoil.
And we have to learn to adapt to the changes technologies bring to our world. The way we learn to adapt is by communication with each other. We do this using stories and through our cultural activities. Social media enable us to explore a multitude of cultures at a faster rate than ever before in our history. This naturally creates some degree of turmoil as we work through trying to understand one another. We are very much in this phase right now.
But the one thing we do know, is that humans are incredibly adaptive. As we’ve adapted to our physical environments where different types of technologies help us survive, now we’re having to adapt to our digital world and this is very much a cognitive adaptation than a physical one. Social media are the technologies that help us do this.
Over time, social media will evolve as we evolve our society. We are already seeing shifts happen. As we’ve realized the downsides of social media such as its influence on political systems, privacy, crime and mental health, we are making societal changes. Governments are bringing in various types of regulation, societal groups are organising to deal with cyberbullying and mental health issues.
We’re also seeing this change in the way we use social media and the platforms we use. Facebook is less popular today as a platform, while tools like Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp and Twitter grow. They’re different in that they serve up content fast and mostly in short form. Facebook and similar style platforms may well go the way of MySpace. Eventually, TikTok, Snap and so on will also change.
There’s also a generational and cultural impact on social media platforms. Facebook has become a platform of older users, 35 and above, while TikTok and Snap appeal mostly to teens. As teens age, it is likely their social media usage styles and preferences will change. While TikTok may seem the hot platform today, it will not always be so. They know this as well and so are maximizing the ability to make money while they can.
As we share our many cultures and societal issues, we are changing the very structures of our societies. Social media has enabled the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and given a new voice to Native Americans. Social media enable social movements to organize public rallies and protests, for good and bad. But mostly for good.
We are using social media as a technology to teach us how to adapt to a high-technology society. While it may often seem dark now, in the long term and at a macro level it is a critical technology to navigating our hyper-connected, always on world where technologies, especially digital ones, become ever more embedded in our sociocultural systems globally.