November 6, 2007

Social network backlash because we’ve stopped hugging?

Filed under: behaviours, community, emotion, social networks, social web — Warren Hutchinson @ 10:08 am

Whilst eating some toast this morning I caught a report on BBC 1 suggesting that we’re not hugging enough. We’re not extending human contact in the form of hugging kissing and touching and we are failing to receive our RDHI (Recommended Daily Hugging Intake).

(Sorry I can’t find a story to link to on the BBC website).

Psychologists behind the report suggest that we are relying far too heavily on non-human-touch methods of communication such as texting, email and ‘pokes’. Hugging makes you happy.

I’ve been arguing for a while that humans require real, genuine and tangible value when it comes to their relationships with other humans and that social networks as they currently stand, fail to satisfy our long-term human needs because they are limited to facilitate only synthetic relationships.

Look at your Facebook account. How many ‘friends’ do you have?

Are you one of those people who accepts every invitation through fear of offence? Or are you one that only accepts invitations from people they actually, really and still know?

Do you consider tenuous links with colleagues you are simply ‘aware’ of? Or do you keep it focussed down into people you actually know? People you are actually friends with?

Social networks tap into out latent need to belong, to be part of a community and to be recognised. They provide us with recognition and allow us to say “I am here and I belong”.

It’s a Maslow thing.


But over a long period of time social networks will fail to deliver real value in the form of tangible, off-line and physical benefit unless they evolve into real space. Doing something, actually being there together, in real terms.

A search on the BBC website reveals this:

A hug is, first of all, a form of non-verbal communication. It brings people together in a feeling of mutual love, comfort and safety. Research suggests that everyone needs physical contact to survive, especially infants. Hugging is an act of giving and receiving support, moral and physical, and love

BBC – Guide to Hugging

Loving the ‘Huggers’, ‘Huger’ and ‘Hugee’ references there.

Great digital ‘start-ups’ such as Facebook, MySpace and Last.FM could just be limited by their lack of real physical space and I wonder if this is something they’ll need to evolve in order to survive?

It’s all very well having ‘friends’ on these sites and receiving witty pokes, funwall messages and music recommendations, but I can’t engage with them on a “so how are you doing?” basis. I can’t really and truly care.

I personally have noticed some of my more distant friendships relying on Facebook to stay in touch. We poke, message and send things to each other whereas before we’d phone.

That’s rubbish. I’m changing it. By using Facebook to message each other we’re saying that we don’t really care.

I’ve also observed some friends and family resolving sticky issues via email, text or by writing a message to someone’s Facebook inbox. How sad is that? Complete avoidance of true, emotional disscusion.

What is that doing to society?

I guess in the old days we used to write letters but I don’t consider that the same thing. Letters unlike email/text etc, take time. They take effort and flow from the end of your pen in an emotional, stream of consciousness kind of way.

Email is synthetic, easy and impersonal.

We all know that teenagers don’t use it.

Emoticons were invented to try and bridge this emotionless communication.

🙂 😦 😡 ]:-) :p :s =|

(My blog tool has probably ’emoticonned’ some of those).

I remember back in 1996, when I started using IRC (internet Relay Chat) in the form of Foothills and Resort, we communicated using a telnet window using text only using the ’emote’ command to show emotion.

Warren> Emote is happy.

‘Warren is happy.’

Fundamentally, even though the technology has evolved the need hasn’t changed and the need hasn’t be fulfilled.

When we are born and as babies we learn primitive methods of communication such as touch and hugging. But as we progress to our teenage years the level of non-family touch drops away considerably.

I don’t know about you but on a personal level I’m getting bored of social networks. On a professional level I’m still enjoying the challenges of seeding a community and designing tools for them, but I have to say, I’m not really seeing any great value.

I could talk about Twitter here, but that’s for another day. this post is already too long, if you got this far, well done and thanks.

As I write this post I can’t help but laugh at the fact that next to me on the train into London, there is a couple smooching, kissing ad making lip-smaking noises, cooing and warbling together like teenagers.

They are in their late thirties and it’s irritating the hell out of me!



Image credits: Dina_Mehta

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  1. …and as I read this, my 61 year old dad has added me to his facebook friends…

    accept or reject?

    or just use it as an excuse to kill this facebook nonsence

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