Facebook and Genetic FearPosted: January 16, 2011
I just finished a book by John Caccioppo: “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection”. He says the ability to cooperate with other people, to have friends, is what advanced our species. As humans developed, being a loner was foolish and deadly. Nature’s predators thinned them out. There was safety and success in numbers. I get your back, you get mine. Together we thrive. The survival of the fittest. The survival of the connected.
Modern humans have a genetic dread of loneliness. I think the success of Facebook may have its roots in human evolution.
Loneliness alerts us to danger. We start to feel out of control. It urges us to take action: get connected. People who ignore this alert tend to get serious illnesses. Studies put social isolation on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.
Enter Facebook. Facebook’s software calls its connections “friends”. “Be safe”, urges my genes. “Danger is lurking”. I sign up. When folks ask, “You on Facebook?”, I can nod in the affirmative. I belong. I’m safe.
A few weeks or months go by before the uneasiness sets in. The relief I sought from loneliness has not happened.
The fact is, true relief from loneliness needs the direct presence of at least one other person. To encourage this takes action. A cup of coffee together. A bike ride. A phone call. A visit at times of illness. To have a friend, be a friend.
I am a human being. It’s built in for me to regulate my emotions and behavior. It’s also in my genes to make and keep friends. There is only one force that can impair this process: fear. The terror of feeling helplessly and dangerously alone. I better check my FB page. –lg