Social media across millennia

Cueva de las Manos , Perito Moreno, Argentina. Credit: Marianopublished under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license

About thirty thousand years ago, an ice-age ancestor stretched out his or her (probably quite chilly) arm and created a series of hand-prints on the wall of a bear cave in what is now France. I first saw those hand-prints in Werner Hertzog’s amazing documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Social media across millennia – wow!

Our cold but creative ice-age friend had to wait a long time for their message to be heard (or seen) by millions. Today, it takes milliseconds to potentially reach the same number of people. And almost everyone in the developed world (and increasing numbers in the developing world) has access to the tools to do it. What endures (and what we have in common with our ancestors) are fundamental human needs: to be creative; to tell stories and; to connect with other human beings. There is pretty compelling evidence for this in the famous Hierarchy of Needs, first proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. For many, it remains  the best model for understanding human motivation and I think it’s important, in these challenging times, to remind ourselves of our humanity.

Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that human beings have a fundamental requirement for recognition, achievement

and respect. In 2015, individuals frequently turn to social media, both to communicate and to meet these fundamental needs (“how many followers/likes/shares/retweets have I got today ?”). And we’re not just interested in how we personally are viewed by others. As people increasingly live online they will look for sources to help them make good decisions in the face of quite overwhelming amounts of choice. It’s no surprise therefore that the credibility and influence of individuals and organisations online is of huge interest to marketers, policy-makers and governments, all of whom want to understand what works and what doesn’t, in terms of (for example) driving purchasing decisions, lifestyle choices and political activism.

However, in our exponentially developing world, let’s not pretend that we have altered as human beings. In thirty thousand years time, I wonder, what will the cultural hand-print of OUR age be ? I’d hazard a guess that whatever form it takes, like the paintings at Chauvet, it will be something creative, technically adroit and fundamentally quite humbling because it reminds our descendants that they are, after all, only human!