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Meeting Universal Human Needs in an Entirely New Way: Facebook

people_connect4_3In the last few weeks I’ve seen some pretty amazing, bizarre, interesting, joyful, life altering and stressful things transpire to myself and several friends because of how they or those close to them use Facebook.  I’ve also been deluged with  mindless banter that seems typical of how most people choose to use Facebook.  Is it me or does anyone else feel like those that have the least to say now have a medium to say it to more people, more often than common sense should allow?  Does anyone really care that the turkey sandwich you had today didn’t have enough mayo on it?  I doubt it. (feel free to send me the dumbest Facebook updates you’ve seen- Email me)

Which leads me to the things that do matter most.  The birth of a child; the death of a loved one, reuniting with long lost friends and colleagues and an array of other things that happen everyday on Facebook.  Human nature hasn’t changed because of technology but new technology meets old needs in new ways and the results of those interactions are fascinating.  Let me give you a few real examples that I’ve been privy to over the last few weeks.

First, from the “Holy *&#$, I don’t believe it category.  A dear friend of mine emails me to see if we can get together for lunch, but being the hypercompetitive guy he is he doesn’t just invite me to a boring lunch.  It becomes a bet; he’s got something to tell me that I won’t be able to top. Loser buys lunch, venue is a neutral place and the waiter or waitress decides the winner.  We needed some clarifying rules, like neither of us could get there early and interact with the server and if the server couldn’t decide any random person on the street would serve as judge and jury. The rules may seem like overkill but we still argue over a bet we had 15 years ago at a steak house in Chicago.  It was a group of 12 guys and the bet was that whoever guessed closest to the amount of the check with out going over would have his dinner paid for by the rest of us.  As coffee and dessert were being served we all scribbled down a number and tossed it into a bowl.  It was at that point that a server came out and brought each of us three cigars and brought out 4 bottles of Crystal for the table.   This added about $2,000 to an already expensive tab and my friend laughed and laughed as he thanked all of us for a fine meal.  He’d ordered all of the goodies after putting in his guess and won hands down. Rules are now in place during every friendly bet.

I figured I had a pretty good shot at winning as I had just gotten engaged a few days before and I had asked him some questions to eliminate some obvious things that I thought would top an engagement like a sex change operation, his wife being pregnant, him moving to a far off place and a few others that I won’t share.   Game on.

We meet for lunch and like gladiators entering the arena stared each other down before being seated (or at least the middle aged version of wise ass gladiators entering a coffee shop in New York —“Hey did you put on a few pounds?  Wow you’re really losing your hair.  Nice sweater, I remember when Reagan was in office people actually wore those Bill Cosby looking things.”)  My friend is unusually confident that he will win and at this point I start to worry just a bit that I may not win this bet.  The menus are placed in front of us; we mention to the server that at some point during the meal we need to ask him his opinion on something as he seems to feign interest as he may think it can help him maximize his tip.

We order lunch and now its time to put our respective cards on the table.  I go first and he chuckles and asks me if that’s all I’ve got.  Now I’m curious and annoyed and tell him that’s it,  I’m engaged, I’m in love, I’m happy and life is good.  It was like turning over my cards and having a 5 of clubs as my strongest card.  He proceeds to tell me the story of how a woman he knew a long time ago recently “friended” him on Facebook. They chatted online for a bit over the course of a week but it was all pretty mundane.  She than tells him she’d like to speak to him and it’s kind of important.  He agrees to speak and they set up a time to chat for later that week.  She calls him and proceeds to tell him that as a result of the one night they spent together in college (in 1984)  she became pregnant and put the baby up for adoption, the child recently contacted her which is why she reached out to my friend and that she would like to introduce him to his long lost son.  Wow.  My friend has been married for about ten years and has three children all under the age of seven.  Now he has a son that is 25 and recently married.  Life altering.  Amazing.  Mind Blowing.  I pick up the check as there’s no need for a waiter to weigh in on this one.  The story has a happy ending as my friend and his long lost son are spending time getting to know each other and building a relationship that is special and they are both thankful that they’ve had an opportunity to become a part of each others lives.

So what is it about Facebook that people find so appealing?  Is it Curiosity? Voyeurism? Narcissism? The need to be connected to others? Something tribal or genetic in all of us?   Yes.  And probably more than that. Basic human needs can now be met (or at least some basic needs, some of the time), we can be connected to people from our past, from different stages of our lives, from different jobs we’ve had, places we’ve lived in a way that was never before possible.   We can easily track down an old boss, a best friend from childhood, a neighbor or an old flame and interact with them in a safe and comfortable way.  We can see with our own eyes what their current lives (and spouses, and kids and dogs) look like at the touch of a button.  We can share what we choose to share with little effort and in return be taken back to various times in our lives in a robust way.  It is like no other tool we’ve had at our disposal, ever.

While my friends story may be pretty rare (or maybe not- if you know of a similar story let me know) what I find interesting is that in the last few weeks I’ve had friends learn of the death of an elderly aunt that they lost touch with; friends sharing the news of the birth of a beautiful baby boy (pictures and all), and I was reunited with an amazing team that worked for me 15 years ago. We all got together for drinks last week and had an opportunity to catch up and reminisce.  I’ve had people from near and far, people I’m close with today and people I was much closer with in the past reach out and congratulate me on my recent engagement.

I believe that Facebook enables people to have certain universal human needs met that they may not even realize they have. It allows people to share ideas and life events, to snoop and ultimately to be more connected to more people than ever before.  How do you think Facebook meets human needs?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.Email me

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Peter, that’s a great story. Not only does your friend have a great story, but you’ve embedded it deeply into your own narrative.

    By the time we get to your friends story, you’ve built me up so long that I’m convinced that your friend’s story has to be amazing, and you didn’t disappoint at all. I cannot imagine discovering that you have a 25 year old son through Facebook.

    When I look at Facebook and other social networking media, I see one transformation. No one ever is truly “long-lost” anymore once they establish an online presence.

    I may fall out of contact with someone, or they may fall out of contact with me, but I can probably find them with just a few searches.

    * If we worked together, I can still find you on LinkedIn, and I can send you an e-mail as long as you update your e-mail profile.

    * If we met socially, then I can find you through my Facebook friends’ accounts.

    In the digital world, it’s quite likely that someone whom I know also knows you (or one of your friends). Social networking tools made those connections transparent and manageable.

    Twitter, with it’s 140 character maxima, provides thin-slicing which can point people towards more in-depth connections (FB or a blog). A tweet is like a CNN headline.

    FB serves as a platform to share short thoughts and experiences, but it’s not a substitute for a thoughtful conversation. It’s like a magazine sidebar.

    Good blog posts are sometimes as rich as a magazine article or a really well written essay. The author can take time to form an idea or reveal something personal. It allows people to become real / human. Not all blog posts achieve this result, but the good ones do.

  2. Terrific blog Pete. I, too was gripped by the build up of this story. I couldn’t imagine you ever losing a bet. 🙂

    I’m fascinated, myself, by the altogether fuzziness you seem to feel over “the facebook”. (I call it that because there’s something in my personal lexicon that won’t accept Facebook as a proper noun.)
    You seemed to come out of the gate kicking over the ridiculous uses social networking sites can be abused for. (I’m must confess my own guilt in feeling the most random need to post the Elio’s pizza-lunch of Tuesday last.) Most of the “news feed” I read on my Facebook page is, in most cases, things I could’ve gone the rest of my life not knowing.
    And I agree that much good can come from “joining the facebook”. In fact, my account was opened the day after I ran into the former co-worker that led us each to the reunion you so kindly mention. There is the honeymoon phase with social networking one experiences when finding and connecting with people that were once part of their lives. I spent the first two weeks searching for people from throughout my life and sending “Friend requests”, which became “friending” someone, which led to commenting on friends’ comments, which finally came to a dead halt at the regretable Elio’s reference.
    Segue to: wanting to explore the darker realities that a Facebook page can reveal about someone. Yes to narcissism and voyeurism. And a resounding yes to the need to connect being genetic. Without that basic need/desire, we’d be gone.
    Yet in terms of the need to narrate one’s activities via a computer screen is a deficiency in self esteem that I don’t believe has been pinpointed to date. I often get the impression with certain “friends” that a thin cyber-veil is present. To a degree one couldn’t expect an online persona to be one hundred percent accurate in it’s representation of the “post-er”. Who would post every crappy picture ever taken of them? We post the things that we want to be known about us. It is instinctual not to render yourself completely vulnerable or totally exposed. Therefore, some of the people we “friend” may not really be our friends in the way we would define it in our…I’ll call it…face-to-face existence. These sites are places we go, though we’re not really going anywhere, to speak to people, though we’re not really speaking to anyone. I have some concerns about how the social internet could erode the way we communicate. It’s evident in most other areas of day-to-day life where computers have been the primary tool for longer than the social net has been a tool in dating. The difference is, in the industrial areas of our civilization, computers have aided our progress. Whereas, I feel, in our society they falsely satisfy that inherent need to connect with other people by offering the instant gratification one gets from being with a person they care about and like without having an I’ll-see-ya-there commitment that you would make with a face-to-face friend. But no one writes exactly what they’re thinking the way they’re thinking it. Post-ers want to portray something that they can’t get anyone to believe in their face-to-face life. It’s the fact that you can’t bare it all to a person via email because body language and inflection that can’t be imparted by 🙂 is also part of our ability to communicate. Or has social networking reduced our collective range of relateable emotion to the happy and sad faces?
    I guess I just wish the word “friend” still meant a little more that clicking a mouse on my son’s face. And I just felt like arguing the point.

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