Posts tagged ‘human behavior’

March 1, 2015

#90) Gall bladders and crazy relatives (or why likes are the new calories)

What do the removal of my wife’s gall bladder and Facebook comments by an odd cousin have to do with each other?

I’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s start with a simpler question. What do high calorie foods and social media recognition have in common? We’re hard-wired to crave both.

According to one theory, our predisposition to high calorie foods is left over from our caveman days when we didn’t know when our next meal would be. Seems like a fair enough explanation to me; it makes me feel less guilty about putting away Big Carls left and right. I also believe that props from our followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and rest feed our appetite for recognition which, like our hunger for calories, is instilled in us early on. Popularity contests are nothing new of course, but they happen more quickly and intensely now than ever before, for worse as well as better (just ask Justine Sacco).

My dad’s cousin, in her late 70s, is a fairly avid Facebook user and while she’s no “Crazy Jewish Mom” she’s gotten off a few beauties in her time. When my wife jokingly used the word “pendejos” in in the context of sharing a “Bubala, please!” video, Crazy Jewish Cousin fired back with, “I don’t think you understand how offensive that term is.” When I posted pictures of my new dog, Meecham: “Bassets do NOT perk their ears up. He needs to be told.” (Duh, he’s not purebred–what do you think #bassetmix means?”) Recently she wanted to know, “I sure hope Instagram pays you for all the showings of your pictures that they use to advertise their product. What does Instagram have that just snapping a photo and posting it doesn’t have?”

The last part of that statement notwithstanding (I don’t feel like getting into an Instagram vs. Facebook debate just now) she did happen on an interesting point, if unknowingly. If Facebook doesn’t pay its users and in fact continues to alienate them while sites such as Bubblews and Bitlanders do pay users for their content, why don’t people just flock to the latter? Well, in the case of Bubblews they did, for a while. As of this writing, Bubblews holds an Alexa ranking of 4,946th globally: not bad, but the site ranked in the top 2,000 globally toward the end of last year, suggesting that it hasn’t gained market share. Bitlanders made a brief appearance in the global top 20,000 before dropping earlier this year; TSU had a brief flare last October. Throughout all of the above events, Facebook has retained its #2 ranking, behind only Google. According to Alexa data, the average time spent on Facebook daily is about the same as TSU, Bubblews and Bitlander put together.

Why? If you are reading this, odds are Facebook has outlived its usefulness to you. Yeah, some of you perhaps use it to promote or follow local businesses, bands, restaurants and communities, but by this point most of us have already reconnected with all of the long lost friends that we’re going to reconnect with. Why do we still log on? To get into political arguments? Parenting debates? No, to get likes, comments and recognition. Like calories, we’re addicted to them. Pinterest, Instagram and especially Facebook provide us with feedback that the little guys just can’t match.

Which brings me to the gall bladder. The gall bladder is left over from our caveman days, a storage chamber for us to stock up on calories back when our problem was too few, not too many. According to a recent blog post by Jenny McCarthy, “The gall bladder is vulnerable to stones, inflammation and polyps. For some individuals, it’s not only obsolete, it’s also a liability.” In other words, it’s kind of like Facebook.

Now, I have nothing against gall bladders, Facebook or calories. It’s just interesting to consider parallels between our relationships with social media and food. No one says, “I wish I spent more time arguing politics on Facebook.” Just as one has to weigh the tastiness of an item to its caloric impact, it might not be a bad idea for us to consider just how important those “likes” really are.

 

December 2, 2013

#62) Testing the Test of Time: The Survival Instinct

Time is one of the hardest–and most widely respected–tests of the quality and validity of all things.  At some point, we’ve all said or heard someone say, “____ (did/didn’t) stand the test of time.”  Lately, however, I’ve been considering a puzzle: there are certain things that have survived time, yet are generally not considered to be of high quality.  High quality is a matter of opinion, of course, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that most people don’t consider McDonald’s, Jerry Springer and Britney Spears to represent respectively the pinnacles of excellence in cuisine, television and music.  Yet all of the above have been household names for quite some time: more than half a century (McDonald’s) a near quarter century (Springer) and a solid decade and a half (Spears).  If these are not quality products, how have they been able to stand the test of time?  Two words: survival instinct.

Let’s start with Mickey Dee’s.  The Golden Arches appeal to our survival instinct on multiple levels.  First of all, as human beings, we are wired to crave high calorie foods: it goes back to our cave man ancestors, who didn’t know where or when they would find their next meal, so stocking up on calories was a matter of survival.  Being able to get food quickly is also important to the survival instinct, as does being able to stretch one’s dollar farther.

What of the masses that chant “Je-REE!  Je-REE!”?  More than one pundit has opined that reality TV’s appeal lies in its ability to let the viewer feel superior to the characters.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the Jerry Springer show.  One could make the leap that the need for humans to feel superior is an extension of the behavior of animals–rams, gorillas, roosters–whose survival and social standing depends on their ability to dominate.

One could argue that as of this writing, the appeal of Britney Spears is more than just that of a human trainwreck; that’s Miley Cyrus’s job.  Sure, she had her embarrassing tabloid moments, but unlike, say, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, Spears has proven that she doesn’t have to disappear to avoid disaster.  Thus she appeals to another facet of the human survival instinct: the identification with the underdog.  We still love Britney not because she entertains us with her drama, but because she’s survived it.  We all want to know that making mistakes is OK; that if we get back in the ring for another round, things will work out no matter how long the odds may seem.

So what do we do with all this?  How does any of this effect the life of you, the reader?  It probably doesn’t, in all fairness; it’s just interesting to consider that things that seem unappealing on the surface may have more of an impact on us than we realize.  I’m not saying that you need to watch Season 6 of “Springer” on Netflix, purchase front-row tickets to Britney Spears’ new show in Vegas or retrace Morgan “Super Size Me” Spurlock’s ill-fated McDonalds voyage.  Perhaps there are other ways to respond to our survival instinct.   But be that as it may, McDonald’s, Jerry Springer and Britney Spears have managed to become part of our culture, for better or worse.  Form follows function and while appealing to base instincts might not be the most elegant way to pass the test of time, it just might be the most reliable.