Why Social Media is More Popular than Sex

This is a guest post by Dennis Price. He does not profess to know much about social media but does, however, know quite a bit about how businesses get real results at the retail coalface.  He is the CEO of Ganador Management Solutions, and you can find his RetailSmart blog there too.

I watched a fascinating documentary (National Geographic) on Stress. Worth watching if you have an hour, but let me summarise:

Stress has a major physical impact on our bodies in ways we are only beginning to understand:

  • It ossifies your arteries, making it less likely to cope with (physical) pressure caused by expansion etc and this eventually leads to increased risk of heart of attacks.
  • It makes people fatter; in the worst possible place (around your belly) and with the worst kind of fat.
  • It actually leads to the fraying of the end caps on your chromosomes – the medical implications not being clear (to me).
  • It kills your brain cells, making you dumber. (And I am not exaggerating.)

Stress is truly a killer.

The documentary also drew from some interesting research to identify some of the more unexpected stressors (causal factors) in our lives. The research was impressive, with longitudinal studies on baboon tribes and humans spanning over 30 years.

The insight du jour was:

Your position in the hierarchy is a cause for stress.

The lower you are down the proverbial food chain, the more stressed you are. For humans the obvious hierarchy is our place of work.

Obviously we are part of many hierarchies in our lives and each of those structures is an opportunity to be more or less stressed. (Which is why volunteering to be the soccer coach is a great act of balancing your life; you get to be in charge of running a squad of 10-year olds, which makes a nice change from the cubicle farm.)

The reason your hierarchical position causes stress is because the lower you are down the food chain, the less control you have.

It seems that the old bumper sticker philosopher was right when he mused about the boss:

I don’t get stressed, I give stress.

And that is when I the apple fell on my head.

The popularity of social media platforms, which are usually asynchronous by nature, is a rare instance where relationships are less hierarchical. And where the participants are actually in control of the interaction.

Peter Steine saw it clearly in his (1993) cartoon – On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog.

Your browser may not support display of this image.Social ME-dia is ostensibly all about relationships.

If you have been around for awhile, you no doubt would have read posts or publications that guide you about the appropriate behaviour and manner in which to engage.

These guidelines seemingly govern the etiquette of these digital relationships and typically exhort participants to: Listen first. Ask many questions. Don’t make it about you. Give freely and good things will come to you.

And a host of other like platitudes. This advice is nothing but common courtesy reinvented for the web.

But this does not hold true for all relationships on the web. Relationships evolve and relationships may belong to different categories. In each instance there is a different context and a different set of rules that apply.

Your browser may not support display of this image. 1. Typically, when someone initially embraces the internet as a social medium, they will start off with a core group op their ‘real’ friends. [With this I mean physical relationships in the sense that it is person to person and not necessarily intimate. I use ‘real’ to describe these relationships simply because you know what I mean, and I don’t mean that digital relationships are not real.] Your first email was probably sent to someone you know. Your first friend on Facebook was probably your wife.

2. Depending on the purpose and the personality of the individual, new digital relationships are formed. Digits link across the ether and new relationships are formed. These ‘digital relationships’ then can (a) remain digital, or (b) evolve into ‘real’ relationships.

3. Digital friends that become real depends on a host of things, not the least being geography. (This may explain the popularity of apps/games like Foursquare – which I may add, was my pick in Jan 2010 as the next big thing. Time will tell.) It is for THIS category of relationship that old those grandfatherly rules apply that bloggers so kindly dish up.

People want to convert these relationships, because that would be only human. Once you find people with a common interest you would consequently want to create/ belong to that tribe.


4. The fourth category of relationship is the own that really interests me. The digital friends that remain so.

What percentage of digital friends become ‘real’ friends? I would suspect, given the constraints and given the numbers, it would be a fraction – certainly less than 1%. (There is a question for you Mr Solis.) It would probably be slightly different for your personal Facebook page, and maybe less so for LinkedIn. But for sites like Foursquare, Twitter, Blogs etc, I would be surprised if many of those relationships become ‘real’.

On Facebook, with the exception of a few early mistakes, I know almost everybody. And then I know about 2 or 3 times that number in the real world (clients, acquaintances) whom are not necessarily friends.

But the numbers on Twitter (600) and the Blog (thousands), for instance, are not much more than avatar.

If my assumption is true, then none of those pesky rules that the bloggers dish out apply.

And more importantly, the latter type types of relationships are the type where I AM IN CONTROL.

You are in control because you:

  • Listen to what you want. Ignore what you want.
  • Friend. Unfriend. Follow. Unfollow.
  • Profile 1. Profile 2.

And that means we have a relationship – human interaction – without any of the associated stress.

Does this go some way towards explaining why social media (ambient intimacy) has exploded as it has – apparently overtaking porn as the number one use of the internet?

Our desire to have relationships without the stress (caused by the hierarchy) is bigger than sex, and it makes evolutionary sense too. Stress was originally a mechanism for survival, which is stronger than the urge to procreate.

If something is more important than sex, then it has to be pretty big – no pun intended.