Sharing is human

Maria Konnikova writes: Last week, Facebook made its largest ever acquisition: Instagram, the popular photo-sharing service that lets you snap, filter and send with the click of a button. While the fit seems to make sense – a major reason to use Facebook is to share photos; the more photos you share the more time you spend on the site; the more time you spend, the happier the advertisers – the $1bn price tag raised many an eyebrow.

But should the price come as a surprise or is the purchase perhaps a visionary move? In making its offer for Instagram, Facebook had, I think, recognised the ever-growing importance of one little impulse that is awfully hard to resist: the urge to share.

That irresistible impulse to post, to tweet, to “like” has evolutionary roots that far precede the advent of social media. Consider something that’s known as the “communal sharing” norm. In an environment of scarce resources (ie, the one that prevailed for most of our history), every existing resource has to be shared with others. In this environment, what I find out isn’t my exclusive prerogative – it’s actually common property, in case it can be beneficial to someone else. There’s a bear in that cave; these berries may kill you; I found a stream of water in that direction. All important information to pass on and the quicker the better. After all, the bear may wake up or the berries may end up in someone’s mouth before we’ve had a chance to share our wisdom.

The facts may have changed, but the immediacy seems just as real now. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that people are somehow missing out or worse off if we don’t communicate what we’ve seen – and communicate it at once. Is it really so far from: “There’s a bear in the cave” to: “Look at that adorable bear playing with the berries in that YouTube video”? We don’t just passively take in information. We want actively to pass it on to others. We share emotions; we share thoughts; we share opinions; we share objects. We share because we’re happy, angry, perplexed, upset. Or experiencing any strong emotion.

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