Are we ‘Lost in (Social) Space?’


Do We All Have a Social Destination?

French sociologist Henri Lefebvre, believed human interaction could be coined much the same as a simple Sunday walk. Wherever you went, your journey would be wholly dependant on the many ‘social realities’ that intercede your path. Mr. Lefebvre was convinced ‘social realities’ were everywhere. This included the idea of urban planning, the form of architecture, the conversation of language and even the appreciation of art. His research supported how either consciously, or unconsciously, we allow these ‘social realities’ to influence and guide our course of being.

Short of it, when building community we are influenced by various social circumstances whether natural, man-made or intellectual.

Our simple Sunday walk is anything but.

‘Social Realities’ Help Define Our ‘Social Space.’

Lefebvre’s thinking takes on a new reality within today’s ‘social space’ – the internet. As Lefebvre states, “‘social space’ is a… part of an interaction between subjects and their surroundings.”

Granted, these traditional ‘surroundings’ have shifted from parks and buildings, to today’s digital ‘social realities’ as Facebook and Google+; as this primal need to belong has no qualms making the jump to cyber space.

University of Colorado’s Associate Professor, Harsha Gangadharbatla, supports this belief as published in the Journal of Interactive Advertising’s, Facebook Me: Collective Self-Esteem, Need to Belong, and Internet Self-Efficacy as Predictors of the iGeneration’s Attitudes towards Social Networking Sites. Under the subhead of Belonging, Mr. Gangadharbatla mirrors Baumeister & Leary’s assessment that the need to belong is based on, ‘Fundamental human motivation that is something all human being possess… To form and maintain the least minimum quantity of lasting, positive and significant interpersonal relationships.’ He goes on to say, “Social networking sites offer a space in which people can address this need to belong by using services provided by the sites that enable conversations and information gathering, along with the possibility of gaining social approval, expressing opinions, and influencing others.”

This does make perfect sense. As social networking sites as Facebook, Google+ are more representative of today’s ‘social realities,’ the ability to arrive at our ‘social space’ is more accessible and immediate. It’s a heck of a lot easier to click and scroll than walk and run.

Is There a ‘Social Space’ For All?

Has mankind achieved its true ‘social space?’ Has this shift to a cyber landscape affected how we continue our need to belong? Does the immensity of our ‘social space’ impede the ability to share, or does it simply speed it up? Is it true that just as we achieve this magnificent ability to connect, others are still unable to complete this basic human need?

Research says, connecting online provides inclusion (circle of friends), affection (loved by these friends – hopefully), and control (over these friends) or the relinquishing there of. These are basic human behaviours for most of us, but what about other human beings that lie outside or reject these basic needs.

Let’s look at diversities. Do they embrace social media to enrich their community and feelings of belonging?

Rebecca Sawyer from the University of Rhode Island offers some thinking in her paper, ‘The Impact of New Social Media on Intercultural Adaption.’ Here she extols the thinking of Devan Rosen of Ithica College and University of Buffalo’s Derek Lackaff where these new media thinkers say, ‘people from individualistic cultures focus on meeting new people rather than maintaining their already existing cultures.’

Sounds about right; being new to a country, you will search for a way to connect that supersedes language and culture. You desperately want to belong in your new country or rejection is soon to come. At the same time, you are able to keep contact with your traditional or existing community.

Digging deeper into social anthropology, Rosen & Lackaff’s findings say, ‘Research shows that people from different cultural backgrounds and gender roles behave and communicate in systematically different ways. Findings suggest that participants who identify with more individualistic backgrounds, tend to self-promote and are better connected and more satisfied with their social lives.’

This is pleasing to hear knowing that social media has allowed new citizens to breakaway from more traditional methods of forming community, so they can be more readily accepted and trusted to belong in their new country.

As social media philosopher Brian Solis mentions, ‘…in short, belonging to a group feels good. It provides support and reinforcement, a strong identity, and a sense that we are part of something…’

Social media marketer Sarah Lee, builds on similar theories in her TedxKalamazoo lecture.

Do All Humans Have the Ability to Belong?

Unfortunately, no.

The result of connecting and sharing within a public, social, personal or intimate space provides only envy and jealousy and ultimately loneliness for some who seek inclusion and cognition. New Yorker Magazine piece by Maria Konnikova, cites various academic studies underscoring how most of us want to belong in a ‘social space’ but provides a directly opposite result. For some, gravitating to this new ‘social space’ has caused only alienation and despair; absolutely no sense of belonging and community.

Allow Social Media To Guide You There.

Now that humans have a better understanding of what to look for when charting our ‘social space,’ we can truly embrace and enjoy our journey. We have the ability to navigate the internet’s many ‘social realities’ towards building and experiencing our need to belong, and the community it brings.

There is no reason to be ‘Lost in Space’ when finding your online place. In the words of Dr. Zackary Smith speaking to his robot, “Now come along with me, you ludicrous lump, there’s much to be done.”

Yes there certainly is.

John K. Bromley

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