Community

Are people in the United States more insular? Is technology getting in the way of us being able to communicate? Why is technology breaking up marriages according to NPR? The line which stood out to me is:

But opportunity is a key predictor of infidelity, and social media have increased opportunity exponentially.

Just 10 minutes before this aired on NPR, I was talking to George about my Dorm, Major, or Race post. The biggest factor as to the friends we make is opportunity. Kids going to a public K-12 school become friends with those in their neighborhood because that is who they are around all the time. Kids going to a college where they are unlikely to have easy access to high school friends means the kids become friends with those people they are around all the time. I proposed to George changes in who people consider their friends has more to do with where people spend time than a decrease in the need to be social.

Those of us who spend most of our time online will be friends with those people interact with online. Those of us who spend large amounts of time in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or grocery stores get to know the other regulars and employees approximating friendship. Hobbyists getting together become friends precisely because they  spend so much time. Humans are social creatures so we spend time with others wherever we spend time. Even those isolated from the general public in prison develop ties with the other prisoners around them. Wherever we spend our time is the source of our new friends.

Every time we choose to spend time with specific people we choose to strengthen neural connections with those people. Physical contact like a hug which triggers the neurotransmitter oxytocin making us feel bonds to that person. Seeing *hug* or /hug may not deliver the same effect, but I suspect it delivers something similar. It may be just enough that we like the feeling.

Compared to hanging out in the neighborhood, social media provide richer opportunities. Being “friends” through social media result a win-win effects without taking as much effort on both parties. The risks are also lower for social media friends. Your friend across the street might judge you for the embarrassing thing you did out in the street, but your Facebook friends only know if someone blabs about it. So much easier to make and hold these relationships compared to what we go through locally.

Knowing the people who live in nearby buildings is useful. Positive social bonds means in ambiguous situations the assumptions will be positive rather than negative. The more neighbors who think positively about me, the less likely they will assume bad things about me. (Like that I look like a scary Muslim.)  As a knowledge worker I often put too much value on the person with ideas I like over the physical body to help me accomplish actions. I do occasionally need help doing things I cannot think my way through.

TED Talk: Is Play More Than Fun?

In the Q&A, Stuart Brown, co-author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, rejects the idea play is a rehersal for adulthood. Stopping an animal from playing doesn’t prevent the animal from being a successful predator. REM sleep provides the rehearsal needed for learning. Play is the next evolutionary step. The video is a little too heavy on repeating the same generic idea over an over with different examples. However, they are amusing examples.

The types of play Brown references usually involves multiple individuals in a social interaction. This play teaches survival skills like socialization, adaptation, flexibility (our selfish genes at work).

The origin of this play research was in identifying the next Charles Whitmore, the University of Texas Tower sniper. In studying mass murderers, he found Charles and others like him consistently grew up in environments where play was not allowed. By not playing these children developed into dysfunctional adults.

I found a particular claim quite interesting. “The opposite of play is not work… It is depression.” That is almost word for word out of his book on page 126, which Google Books has a copy. Later he better explains the part about play and work are not in opposition:

The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects…. At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our workd and ourselves. (Play, p.127)

This agrees with Adam and Jamie from the Mythbusters to Moira Gunn for the Commonwealth Cluf of California about their work. Just look at Adam’s face before triggering a test on any episode. The complete and total joy is a testament to the power of dopamine.

I think the opposition to depression involves movement which is exercise. Exercise produces serotonin which is crucial to fighting off depression. So my work, sitting in a cube all day long problem solving is good for dopamine but not a producer of serotonin. However, a good game of tag would produce both dopamine in anticipating tagging a playmate and serotonin from the movement. (Why can’t work be more like tag?)

If Dr. Brown is right, then suppressing the rough and tumble playing children enjoy is the best way to place in society malfunctioning adults who are more likely to be violent. Things like recess (just half an hour) during the day will keep our prisons less full 20 years later. <sarcasm>Maybe the No Child Left Behind meant all the children will end up in prison?</sarcasm> More likely children will fit their play in less supervised situations and get their fill.