By: Nekabari Ledum Goka, MS International Affairs
I believe that an extensive understanding of human behavior is essential to the
overall understanding of the factors that drive people’s uses of social media
and other digital tools. While computers and their programs are designed to “behave” in the ways that fall within well-defined parameters established by their creators, I think that the
particularities of the proverbial “human factor” are far too complex to compartmentalize in the same manner.
In preparation for my recent class presentation for this course, I did an extensive amount of reading on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the ways that its model can be applied to our present day understandings of the reasons that people use social media the way that we
do. I think that its application to current day social media platforms and communications technology really emphasizes the timeless nature of the specifics of human need, addressing some of the same concerns (collective consciousness, individualism, the sense of belonging, etc.) that people have had for generations.
The themes presented by Adam Curtis in his film series present stark differences in the “lenses” through which the particularities of human interaction are understood, presenting the pivot toward a heavy reliance on the use of numbers for validation of claims about the nature of human behavior. While the film talked about how people began to manipulate numbers to their advantages in order to meet goals (i.e. government unemployment, crime rates, hospital bed wait times, psychiatry, etc.), I could not help but think about the other instances from my own experiences that embodied this “human understanding vs. numbers” phenomenon.
I studied economics as an undergraduate, and within the field itself there are essentially two factions that often argue over which economics perspective is most accurate and applicable to real world phenomena. On one end of the spectrum, there is the “economics is a social science” camp and on the other end there is the ‘economics is business” camp.
While the former relies heavily on the study and understanding of human behavior and how that applies to economic decision making at the individual and subgroup level, the latter is far more “macro” in nature relying heavily on complex mathematical models that aim to make the task of large scale forecasting a bit less daunting. While the two perspectives are both “real” in their own rights, it is interesting to read literature that argues that one perspective is greater than the other.
Do the numbers really matter?
Do people control our perception of machines?
Do machines control our perceptions of people?
I think that as our understanding of the interaction between people and social media continues to evolve, the answers to these and other important questions will slowly become clearer.