Facebook now has more than 800 million active users. Google+ just started, and already has over 100 million active users. Wikipedia names more than 200 separate social networking sites, representing a growing diversity of interests. Even though the remarkable growth of social networks has been leveling off, nearly one billion users is a lot of people.
What precipitated this huge phenomenon of people reaching out by the millions to connect with others? “The Internet,” is the simple answer. Underneath that answer is a deeper one: Belonging. We all have a basic human need to belong. It is a foundational value for human beings, and like all basic values, it constellates human energy like a strange attractor. It is almost as necessary as air. And, it’s what drives the exponential aggregation of connections on the massive scale the Internet has provided.
We know that other technology will arise, providing new opportunities, and new waves of connectivity. So the real question is not how people connect, but why they choose to connect to a person or a group, and why one rather than another. The answer is relatively simple: we connect based on similar values, and values translate into real-world—and, virtual-world—choices.
People have always connected, forming groups which offer more than ‘interaction opportunities.’ They offer markings of identity. Whether outwardly visible or not, our souls are tattooed with the desire to belong. Whether blatant or subtle, through self-expression, we display the signs that define ourselves and by which we recognize tribal kin and elective family alike, and have done for millennia. Our need for Belonging is far deeper and older than the technologies that now facilitate it so readily, and it is the fundamental basic human value for Belonging that will continue to drive the growth of these technologies. What social networks have newly discovered is the raw power of a basic human need.