JAN ’10: Facebook via Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) English naturalist who claimed that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.

Facebook: Social networking website with over 400 million members where users add friends, send messages, update personal profiles, join networks of workplace, school, or college and sometimes broadcast photos of themselves wearing lampshades on their heads to company executives.


Full length video-podcast of Parallaxion’s first juxtaposition from January 2010


5-minute trailer for January’s Parallaxion


8 Responses to JAN ’10: Facebook via Darwin

  1. J Pitt says:

    By Darwinism, do you guys mean the more historical and simpler understanding of evolution, or are more contemporary developments in evolutionary theory on the table as well?

  2. Chad Steele says:

    First off, you really must visit the Galapagos islands in order to truly grasp the nature of evolution in an environment with no predation. Likewise, a few days in the Serengeti will provide the opposite.

    Social networks provide an opportunity for people to learn, not evolve. Until people can be reincarnated and remember their prior passwords, evolution isn’t what’s happening on facebook, twitter, etc.

    So, I don’t see the relevance.

    However, I do recommend reading up on the “aquatic ape” theory in order to get a better sense of our own evolution and de-evolution.

  3. O. S. says:

    Evolution may not be “happening” on facebook, but does that mean it isn’t relevant? Our fingers weren’t “made” for typing, but they exist as they do because of evolution, don’t they? And they type.

  4. Meg says:

    In relation to facebook I would have to agree that “hard” darwinism doesn’t so much apply but social darwinism seems to lend a much more useful perspective. Clearly we don’t pass down genes based on facebook use but we could speak in terms of ‘memes’ instead (Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene) defined as: a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.

    Additionally several of Nietzsche’s works could be useful in exploring social darwinsim and facebook. Esp his Genealogy of Morals.

    Time to leave the office but I’ll think about this and post more over the weekend.

    Question to throw out there: What of it that we create virtual identities for ourselves through facebook which neither age nor die? How does this interact with theoretical evolution? Less related personal quandry: how does this relate to Heidegger’s theory of being (Dasein) as intimately related to ones death?

  5. Evan Wiig says:

    I think what commenter O.S. is getting at is this: features and behaviors that may have developed under particular environmental conditions can be re-appropriated for new functions (e.g. fingers developed by way of their benefit to those gripping the branches of trees were later applied to using similarly shaped spears… are now used for typing).

    A question of interest for us lies here: what kind of vestige constraints (or possibilities) from previous adaptations will reveal themselves in their new applications? Another way of putting it: how might progress (facebook) manifest the past in unexpected ways?

    Consider the dog: in a relatively short period of time, the social behaviors that allowed a pack of wolves to best succeed (evolutionarily) are exactly those which make them such good companions. The love of your puppy’s lick could be the re-appropriated subservience once bestowed upon the alpha male. It’s at the very core of all domestication. See: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/data/2002/01/01/html/ft_20020101.1.html

    So: what allows us to stare at a screen for hours each day extracting joy and meanings from electrical signals? What questions can be asked about our forging evolutionarily consequential relationships online (like rival bighorns’ head-butting battles, hasn’t a flirty facebook post helped genes carry on)? Will we, like dogs, howl to a pack that no longer exists?

  6. USDISR says:

    What interests me is what chad implies about predators’ role in evolution. What fulfills the predator role in this ecosystem? Spammers? Relatives who may see unflattering photos? The changing situation of facebook (privacy settings, introductions of newsfeeds, etc.)? Are these close enough to predatory to force individuals to adapt and change behaviour (which in the case of artificial personas, can behaviour be seen as the same as identity/physical makeup?)?

    Leading questions, I’m sure it’s obvious where I fall on those. But I do find it fascinating to consider how that works.

    And re: Meg, I’d love to hear more. In a limited sample, whenever I’ve seen social networking profiles survive past the initial owner, they seem to function more like memorials than anything else. When I look at them, I’m reminded of Heidegger’s “Origin of the Work of Art”, and consider them to be a form of world-building that could be an ode to dasein, less a negation. But I’m intrigued by the way you’re going with it, and could certainly be convinced otherwise…

  7. INTERVIEW WITH Mary Chayko, Ph.D.
    Professor of Sociology at the College of Saint Elizabeth and author of the book Portable Communities: The Social Dynamics of Online and Mobile Connectedness (2008, SUNY Press) and Connecting: How We Form Social Bonds and Communities in the Internet Age (2002, SUNY Press).
    PARALLAXION: In your field, how do you use the word “natural” and how do you see it used by others, as in “it’s only natural” or “that’s not natural!”
    Mary Chayko: Sociologists are interested in the interplay between what is natural and what is socially constructed — that is, “made” or “built” by society. We do not discount the effects of nature, biology or genetics, but look at the contribution of society and the environment on people and their behavior, especially in groups. It’s common to hear people say something is “only natural” or “not natural,” but socioloigists use research and social scientific findings to try to tease out what role society plays in the natural/sociological mix.
    P: Evolutionary theory asserts that our physiological (and in many regards, psychological) condition is one that evolved to a far less socially complex environment. As cultural and technological development has moved far faster than evolution, our minds, more accustomed to small tight-knit groups of people that infrequently came into contact with other groups, are now faced with a drastically unfamiliar world. How have social networks, like facebook, either complicated or alleviated such overwhelming incongruity? Do they make the world bigger or smaller?
    M.C.: I believe that social networks have allowed people to re-create the kind of earlier society in which people were in more frequent contact with their friends, their social circles. These are often tight-knit groups, but they don’t have to be — there are all kinds of facebook groups which bring numerous, far-flung people together loosely, concerning the most tangential of topics. But for people who want a more in-depth bonding experience and to locate and reconnect with genuine friends and actual family, social networks can facilitate that too; that’s the power of facebook. In these ways, social media has made the world both smaller and bigger — it all depends on the experience you want or you find yourself attracted to.
    P: How have online social networks effected people’s sexual relations and prospects? Who has benefited from such developments and who has been put at a disadvantage? What kinds of connections are being made that might not have been made without the internet and what kind of connections are being inhibited?
    M.C.: Social networking sites devoted to dating and sex provide very convenient ways for people to find one another for these purposes. This can be a tremendous advantage to those who are comfortable using these technologies and those who might have real-world limitations of time or physicality or personality (i.e. the busy, the physically challenged, the shy). And anonymity can promote openness and closeness in relationships; some people are “more themselves” and get to know one another in greater depth without the distracting cloak of physicality. But at some point, most people want to bring these kinds of connections into the face-to-face world. This transition can be either jarring or smooth, depending on people’s comfort in making the transition and and the truthfulness and authenticity of the bond they have created. But the transition to face-to-face often works surprisingly well; the success rates of online dating sites rival more traditional methods in making romantic and sexual connections.
    P: Can people find the same level or same kind of personal and social interconnectedness online as they can in person? What are the differences? What does and what doesn’t translate to the digital world?
    M.C.: I wouldn’t say that social connectedness online is the “same” as it is offline; there are in-person satisfactions that are impossible to replicate with technology (touch, smell, physical contact, sex, etc.). Many aspects of physicality simply don’t translate to the digital world — at least, not precisely. But people can and do find strong sources of  interpersonal connectedness online. It happens all the time, as on facebook, twitter, medical and special interest discussion boards, gaming sites, work-oriented sites, etc. People who may never meet one another face-to-face can get to know one another well, share information and resources, lend social support and friendship, and sometimes just play and hang out and have fun. These are all legitimate, powerful means of social connectedness, so it’s no coincidence that they have become the primary use of these technologies.
    P: How have online networks effected the expression of personal identity?
    M.C.: Personal identity has been reshaped, recreated, expanded. It is now possible to explore many more sides of one’s self than was once possible. Sociologists teach us that we construct large parts of identity in social contexts — in the process of learning about and taking on the roles of others, in using others as mirrors to the self. The internet and cell phones provide many more opportunities for us to do this — many more points of reference — so that many more aspects of personal identity can now be explored and “tried on for size.” Sometimes this is a latent, unconscious process that occurs as we lurk or peer quietly at others. Sometimes we play deliberately with major aspects of our identity like personality, sexuality, even gender, creating multiple usernames and avatars or taking on different identities wholesale in settings like Second Life. But whether in small or large ways, I think the expansion of the self is one of the most interesting and far-reaching consequences of living so much of our lives online.

  8. Hey guys, I know you’ve been looking at how people network through facebook. I wasn’t sure if you had seen this article in the NY Times about how our brains can’t handle more than 150 relationships. How do you think this interfaces with our ability to have upwards of a thousand friends on facebook?

    Here’s the link to the article:

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