When the guys asked me to riff on the ways modern technologies and social media affect our holiday vibes, my first instinct was to explore how both Stone Age and modern communications have literally reshaped our brains, and thus our relations.
As an opening shot, I’ll offer this: back in prehistoric times, humans were neither the strongest nor the fastest creatures on earth. In fact, we were pretty weak and small compared to the Ice Age megafauna (big ass creatures) that existed at the time. Life was hard and brutal, and danger was present at any moment. Starvation, dehydration and death by Saber-toothed tiger were common occurrences. If you think life without Netflix would suck, imagine being eaten on your way to gather sharp stones for your village. Pretty crappy.
So, how did humans (a breed of creatures who had neither warm fur, nor long fangs, nor even wings) become the dominant species on the planet? The answer seems obvious now—we were excellent at communicating with one another.
From the moment humans began living together in small groups, we started to get better at reading each other’s emotions and using physical expressions to communicate our core feelings. Hunched shoulders meant we were angry. An open, expansive chest meant we felt confident. Smiling told others we felt safe and enjoyed their company.
Notice a pattern here? Everything I’ve described relies on body language to relay nuance. Human discourse is more than logical verbal statements- since the dawn of time, authentic communication has depended on minute muscle movements and gestures.
Compare the intimacy of that tribal reality to now, and you can almost quantify the depth of the human connection we have lost. In the era of social media, where statements are almost entirely text-based, there’s just no way to authentically show those gestures that once defined us.
It’s no surprise, then, that people often complain about having their tweets/posts/texts being taken “the wrong way” or “out of context”: without body language, it’s hard for our minds to decode the difference between a light hearted joke or a malicious subtweet. That wall post you sent to Cousin Jim might have gone over a lot better if he could see the expression on your face as you were writing it.
Which brings us to the topic of the holidays. While many of us don’t exactly look forward to a week’s worth of obligatory chit chat with our extended family, there’s a lot to be said for sharing physical space. In this era of over-connection, bringing our bloodlines together and, you know, just talking about stuff in person, returns us to the richness of our caveman past. For a few polite follow-up questions about how your grandparents met, that’s one heck of a perk.
Does this mean we should forsake all modern communication methods during the holidays? Of course not. If you got that new phone on Black Friday, by all means, tap away. However, this time of year should serve to remind us that the best times are spent physically (and mentally) present with our loved ones, safe from the Saber-toothed tigers.
Well, at least until the drinks wear off.