When baby rhesus macaques start to gain independence from their mothers, they don’t just do as baby birds do and jump out of the nest for good, never to return. They have this behavior we like to call a “check-in”. Basically, a baby will run around and explore its surroundings alone, then when he gets afraid or uncomfortable, he’ll scurry back to his mom just to let her know he’s OK and to make sure she’s still there.
As of September 21st, 2011, the popular website Four Square reached 1 billion “check-ins”. Four Square is a social networking site that allows its users to let others know where they are, as long as they connect with their smartphone or other GPS-enabled device.
Now, obviously, very few people are using Four Square to check in with their mothers (although you can create your own venue, so theoretically, assuming no one else has, you can make one and title it “My mom”. I’m not sure why there would already be a venue for your mom, though, that would be really creepy). But it got me wondering if there were any evolutionary reasons as to why 10 million people would already be so interested in such a website.
It is possible that this need to let others know where we are (and, conversely, know where everyone else is) actually did stem from non-human primates. We can theorize that, as the primates themselves changed, so did the behavior, from simply checking in with mom, to checking in with the whole world. Since the babies check in with mom because they feel insecure or alone, maybe that’s part of the reason we do it too—we want to let the world know we’re OK and make sure the rest of the world is still there to care.
We may have always had this inherent animalistic need to connect with others, but undeniably it is with technology such as Four Square that these traits can be truly expressed. On one hand, maybe the 10 million people who have already begun sharing their locations have a gene that makes them more apt to socialize. On the other, maybe we all have that gene and it just takes enough media saturation to bring it out of us. Or maybe I just don’t care about being the Mayor of TGIFriday’s because I could be doing something more productive, like being with real people (or checking my Facebook—same thing, right?).